I hadn’t planned to get a new dog after my beloved Daphne died just short of her 15th birthday. However, I developed a bad habit of scrolling through the adorable faces of dogs up for adoption at my local Humane Society. As soon as I spotted Matilda and her huge ears, I had to jump in the car and drive out to the shelter to claim her – quick! – before anyone else did.
The adoption fee was $150. With that, I got a free vet visit. Matilda had already been spayed and chipped, but she needed a couple of shots. The free vet visit turned into an expense of about $45.
I had given away all of Daphne’s pet paraphernalia, so I had to buy new bowls, blankets, kibble, treats, toys and a leash. Turns out Matilda, barely a year old, has a chewing habit. So replacing the leash (several times), the blanket (several times), a harness and numerous toys added to my pet care costs. And that’s not counting the molding around the door that got demolished before I learned the magic of crating a dog for short absences during the day. Fortunately, I got the crate for free from a friend, a savings of nearly $200.
Now that Matilda’s been part of my household for almost two months, I realize I could have saved some money on pet care if I hadn’t been so impetuous. Here are some ways you can save on the biggest pet care costs: supplies and vet visits.
How to save on pet care and supplies
If you make smart choices, you can cut the costs of adopting a dog, cat or other pet, as well as on their care and upkeep.
Look for adoption specials. Adoption fees at humane societies and shelters, like the $150 I paid for Matilda, aren’t peanuts, but they’re a fraction of what a dog would cost from a breeder. If you want your pet adoption to be affordable, consider giving a home to the many older dogs and puppies living in a shelter.
Even then, you can do a little bargain hunting by asking when your local shelter’s adoption specials are coming up. At my local Humane Society, there are occasional half-off specials for all pets, or adopt-one-get-one-free deals for cats. There are some specials connected to holidays, such as Valentine’s Day. I mean, what says “I love you” better than a slobbering dog or drooling cat? Just make sure that special person knows about it – never use any animal as a surprise gift. They are living creatures, not Etch-a-Sketches.
Get chew toys that last. Don’t buy cheap, easy-to-shred stuffed toys, or you’ll constantly be replacing them. Make sure toys are not made from the same material as your blankets or furniture, or your dog might confuse your upholstered couch pillows with his favorite plaything. Spend a little more money on strong, rubber toys that can be filled with treats for hours of chew time.
Shop thrift stores for pet supplies. Your dog or cat won’t care if its things are secondhand or brand-new. You can save money by stocking up on cheap blankets at your local thrift shop, such as Goodwill. You won’t mind so much when they get destroyed. I lucked out and also found a couple of bowls while I was shopping for blankets. Run them through the dishwasher, and they’re as good as new.
Save money with healthy treats. Save on treats by introducing your dog to the joys of vegetables. Lots of dogs love carrots almost as much as they like bones. Dearly departed Daphne would do anything to wrap her lips around a ripe tomato. Make your own dog treats rather than buying them from a store to save money. Here’s a list of dog treat recipes with five ingredients or less.
A walk every day keeps the vet away. Don’t skimp on the walks or play. The exercise will keep your pet and yourself healthy and fit, so you won’t have to visit the vet (or human doctor) nearly so much. Thanks, Matilda, for getting me back on my dog walk schedule.
How to save money on vet bills
When a close friend had a pacemaker implanted in her ailing Boston terrier, I was astounded. I knew that my friend loved her dog and that she could well afford that level of medical care, but the price tag of the pacemaker, surgery and follow-up – in the five figures – still left me reeling. I asked myself what the average person, someone who does have budget concerns, would do if a beloved pet needed expensive medical care. I learned that certain organizations offer help to pet owners who can’t afford necessary but costly treatments.
Find grants or charities to help cover costs. RedRover offers grants to pet owners in need and also has a directory of sites on which grants and other assistance may be found. The Pet Fund also offers assistance to owners who cannot afford necessary veterinary care. The Humane Society lists charities that may offer financial aid for life-saving treatments.
Ask your vet for a discount of a payment plan. If you already have a vet you trust but are suddenly hit with the need for an expensive procedure you can’t afford, ask if he or she can help in any way, either with a discount or an extended payment plan.
Seek out discounted routine care. Local animal welfare organizations, rescue groups and shelters often provide low-cost vaccinations, spaying and neutering, and other routine procedures. Petfinder has a list of such organizations. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also has a list of low-cost programs for spaying or neutering your pet. Experts urge pet owners to spay females prior to their first heat cycle because this prevents uterine infections and uterine cancer and nearly eliminates the risk of breast cancer. Neutering males prevents testicular cancer and enlargement of the prostate gland and reduces the risk of perianal tumors.
Check out veterinary schools. Procedures are performed by students, but they are always supervised by a fully qualified veterinarian. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has a list of accredited veterinary colleges, so check to see if there is one near you.
Shop wisely for prescriptions. If you’re buying those from your vet, compare the prices with those at online sites like 1-800-PetMeds and Pet Care RX. If you see a big difference in price, ask your vet if he or she can offer competitive prices. You might be able to save by getting your prescription at a compounding pharmacy. If you decide to buy your meds online, make sure you patronize only reputable sites like those mentioned here. The U.S. Food and Drug administration warns that some companies sell counterfeit or expired drugs. You can also get pet medications at a discount from some human providers.
Take steps to keep your pet healthy. Schedule regular checkups and make sure that necessary vaccinations are done at the right time. Prevent the kind of food-borne (or plant-borne) illnesses that happen at home by keeping dangerous foods and toxic substances away from your pet. The ASPCA has a list of foods you should never share with your pet, as well as a list of toxic plants. With regular common-sense care, your pet can avoid common mishaps.
Keep up a schedule of dental hygiene. Be sure to offer your pet regular tooth brushing, nail and paw care, and grooming.
Find a vet before an emergency happens. If your pet has never seen a veterinarian, don’t wait until you have a sudden emergency, when you may have no choices beyond expensive emergency care. Choose a vet, either in private practice or at a veterinary hospital, so you will have someone to consult when the need arises. Know their policies for after-hours emergencies, and have a plan in place for unexpected vet needs.
Get insurance. Some pet owners prefer to think ahead and purchase pet insurance. The ASPCA offers insurance policies for both cats and dogs, as do other reputable providers. These are not cheap, so if you are considering coverage, the ASPCA recommends that you ask the following questions:
- How much does the plan cost?
- What will affect your reimbursement?
- Is wellness coverage available?
- How much experience does the provider have?
- What will the insurer require of you and your vet when your pet needs care?
Make the right decisions. Ask yourself the important questions before acquiring a pet. Are you ready to commit to this living thing for 10 years or more? Are you able to attend to its needs? Life events happen to all of us, so make some plans ahead of time if you are ever in the position of not being able to take care of your pet. Talk to friends, family or neighbors about a back-up plan for care if you are hurt or if you pass away. Plan ahead for peace of mind.