No one was more surprised than I when my first granddog, Sir Boddington the English Bulldog, nuzzled a place in my heart. I knew I was smitten the day I loaded up on toys, milk bones, and other doggie delights.
I blame it on Boddie that I so willingly became a member of the U.S. population currently spending $58 billion a year on food, supplies, and services such as grooming, boarding, and medical care for their 42.7 million pets. So how can you afford to care for your furry friend in sickness and in health? Make prevention and maintenance your top priority as a pet owner.
Prevention and Maintenance
A fence or some other reasonable restraint is the best way to avoid big vet bills, says David T. Roen, D.V.M., board-certified veterinarian and owner of the Clarkston Veterinary Clinic in Clarkston, Wash. “I see more dogs in my office because of injuries sustained while unrestrained than for any other reason. Dogs should always be leashed, fenced, or supervised.”
Choose the right food
Dr. Roen advises pet owners to skip all the fancy premium foods vets sell. Use name-brand pet food from the supermarket labeled “complete and balanced.” Or look for the seal of approval of AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials). Stick with the same brand. Switching abruptly can cause health issues for some animals. And less is better, as slightly underweight pets have fewer health problems.
Spay and neuter
Reproductive issues aside, spayed and neutered dogs have less health and behavioral problems.
Make wellness routine
Some pet supply stores offer in-store clinics and special events. Humane societies and veterinary schools offer low-cost clinics where professionals administer inoculations and wellness exams. Keep good records of the inoculations and treatments your pet has.
Forget health insurance
Dr. Roen says that Pet insurance will probably cost more than it saves. But you should anticipate future medical bills. “Instead of sending premiums to an insurance company, put the amount you’d pay in premiums into a savings account.”
Get second opinions
Even if it’s an emergency, get a second opinion if the estimate is for more than a few hundred dollars. If the estimate is for $800 and you can only afford $400, speak up, says Dr. Roen. There may be less aggressive and cheaper alternative treatments. Inquire about any discounts for cash payment.
Shop around for medications
Ask your vet for prescription drug samples to get started. Then call around to retailers such as Walmart or Costco pharmacies (many meds are the same for humans and animals) to compare prices. Search websites like discountpetmedicines.com or petmeds.com, too.
Create an account
Seriously, you need to establish a savings account just for your pet’s care, into which you regularly deposit money. Even $10 a week will turn into $520 in one year. Earmark that account for pet EMERGENCY ONLY, then congratulate yourself on being a responsible pet owner. Woof!
EC Readers Weigh In
If your cat prefers the furniture to his scratching post, try placing carpet samples throughout the house. For some reason, many cats prefer them. — Sue
I buy dog food at the local feed store because I like the product they sell. I recently found out that they do pet vaccinations more affordably than my vet. The only vaccination the feed store cannot do is rabies. I recommend checking with pet and feed stores the next time you are shopping for a good price on animal vaccinations. — Michelle
I use my shredder to shred my junk mail. Then I use it as bedding for my three rabbits. They love tossing it around and nesting their cages with shredded paper. Before I shred, however, I remove colored magazines and glossy flyers, as they don’t work well in animal cages. Recycling my paper this way is a great money-saver, and it’s fun for my rabbits. — Susanna
I use a clean dog’s brush to remove all the animal hair that attaches to my area rug during the week. It takes just a few seconds. It’s easy and cheap because I do not have to buy sticky sheets or disposable products to remove the hair. It’s also a lot quicker than taking out the vacuum. You can purchase a dog brush at the dollar store for cheap. — Janice
Don’t toss out the cardboard french fry container next time you eat fast food. Instead, flatten it, and save it for your next dog walk. When Fido leaves his mark, pull out the container, pop it open, and scoop up the mess. Transfer to the plastic bag you also carry with you, and drop the whole thing into the nearest trash can. — Billie
For an effective flea dip, boil orange and lemon peels in water. Cool the water, and use it for a pet rinse or dip. It smells nice and fresh. You can also slice citrus and rub the fruit into the dog’s coat. The bugs will keel over from the smell. — Ted
Nontoxic bug and squirrel repellents will keep your dog (or your neighbors’ dogs) from doing their business on the part of your yard you’d like to keep clean. Black pepper is nontoxic, so I sprinkle a little of it in certain areas to keep my Rottweiler in the part of the yard reserved for her. — Lois
Calling all pet owners! Do you have tips and secrets to saving money on pet care—food, supplies, services such as grooming and boarding, and medical care? We would love you to spill the beans in the comments below.