20 Ways to Save Big Bucks on Pet Supplies

Even the most frugal pet owner needs to spend some money. The following tactics will help you stretch funds to provide the best life for your animal companion.

Owning a pet is expensive. To buy and care for your furry friend, you may have to pay for:

  • Purchase or adoption fees
  • Spaying/neutering
  • Collar, leash, crate and carrier bag
  • Training
  • Microchip implantation

And that is just for starters. Even the most frugal pet owner is going to have to spend some money. The question is whether you’re using that money wisely.

The following tactics will help you stretch available funds to provide the best life you can afford for your animal companion.

1. Get things online

Sites such as Wag.com, PetSmart and Petco regularly run sales, hand out coupons and offer free shipping for food, medication and supplies. And yes, free shipping may apply even toward heavy stuff, such as giant sacks of kibble or large boxes of kitty litter.

Access online merchants through a cash-back shopping site such as Ebates, and you’ll get rebates of up to 15 percent.

2. Go generic

Kendal Perez, who blogs at Hassle-Free Savings, always buys generic heartworm meds online for her two dogs. Recently she was about to reorder with a $5 coupon when her husband found a much better price through a different merchant. “It pays to shop around,” she says.

Use a price comparison website such as PriceGrabber.com to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

3. Subscribe to save

You can set up a recurring order for products you use regularly, such as food or litter. This may mean a product discount. (Amazon.com gives one.). At the very least, it saves you time, gasoline and the premium you’ll pay if you find you’re out of cat food some Sunday evening.

4. Buy in bulk and use coupons

Perez gets rawhides by the 15-pack at Sam’s Club, paying less than $1 apiece — less than half the price at pet stores. My daughter purchases cat litter by the pound from a giant bin at Petco.

Coupons also can net you savings. Try sites such as Coupons.com to net savings on pet food and other supplies.

5. Buy secondhand

Yard sales and thrift stores may yield the dog dish or kitty condo of your dreams. Disinfect and wash or vacuum the item, and it’ll be good as new. “If it looks clean and doesn’t have an odor and it’s the right price, then I would have no problem [with it],” Los Angeles veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber says. A spray such as Lysol will take care of bacteria and fungi.

6. Get a built-in discount

Pay with discounted gift cards bought on the secondary market, and you’ll save every time you shop. You can find such gift cards at sites such as Cardpool and Raise.com.

7. Pay with free gift cards

Sites such as MyPoints and Swagbucks let you earn plastic or e-gift cards to Amazon, Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s and other merchants that sell pet supplies. Or cash in rewards credit card points to get cards to those retailers.

8. Try websites where you get things free

Check out offerings on the Freecycle Network. There’s no guarantee that pet items will be there when you need them, but you never know. I’ve seen food, litter, crates and other pet items being given away.

And don’t forgetCraigslist. You may luck out in the “free” section. (Patience helps.) Or put up an ad in the “wanted” section, specifying that you’re willing to come pick up that crate or skijoring equipment.

9. Look for gratis grub

Do a daily Internet search for “free pet food.” Companies regularly offer free samples or even full-sized products on their Facebook pages or through freebie bloggers.

10. Embrace hand-me-downs and trades

Once you’ve posted a few Facebook pictures of your lovely rescued greyhound, a friend or family member might offer a deceased hound’s leash and collar or a barely used pet bed. Or, propose a pet-gear swap among friends or at your place of worship.

11. Get creative and repurpose items

Maybe a soup dish or stainless steel bowl will stand in for store-bought food/water dishes. Get the baby gate out of storage: It works just as well as a commercial pet gate to keep the puppy out of the living room, according to Rachel Phelps of a dog blog called Preston Speaks.

Build your own dog bed (a friend did this with scrap lumber) and fill it with old towels or sweatshirts. In other words, improvise.

12. Do it yourself

When possible, bathe and/or groom your pet at home. My sister clips her golden retriever’s fast-growing nails; she bought a fairly pricey tool, but it quickly paid for itself. You can also learn to clean your pet’s ears and do breed-specific haircuts, says Dr. Jules Benson of the Petplan insurance company.

