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I’m not sure how many thousands of dollars we’ve spent on our cats over the years, but Jack and Opie have a good life. They get a variety of healthy food, and they have toys, beds, scratching posts, and a small escape-proof patio where they can hunt bugs and lizards (they’re essentially indoor cats — true outdoor cats live only a third as long).
If you love your pets you take care of them, right? And that can be expensive, especially if you spoil them like we do.
But don’t cut back on the care you provide. Go ahead and buy that expensive pet food, the kind that’s actually good for them. Just buy it on sale. Build your own dog or cat enclosure instead of paying a contractor or buying a prefabricated one.
You get the idea. You can spend less and still treat your pets right. Here are 23 ways to save on pet care, starting with choosing the right pet.
1. Adopt a Shelter Pet
Our Opie was almost one of the 1.5 million shelter animals euthanized every year. Jack might have joined him at the shelter if he hadn’t (with some coaxing) chosen to move off the street and into our home. But if saving a dog or cat’s life isn’t enough motivation for you to adopt, consider the money you’ll save.
For example, a puppy from a breeder typically costs $750 to $2,000, versus $50 to $150 in fees to adopt a rescued animal.
2. Get a Small Pet
Common sense suggests that small pets are less expensive than large ones, and the data on pet care costs backs that up. The ASPCA says the average annual expenditure for a small dog is $737 versus $1,040 for a large dog. That’s a savings of more than $300 every year.
In addition to lower ongoing expenses, small dogs have lower initial expenses. A big dog requires a bigger leash and carrier, and spaying or neutering can cost more too.
Want to save even more money? Think smaller. The annual cost to care for a guinea pig is $304, and it takes just $27 per year will cover the expenses of a fish.
3. Spray and Neuter
The negative behaviors of unspayed or unneutered cats and dogs can be expensive. Cats that aren’t “fixed” spray urine around the house, damaging carpet and furniture. Dogs are more violent when unneutered, and attacks could result in expensive lawsuits.
Suddenly having a litter of puppies or kittens is another expensive result of not spaying or neutering. If you pay the upfront cost of fixing your pet you’ll generally save much more money down the road.
4. Choose a Cheaper Vet
If you love your pets you’ll pay what it takes to keep them healthy. But paying more for a vet doesn’t mean you get better care. So how do you get the best value?
Start by getting some information. Talk to friends. Go to websites like VetRatingz.com to look over the reviews. Your goal is to rule out the bad vets — and I can tell you from experience that they’re out there.
Once you’re left with a list of acceptable vets, choose based on cost. Call each one and ask for the price of an office visit. Ask for prices of other services your pet might need, like vaccinations and teeth cleaning.
5. Avoid Emergencies
Suppose your dog or cat is sick and you’re not sure whether to go to the vet. If it’s early in the day you might wait a few hours to see if the illness passes. But if you’re still not sure at three in the afternoon, get to the vet, especially if the weekend is coming. Why? Because after-hours vet visits are very expensive.
Of course true emergencies can be expensive at any time, so plan ahead. If you your dog or cat has a condition that can be treated now to prevent it from becoming an emergency, get to the vet for the sake of your loved one and your wallet.
6. Don’t Treat the Vet’s Office as a Pet Supply Store
Almost everything they sell in a veterinary office can be bought elsewhere for a lot less. That’s true of food, flea collars, snacks, hairball treatments, and more. Let the attendant tell you about all the benefits of those special cat toothbrushes — and then go buy them at Petco or PetSmart for half the price.
7. Shop Online for Pet Medications
If you need the medication right now and you’re in the vet office, you’ll have to pay the price. But if it’s a non-emergency, or an ongoing need, buy those pet medications online for less. Here are some of the popular vendors:
8. Don’t Buy Pet Health Insurance
Medical care for pets can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars in the case of an accident or serious illness. That makes health insurance tempting. But when Consumer Reports analysed pet insurance they found you’ll normally do better just saving money for emergencies.
How much should you set aside for emergency pet health care? A list of insurance policies for dogs shows monthly costs ranging from $10 to $50 for various types of coverage. If you set aside an amount equal to that highest premium ($50 per month), you’ll probably be able to pay for anything that comes up.
And unlike when you buy insurance, if your pet does not have a major illness or injury you can keep most or all of that money.
9. Walk Your Dog
The health benefits of exercise are roughly the same for animals as they are for humans. For example, regular exercise can prevent obesity and help the digestive system in cats and dogs.. Keeping your pets healthy means fewer vet bills for you, so play with your cats or walk your dogs.
10. Buy Pet Food on Sale
Did you know that canine diseases have been linked to grains in dog food? The better pet foods have more animal protein and less corn or wheat. And yes, they cost more, although you may save it back by avoiding future vet bills.
In any case, if you care enough to buy the good food for your pet you can save money on it in a number of ways, starting with shopping sales.
11. Get Those Loyalty Cards
My Petco Pals Rewards card gets me a $5 gift card from time to time. That’s nice, but the bigger savings are from the usual sales and promotions, for which you need the card.
