Do you have a pet? If you’re like 62% of Americans, you do. And get this: We pet owners–I’ve had my dog, Buffy, for 10 years — will spend about $52 billion on our pets in 2012. That’s just crazy.
If you’re reading this, clearly you are interested in ways to save money in all areas of your life. When it comes to pets, saving money is possible, too.
To help you take a frugal approach to taking care of Fido or Fluffy, here are my 7 tips for frugal pet ownership:
- Don’t buy a pet, rescue one. We rescued our dog, Buffy, 10 years ago from a local pet rescue group. We’d found the dog on Petfinder and, a few days later, went to pick him up. We joke that Buffy was the most expensive “free” dog, because adopting him meant making a $200 donation to the rescue group. You know what? That was fine with us, because we know plenty of families that pay 10 times that amount to buy a dog from a breeder. I think that’s crazy. If you’re set on getting a specific breed of dog and don’t want to spend four figures for your pet, look online for rescue groups that specialize in certain breeds, both dogs and cats. While your “free” pet may cost as much as ours did, at least you will have saved over getting your dog from a breeder.
- Consider generics for flea and tick protection. You don’t have to pay for Frontline with the Frontline name only now. There is a generic available of the main ingredient, fipronil, sold as Fiproguard, and it’s almost half the price. I’ve used it a few times, and the flea and tick protection seems to be the same as the name brand stuff.
- Buying pet meds online isn’t always the cheapest option. Last year there were problems with fake dog meds being sold by reputable retailers online. The retailers weren’t aware of the fraudulent products, but vets were. When I told our new vet that we’d gotten Buffy’s heartworm medication from one of these online retailers, I ended up having to pay to have Buffy tested for heartworm (he was negative). At first I thought this was a scam that vets were pulling to get you to buy meds in their office. Then I read that the EPA got involved and that this was legit. I also learned that even though the vet doesn’t recommend buying pet meds online, if you bring in a price sheet from an online retailer, most vets will match the price.
- Get a new vet if you’re dissatisfied. I switched vets last year because my old one got too pricey. In addition, every time I took Buffy for a visit, I felt as if the doctor was too aggressive about wanting to do tests and pushing products – thus pushing his profit margin. I understand that he has a business to run and bills to pay, but after being a patient for eight years, I didn’t feel that I was getting my money’s worth. (I also fired my children’s pediatrician three years ago for similar reasons.) At the new vet, office visits cost $30 less. More important, this new vet came highly recommended from friends and neighbors with pets.
- Think twice before you buy pet health insurance. It may not be worth your time or money if you can’t get 100% of the promised benefits. Read the fine print before signing on the dotted line.
- Practice good preventive hygiene and health with your pet. The more you can do now to keep your dog healthy, the less likely it is that your dog will develop costly illnesses that more exercise or less food could have prevented. I walk Buffy for one hour every day and have been doing so since the day we adopted him in 2002. Buffy is now 14 years old and is so spry that most people think he’s a puppy. When in doubt, reach for a carrot as a treat instead of a processed biscuit. (Here are some foods that are toxic to pets.)
- Split your pet’s medicine. You may have heard of humans who save money on their prescriptions by dividing pills (with their doctor’s blessing, of course). Turns out you can do the same by pill splitting canine and feline medications. (Also ask your vet about how to safely split large doses of flea preventive into smaller doses for small dogs and cats.) I checked this out in regard to Interceptor, Buffy’s aforementioned heartworm medicine, and here’s what I discovered:
- Buffy weighs 40 pounds, so in the past I would purchase the Interceptor “Yellow” for him, which contains 11.5 mg of the active medication. A six-pack costs $40.99.
- Interceptor “White” is made for dogs 50 pounds to 100 pounds and contains 23 mg of the active medication. A six-pack costs $48.99.
- For $8.99 more I could buy the six pack of “White,” split the pills in half (I have a pill cutter) and get a year’s worth of medication for my dog. I cleared this with the vet, and now instead of spending $82 on heartworm medicine annually, I spend only $49.
Photo by Leah Ingram. All rights reserved.
Judith Broadhurst says
Congrats on such success in your career since we last communicated, years ago, Leah. I didn’t know there was a generic available for flea protection (some of the lesser products, like Hartz, have killed pets). Is Fiproguard the one you mean, or what is the name of the one that you’ve tried? Thanks.
Leah Ingram says
Thanks for commenting. Great to hear from you and thank you for the good thoughts. The product is Fiproguard, and I did add it to the story. I should have done it when I wrote it so thanks for pointing out that omission! Hope you are well, too.
This is a great article; I’ve been struggling for a few years and we considered more than once getting rid of our two cats. Some of these tips will definitely make it easier for us to keep Tabby and Rock. I actually was thinking about pet insurance, but now I looked into it and I don’t think it’s worth it; thanks for bringing that up! Maybe next time you could also review veterinary discount programs – are those worth it?
Leah Ingram says
I’m glad you found my advice helpful. I am not even aware of vet discount programs. I need to look into them!
I’ve heard of Pet Assure (my friend recommended them) and United Pet Care. It would be nice if you could look into them and do some sort of review; I’d trust your opinion more than mine! I’m not a very wary consumer …