13. Measure that kibble

Benson says those back-of-the-bag recommendations for how much food to give your pet are usually “far too much,” especially if your pet is sedentary. Talk to your vet about caloric needs and then use a measuring cup to dole out the daily ration. “You’ll be surprised how much further a bag of food goes,” he says.

14. Make your own treats

The Internet is full of pet snack recipes. If your animal companion has digestive issues, ask the vet which ingredients should be avoided. To get you started, check out the why and how by the writer of the blog The Bark.

15. Make your own toys

Professional dog trainer Amy Robinson, who’s been in the business for 24 years, says the lowly tennis ball is the most popular toy ever. Get “dead” tennis balls cheaply or free at tennis clubs.

Robinson likes to bury one in a cardboard box filled with paper, crumpled cardboard and toilet paper rolls to provide “physical and mental stimulation.” She also suggests putting a tennis ball in an old tube sock: “Your dog will have a big time trying to get the ball out, or holding the sock in his teeth and [whipping] it around.” Note: Throw the ball away once it develops holes.

16. Make your own cat litter

Not a tactic for everyone, true, but it’s certainly cheap. Do an online search for “homemade cat litter.” This recipe from the Lifehacker blog uses shredded newspaper and baking soda.

17. Turn to the Humane Society

On its website, the Humane Society of the United States has a section called “Having trouble affording your pet?” It’s a tremendous resource of local and national groups that offer free food, vet care, supplies and grooming. This is not a comprehensive list, so don’t give up if you don’t see anything in your area.

18. Look to pet food banks and food stamps

The Petco chain has a food bank donation program, and its website links to the names of regional groups that receive and distribute that food. Look for programs in your area.

Meanwhile, a nonprofit called Pet Food Stamps — which is not a government agency — is open to those in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps) or who receive welfare or Social Security as their only forms of income. It can take many weeks to be approved because of the number of applications.

19. Talk to your veterinarian

Ask if your veterinarian knows about local rescue or advocacy groups that donate supplies. Bonus: If the vet knows the reality of your situation, you may be allowed to pay for needed care in installments.

20. Get those shots

If you simply cannot afford a vet visit this year and none of the above resources can help, at least make sure your pet gets vaccinated. Look online for regional shot clinics run by government agencies or animal charities. The price may surprise you; for example, the Michigan Humane Society charges just $5 for rabies, distemper and parvovirus shots.

Pet owners, have any cost-cutting tips to share? Let us know in our Forums. It’s a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

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  • Rob F

    #1 way to save on the cost of pets is to not get pets in the first place 😉

    • Jcatz824

      Rob “F” – I have to wonder why you bothered to read this article about how to save big bucks on pet supplies since you very apparently don’t believe in having pets. Why waste your time on something you don’t care about???

      • Touche`!
        I guess some people just do not understand, do not care, or are completely clueless….

    • Y2KJillian

      Rob, that’s true, and is a sensible post. When one has pets, it’s like when one has kids–they can cost
      you a lot more than you expect, so think before you end up with them and their costs. Not to say we didn’t have kids or pets anyway…we did. And paid the price. Was it worth it? Some of it was! XD

    • animals CAN, and often DO, complete one’s life in ways that another human being can not even begin to imagine…not saying anyone should go celibate, but for some, the completeness they find with a pet can only be felt in the heart.
      The pet may be a cat, a dog, a bird, it could be a reptile/amphibian, the sky’s pretty much the limit.
      A pet can bring more tranquility, peace & harmony & less stress, than any human could ever think of….

      So B4 you start condemning those of us with pets, you need to keep in mind that pets are not just pets, but they are family members that we love more than life itself.

    • Y2KJillian

      I see that you’re winking. Naturally, the #1 way to save on anything is not to do it. Think of all you can save by not eating, for example! And imagine what you could save by not living at all! But for those who indulge in living, eating, and pets, these tips and many more you can find online can be helpful.

