Entertainment, Health and Lifestyle

Easy Ways to Cut the High Cost of Pet Care

If the cost to keep your pets fed, healthy, cared for, and looking good has gotten so high, you’re the one coughing up fur balls, take heart. There are many little ways to cut the cost of pet care that will add up to big savings.

According to one survey, owning a dog costs an average of $1,480 in basic expenses annually. For cats, average annual expenses amount to roughly $902. Fish are the cheapest pets, coming in at about $750 a year to care for aquatic friends.

So how can you afford to care for your furry, feathered and scaled friends in sickness and in health? Make preventive maintenance your top priority as a pet owner, and then carefully track every expense.

Consider these tips to help cut your pet expenses without risking your pets’ health or well-being.

FREE EXAMS

Search for free initial exams. Local veterinarians often advertise a complimentary 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 CLIENTS

Check around for low-cost or mobile clinics for vaccinations, microchips, heartworm and flea preventatives. While you may want to stick with the same vet for annual exams, you can save a bundle on preventive services. Search “low-cost animal clinic near me” to learn if such a clinic is available for you and your pets.

A fence or some other reasonable restraint is the best way to avoid big vet bills, advised the late David T. Roen, D.V.M., board-certified veterinarian and founder of the Clarkston Veterinary Clinic in Clarkston, Washington. “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,” he told me.

CHOOSE THE RIGHT FOOD

Dr. Roen always advised his pet owners to skip all the fancy premium foods vets sell. Use name-brand pet food labeled “complete and balanced.” Or look for the seal of approval of AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials).

When your pet’s food is on sale, stock up with enough to last until the next time it goes on sale. 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, the Animal Health Foundation reports that spayed and neutered dogs have fewer health and behavioral problems, which translates to lower vet bills and other health-related pet costs.

GET SECOND OPINIONS

Even if it’s an emergency, get a second opinion if the estimate is for more than a few hundred dollars. 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 markup. Ask your vet for prescription drug samples to get started. Then call around to retailers such as Walmart 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.

FIND THE BARGAINS

Don’t rush to the pet store when you need a crate, cat carrier or other pet equipment. Instead, look at Craigslist.org and Facebook Marketplace. 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 and at grocery and pet stores.

CHECK YARD SALES

You can safely never again buy new toys for your pets when you think of 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 cents to $1, which is typical. Most stuffed toys come out fine after a trip through the washer and dryer. Hint: Add Lysol to the wash cycle to sanitize and disinfect.

CREATE AN ACCOUNT

Seriously, you need to establish a savings account just for pet 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. Woof!

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/ . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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