20 Ways to Save Big Bucks on Pet Supplies

Photo (cc) by pocketwiley

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 forget Craigslist. 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.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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