For many of my readers, their pets are like children. So of course you love your furry friends and want the best for them. But if the cost to keep them fed, healthy, cared for, and looking good has gotten so high, you’re the one coughing up fur balls, take heart. There are lots of little ways to cut pet expenses that when added together will help you save big on your pet costs.
According to one survey, pet owners spend on average $126.19 every month on their pets. Dogs are more costly than cats, but canines are not the most expensive pets. Fish are the cheapest pets; fish owners spend $62.53 a month on their aquatic friends.
So how can you afford to care for your furry friend in sickness and in health? Make prevention maintenance your top priority as a pet owner, carefully track every expense, then consider these tips that will help you cut your pet expenses in half without putting your pets’ health or well-being at risk.
Search for free initial exams. Local veterinarians often advertise a free initial examination as part of marketing to attract new customers. Take advantage of the offer. This kind of office visit typically runs between $40 and $60.
Mobile, low-cost clinics
For vaccinations, microchips, and heartworm and flea preventatives, check around for low-cost or mobile clinics. While you may want to stick with the same vet for annual exams, you can save a bundle on preventive services.
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 sold by vets. 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 fewer 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 inoculations and wellness exams are administered by professionals. Keep good records of your pets’ inoculations and treatments
Forget pet health insurance
Pet insurance will probably cost more money than it saves, says Dr. Roen. 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, if the estimate is for more than a few hundred dollars, get a second opinion. 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.
Shop around for medications
Don’t buy medication at the vet as most veterinarians who sell medications and supplements directly typically charge a big mark-up. Ask your vet for prescription drug samples to get started. Then call around to retailers such as Wal-Mart or Costco pharmacies (many meds are the same for humans and animals) to compare prices. To save even more, sign your cat or dog up on prescription savings programs like the ones offered by Walgreens, Kroger, Rite-Aid, and Walmart.
Exchange pet sitting
Hiring a pet sitter or boarding at a kennel can run from $40 to $60 per pet, per night. That can add up fast! Instead when you travel and need sitting, exchange pet sitting with a friend or neighbor. Choose someone you trust who doesn’t vacation more than you do so it’s an equal exchange.
Find the bargains
When you need a crate, cat carrier, or other pet equipment, don’t rush to the pet store. Instead, look at Craigslist.org. You won’t believe all the bargains in gently-used, even brand new, pet gear. Make sure you sanitize crates, carriers and the like even if they look clean. A 50-50 ratio of either vinegar OR bleach (never mix the two) to water should do the trick.
Look for coupons
Just the other day I saw a coupon in a flyer for a free nail trim at a local vet, a savings of $15. Keep your eyes open for coupons in the mail, grocery and pet stores.
Check yard sales
You can safely never buy new toys for your pets when you think yard sales instead. Instead of $12 for a new monkey or hedgehog, one from a yard sale will work just as well—for a much better price of $.25 to $1, which is typical. Most stuffies come out just fine after a trip through the washer and dryer.
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 emergencies only then congratulate yourself on being a responsible pet owner.
First published: 10-16-15; Revised & Updated 7-2-19
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