Pet care costs may be rising, but it is possible to s-t-r-e-t-c-h your family budget without shortchanging the health of your pet.
“We need to be smarter than ever on how we unleash our dollars,” says Marty Becker, DVM, veterinarian in Bonner’s Ferry, ID and veterinary contributor to ABC’s Good Morning America. “Five years ago, the question posed by pet owners was, ‘Do you take credit cards?’ and now, we are seeing more people coming in with $300 in cash and asking, ‘What can you do for my pet for $300?’ Today, we must look at people’s budgets and prioritize our recommendations of care for their pets.”
Bernadine Cruz, DVM, veterinarian in Laguna Hills, CA and host of The Pet Doctor on Pet Life Radio, agrees, adding, “Practicing preventive medicine at home is a great way for people to save money.”
Becker and Cruz identified 10 money-saving strategies:
1. Practice portion control and serve quality, commercial pet food. Use a measuring cup at meal time and select pet food that lists a real meat as the first ingredient—not corn meal or wheat. Doing so can keep your pet at a healthy weight and that translates into fewer vet bills to deal with pancreatitis, diabetes and a host of other health conditions triggered by obesity and poor nutrition. Sniff out store coupons or contact your favorite pet manufacturer and request coupons. Estimated annual savings: $200.
2. Become your pet’s personal stylist. Stretch the time between those $45 grooming appointments and $15 store baths by using grooming scissors to trim around your dog’s face and by diluting shampoo for baths. Estimated savings: $120.
3. Now ear this. Clean your pet’s ears by mixing three parts rubbing alcohol with one part white vinegar. Place a couple drops in each ear, rub it around and wipe clean once a week to stave off ear infections, especially in dogs who swim and heavy-eared breeds like Cocker Spaniels. Alcohol kills bacteria and evaporates moisture while vinegar kills fungus. Estimated savings: $120.
4. Bring out your pet chef skills. Make healthy homemade treats in a large batch, storing surplus in the freezer, instead of pricey ones sold at doggy bakeries. Add steamed carrots and green beans to your dog’s bowl to help him feel full on less kibble. Estimated savings: $100.
5. Be down in the mouth. Brush your dog or cat’s teeth at least two times a week, using toothpastes, brushes and dental gels and chews designed for pets. At-home dental items are inexpensive compared to professional dental cleanings that cost between $150 and $400.
6. Package the necessary vaccinations. Consult your veterinarian about what vaccinations your pet truly needs and base it on your pet’s age, health and outdoor access. Opt for 3-year vaccinations when possible instead of annual ones. Estimated savings: $150.
7. Score bargains at discount and warehouse stores. Buy litter, leashes, bowls, beds and toys at major discount chains instead of pet supply stores or pet boutiques. Estimated savings: $150.
8. Build your own cat tree. Cats need to scratch to hone their claws, but carpet-covered feline furniture can cost up to $250. Make your own for a few dollars, using scrap wood, carpet remnants and sisal rope.
9. Create pet alliances. Team up with pet-loving neighbors and friends by sharing premium food purchased in bulk, serving as one another’s pet sitter and trading talents. If you are a hair stylist, offer to swap hair cuts for a veterinarian’s family for your pet’s annual exam or needed vaccinations.
10. Purchase pet insurance. Pets can get ill or injured, so prepare for the unexpected. It is less expensive to purchase insurance when your pets are young. Check policies, but most typically cover 80% of surgical procedures. You can also sock away a specific amount each month for pet care in a savings account.
Bonus tip: Book twice-a-year wellness exams with your vet. You are more apt to catch diseases early—or prevent them—before they turn into costly conditions to treat.