  • Mara Cain

    Could have done without your post, Rob. It is not helpful.
    There is an organization in parts of Texas called “Don’t Forget To Feed Me”. They donate pet food along with people food. Fewer pets enter shelters if people can just get food for them.

  • jmills

    First of all, IAMS is NOT a good brand of pet food–too many recalls!

    • Skeptic_6

      jmills, just judging Iams due to recalls is not really a way to determine whether or not it is a “good” brand–it depends on the reasons for the recall(s). And a recall is certainly better than just hoping no one finds out. Who issued the recall, the manufacturer after they discovered a problem?
      The tips as offered are good for some people, evidently not for you, good for you that you have other means of determining what works for you.

    • Y2KJillian

      I wasn’t recommending IAMS in particular. And I agree with the replies below; it all depends. Since I posted a year ago, I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking about it…our girls are getting older and having some problems; heck, so are we. We love them–and I mean that sincerely. We’re doing the best we can in light of what we know now, and will continue to learn and try to do better.

  • jmills

    Secondly, the WORST thing for a dog’s teeth is a tennis ball!! Instead of saving you money, it’ll cost a fortune at a vet’s for dental work. Use a rubber ball instead, one that will withstand constant chewing.
    Finally, don’t buy supermarket pet food–it’s so full of harmful and unhealthy fillers that your pet will need more vet visits because of various avoidable illnesses. Go online and search out reputable food manufacturers and food reviews. You’ll spend a bit more up front on GOOD, SUITABLE food, but you will save at the back end on vet bills.
    In short, this article was only somewhat helpful. The writer should do more research in future instead of misleading people in a harmful way with money-saving “tips.”

    • If one takes the time to research the ingredients label on every package of dog/cat/small animal/bird food, you will find that there is no such thing as GOOD, SUITABLE food, in the animal feed industry.

      So how do you make sure your “babies” are eating healthy? 2 things.

      #1) open communications with your vet at all times. let him/her advise you as to what is best.

      #2) make your own dog/cat food at home per your vet’s instructions/directions.
      Yes it means more work for you, but would you deny your own children a healthy diet if money allowed?
      Then why deny your pets?

      • My vet’s advice was “The dry food from PetSmart is perfectly fine.”

        • Ms.Livingston:
          Then I suggest you follow your vet’s advice….

          I however, do not agree with his/her advice, hence wy I make my own dog/cat food.

          I’m not saying he/she is wrong or full of it, I’m just saying I do not agree with it.

          For the sake of your pets, I encourage you to follow his/her advice.

        • Jcatz4

          PetSmart sells many different brands of dry (and wet) pet foods so which brand that they sell does your vet say is perfectly fine?

    • That depends on the supermarket. I just recently checked ConsumerSearch to find recommended brands of cat food for our two new kittens, and it says that the canned food from Trader Joe’s is comparable to premium brands and about half the price. And the company has an exemplary safety record: when a Chinese factory they did business with was implicated in contaminating several brands of pet food, they pulled all their food off the shelves–even though their brand was *not* one of those affected–just to do their own tests and make extra sure it was safe. I also checked and confirmed that all their pet food cans are BPA-free. So not all “supermarket brands” are created equal.

  • Y2KJillian

    You can find out online which pet foods have been subject to death-related recalls, like the recalls a while back where pets were dying because of what, melmac? in the food? Melamine? Plastic contamination from China? That was disgraceful! On that list, I found one, Purina, which has, so far, never had a recall, is manufactured IN AMERICA (a key concept) and is a decent food and sold in grocery stores (so is IAMS)–you don’t need to be overly fussy; Consumer Reports has stated that Ol’ Roy from Walmart is as good as most premium pet-store dog foods…I used to buy only Eukanuba, but after reading that article in CU, I lowered my sights a bit. My little dogs are in their 18s and still leaping on the furniture and guests; so healthy enough, although ill-trained.

    • Purina has had recalls, just none in the past two years. (I looked it up on a site called Pets Adviser.) I guess “Made in America” is not an absolute guarantee.

  • Patty Ellis

    Please be careful of buying generic heartworm meds online. You may not be getting what you think you are getting, and cold end up with a pet with a perfectly preventable disease that now will cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to treat, instead of that extra dollar or two per month that you thought you were saving.