All the major pet supply stores have similar customer loyalty programs. If you shop at more than one of them, sign up for the program at each.
12. Pay for Supplies With Discounted Gift Cards
Discounted gift cards are a great way to save on pet food and other supplies. There are a number of places to buy them online, and the discounts vary. But to give you an example, at Cardpool I found the following deals:
- Petco gift cards: 14% discount
- PetSmart gift cards: 18% discount
- Pet Food Express gift cards: 25% discount
Sometimes the cards are out of stock so you’ll have to check other sites (you should do that anyhow to find the lowest price). You can get physical cards mailed to you, but more commonly the “cards” are something you print out and therefore can use right away. I’ve used both types many times without a problem.
13. Stack Your Savings
“Deal stacking” is combining several savings tactics on the same purchase. You can use this strategy to dramatically cut the cost of your pet food and other supplies. For example, a simple “double stack” would be to use a discounted gift card to buy pet food on sale.
Here’s a more complicated “quintuple stack” I’ve used a few times to buy cat food for up to 50% off: I use a cashback credit card (1) to buy a discounted gift card (2), and use that along a coupon (3) to buy cat food on sale (4), and use my Petco card to earn points toward future rewards (5).
14. Feed Them Human Food
According to AnimalPlanet.com our cats can safely eat steamed broccoli, boiled eggs, and baked carrots. They’re all healthy foods for felines, and all cost less than many cat foods.
On WebMD you can find a list of people foods your dog can eat, but they suggest limiting intake of human foods to 5% to 10% of a dog’s diet. Also, you’ll have to do your own calculations to see which foods will save you money when compared to the cost of regular dog food.
15. Make Your Own Pet Food
You can save money by making your own dog food. You can even find a few cat food recipes online. In addition to saving money, making your own pet food gives you control over ingredients. Your homemade dog food or cat food doesn’t need potentially unhealthy preservatives and other additives.
16. Stop Wasting Pet Food
Your dog or cat might hesitate to eat because the food is stale. Our cats refuse to eat old food. It’’s probably less healthy anyhow. Of course throwing out and putting out new food gets expensive, so what can you do to prevent this waste?
Pet MD says to avoid leaving dry cat food in sunlight or in hot conditions generally. Also, the less you expose the food to air the better. The rules for dry dog food are the same.
We make it a point to check the expiration date on the cat food we buy, and we don’t buy anything with a date that’s closer than a few months out.
Putting less food in their bowls helps avoid waste too (our guys will not touch anything that sits overnight in their bowls).
17. Make Your Own Pet Furniture
The really nice “cat condos” or “cat towers” at pet supply stores cost at least $100, and sometimes much more. Fortunately there are plenty of DIY Cat Condo tutorials online. I’ve built at least ten things for our cats. Here are some other examples of pet furniture you can build yourself to save money:
18. Make Your Own Pet Toys
It seems many cat toys are designed to be fun for humans rather than to cats. Jack and Opie ignore almost anything for which we pay more than a dollar. But when I put a bird feather on a piece of string or crumple up a paper ball, they’re get excited.
You get the point: Why spend too much on toys that you dog or cat may not even want when you can make more interesting pet toys for almost nothing? Check out these 4 cat toys you can make yourself, and these 44 DIY dog toys.
19. Build Your Own Pet Enclosures
I built an 8-by-8-by-8-foot cat enclosure for our guys, complete with various perches they could climb up to, and I did it for about $200. They could access it through a cat door any time day or night. A similar one I saw online cost $2,200.
You can find plenty of photos of cat enclosures online to give you ideas on how to build your own. You can also find tutorials on how to build a dog fence. If you’re going to provide any escape-proof outdoor space for you pet, you’ll save hundreds of dollars doing it yourself.
20. Groom Your Pets Yourself
Pet grooming costs $20 to $130 depending on where you have it done and the size of your pet. But you can wash your own dog or cut your cat’s nails yourself, right? Besides saving you money, doing your own grooming helps you maintain a strong bond with your pet.
21. Find Cheaper Pet Sitting
Pet sitting prices vary by location and with additional services you need (walking the dog). We’ve paid as much as $60 per night for someone to simply hang out with our cats.
You can shop around for the cheapest sitters, but you may not save much, and there’s the trust issue. A better approach is to agree with other pet owners you know to exchange pet sitting duties. That cuts your cost to zero.
22. Train Your Pets Yourself
Why pay for expensive pet training when you can learn to do it yourself. In addition to books on the subject there are tutorials and videos online to help you. For example, you can learn how to teach your dog to sit on command or even train your cat to use a toilet.
23. Your Home Pet-Safe
The tooth marks on many of our electrical cords make me wonder how Opie has survived this long. Fortunately we eventually learned to hide the cords and use two-sided tape to discourage him from chewing on them.
There are many ways to pet-proof your home, like using child-proof gadgets to keep pets out of a cabinet, or putting tippy vases on the floor instead of on shaky tables. A few household changes to make things safer can reduce or prevent costly damage to the house and trips to the vet. And, more important than saving money, you might save the life of your pet.
What have you done to save on pet care? Tell us about it below, and happy frugaling!