You love your pet like a child, but that doesn't mean you can afford to spend your entire life savings caring for it. Pets aren't quite as costly as children, but they do have to be fed and cared for -- and that can be expensive. In a single year, one large dog can rack up nearly $2,000 in feeding, grooming, and health care costs [source: American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals]. Over the course of a pet's life, an owner might spend as much as $14,000 on everything from kibble to pet insurance [source: Consumer Reports]. Multiply that amount by the number of pets in your house, and you'll see how quickly pets can overrun your bank account.
You have two options: Buy a cheaper pet (fish only cost $235 a year to maintain and pet rocks are free), or carefully budget your pet's care [source: American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals].
Just like you clip coupons before making your weekly trip to the supermarket and buy your clothes off the sale rack, you can save money on pet care without compromising the health of your furry best friend. Here are five easy tips for saving a few bucks on pet care costs.
Adopt a Pet
You could pay hundreds -- even thousands -- of dollars to adopt a purebred pooch from your local pet store. Or, you could spend just $75 to $150 adopting one from an animal shelter or pet rescue organization [source: DogsOnly].
About one in every four dogs and cats housed at local shelters are purebred, meaning you could get one heck of a good deal [source: The Humane Society]. Plus, most shelters will help match you with the pet that best fits your family's needs, and you'll likely get a pet that's already been spayed or neutered, de-wormed and vaccinated. Even better, you'll feel good in knowing that you've saved an animal's life and given it a loving home.
Before you adopt, read up on the breed you have in mind. Some purebred pets are prone to genetic diseases that could end up costing you later. Experts say mutts are actually a better buy, because they don't get as sick and tend to live longer.
You can find pets available for adoption in your area by visiting the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Web site.
You've got a real talent for making homemade pet toys. Your best friend loves to take care of your furry friends when you're away. Why not exchange services so you can get out of town for a few days without having to pay for boarding, and she can save money on pet entertainment?
You can exchange just about anything for pet services -- accounting, house cleaning, dental care -- so play to your strengths. What you get in return can range from walking your dog a few times a week, to cleaning your pet's teeth (if your friend's a veterinarian). To make an offer, either ask directly or reach out to friends and colleagues via social networking sites you already use, like Facebook and Twitter.
If you're the least bit frugal, you probably already comparison shop before making purchases for yourself. Why not do the same when buying for your pet? Here are a few areas where bargain hunting can save you big bucks.
- Veterinarian. Good care should always be at the top of your list when choosing a vet, but you also want to look at the doctor's prices. Get an estimate for common services from several vets in your area. Compare costs and choose the vet that offers the best combination of experience and value.
- Medicine. Don't buy medicines from your vet, where mark-ups can exceed 100 percent. Instead, look into an online or mail order store like 1-800-PetMeds or PetCareRX, which are much cheaper. Buy generic instead of brand-name drugs -- they contain exactly the same active ingredients. Also ask whether your local drug store or supermarket will let you add your pet to their prescription savings plan. Don't worry, as many will.
- Pet insurance. Be extra cautious when considering pet insurance, because it won't necessarily save you money. In fact, you could end up spending more out of pocket. Read the fine print before you sign any pet insurance policy to make sure you know exactly which procedures and services it will cover.
- Pet food and supplies. Don't spend extra for the "super premium" pet foods if you don't have to. They're not worth the extra money. Any pet food that's labeled "total nutrition" or "complete and balanced" will give your furry friend all the nutrients it needs. When purchasing pet food or litter, buying in bulk can save you big money, especially if you have more than one animal at home. Clip coupons from your local newspaper and look for store specials to maximize your savings.
Do It Yourself
Vets and groomers are expensive. Although you have to take your pet in for check-ups and procedures once in a while, you can learn how to handle some of the everyday care yourself. Here are some DIY tips:
- Brush your dog or cat's fur. Daily brushing not only leaves your pet with a shiny, lustrous coat, but it also helps clear away dirt and matted fur.
- Give your pet a bath. Dogs need washing about once every three months, because they can't do it themselves. Your cat has its own regular grooming routine, but you can help by using a pet wet-wipe to clean those areas its tongue can't reach.
- Trim your pet's nails. Use a sharp nail clipper to cut off the tip of each nail, just above where it curves. Be careful to avoid the quick -- the pink area on your pet's nails that will bleed profusely if nicked.
- Give your pet a thorough inspection. Look for any cuts, sores, tics, fleas or signs of illness. Pinpoint any potential issues before they become serious enough to require a costly medical procedure.
Practice Good Preventive Care
Waiting until your pet is already sick can turn a $100 veterinarian visit into a $3,000 trip. Follow your vet's recommendations for check-ups so you can nip any potential health problems in the bud.
Most pets need to get a check-up about once every six months. If you take good care of your cat or dog, those twice-yearly visits will be enough, and you won't have to spend any extra time -- and money -- at the vet's office.
Give your pet all of the vaccinations and preventive medicines (for heartworm, fleas, and tics) your vet recommends--but don't over-spend. Most pets only need their main vaccinations once every three years [source: Consumer Reports].
Though they may not enjoy the experience, brush your cat or dog's teeth regularly. Animals get gum disease just like humans. Rotten teeth not only lead to expensive dental procedures, but they also can increase your pet's risk for heart and kidney disease [source: ASPCA].
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