    • This is just my personal choice, my personal 2 cents, so please, take it as such.

      I refuse to buy medicine for my “baby boy” online…

      #1) you do not know just exactly what you’re getting….
      even with a highly detailed description.

      #2) in most cases, where the website owner claims the medicine comes from, may NOT be its true point of origin.
      How much garbage comes out of China on a daily basis & is sold to unsuspecting Americans?

      The Chinese Gov’t doesn’t give a rip about its own people, do you honestly think they are going to give a darn about someone thousands of miles away?

      #3) Lastly, in most cases, I trust people about as far as I can toss an Abram’s battle tank.
      As a general rule of thumb, people will shaft you every chance the get. enough said.

  • about saving money on cat litter…

    there is a product used in the auto industry called “oil dry”….
    I’m sure it goes by other names as well, but I believe “oil dry” to be the most common.

    The point I am trying to make is this; this “oil dry” product is made(in most cases) from ground up clay….the same material as cat litter.
    Some brands of oil dry have chemicals added to it & some do not…
    for years, I have used basic oil dry for cat litter & saved a TON of money. Now in the oil dry I use, it is nothing more than ground up natural clay, and when I buy a bag of it, cost per ounce, is about 1/4 of what I would spend for “kitty litter”.
    Just have to make sure that it is pure natural clay WITHOUT additives.

    I wish to extend my thanks to you for all the information listed in this article.
    Some I was already aware of, but the Lion’s Share of it, I had no clue…
    which is just one of oh so many reasons why I enjoy MONEY TALKS NEWS so much. : 0 )

    • Thanks for the kind words and the cat litter tip, Capernius! I’m the proud companion of three cats and Lola, the Money Talks dog! :-)

      • Jcatz4

        I knew there was a reason that I liked you, Stacy! I have 3 kitties but no doggy. I also have a BF of 35 yrs. but we could never live in the same home because he is not a pet person. Have a good day!

        • When Lola was a puppy, she constantly played with one of our kittens. For about a year, our house was a non-stop YouTube video. Super-cute. Now that Lola’s older, they’re still friends, but not as much action.
          Gotta love the furry children!

          • Jcatz4

            Furry children are the best!! Lily, Maggie and Zoey say “meow”.

  • Dale

    Subscribe to Facebook pages and/or send your e-mail info to your favorite pet food companies. I’ve received some awesome coupons for up to six dollars off a (very expensive) large bag of Wellness cat food. After the huge pet food contamination scare I stopped feeding my kitties Iams or any other supermarket brand. A friend with six pets (!) recommended Wellness. I also keep a spare set of coupons with no expiration date for another super premium brand of food that costs far less for when times get tough(er). When I buy my food from Petco they often have sales that include wet food from the same product line. My kitties don’t eat these wet foods so I donate them to a local shelter for better quality food for the homeless pets. It gives great satisfaction when I volunteer to be able to feed the kitties myself from my donation. Believe me when I say that every little bit helps them!

  • delgal

    I signed up for the pet food stamps and never neard back from them. This was several years ago. I read later on that the place running pet food stamps out of new york was scamming people by taking the social security numbers from their applicants and using them elsewhere.

  • whattarush

    PetSmart does not ship food or litter. Neither do other sites I’ve visited. Target has a lower price on our litter. We can go to the store and get as many as we want, and sometimes we get a $5 gift card for every two we buy PLUS we save an additional 5% with our RedCard. If I want it shipped, they will do a limit of 3 at a time with free shipping because we have a RedCard. Very rarely do I see coupons for our specific litter and food, but when I do, they are so welcomed!

  • Ams

    This article should be “28 Ways to Save Big Bucks on Dog or Cat Supplies”. What about the pet owners that have other types of animals? I never see ANY deals for my bearded dragon!

    • Amanda Lavorati

      EBay. Just got 2 basking bulbs for the price of 1 at Petco. Found ceramic heat emitter for $10. 1,000 crickets for $25.

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