The Top Ways to Save on Your Beloved Pet, Responsibly

Black, white and chocolate labradors in a line.
Photo by claire norman / Shutterstock.com

Yes, your pet is just like family, but that doesn’t mean you want to unnecessarily waste your money on it.

In 2016 pet owners spent $66.75 billion on their pets, according to the American Pet Products Association. Expect that number to rise to $69.36 billion in 2017. That number is astronomical when you consider that you can get a great dog, cat or exotic animal, and all of the supplies and care it needs, for bargain prices – or sometimes even free – if you know what you want and where to look.

Start when you begin to consider getting a pet. Sure you can go to a breeder and spend hundreds or thousands. But one of the best ways to find a creature to love is to go to an animal rescue group or shelter. Not only are the pets low- or no-cost, but the staff can provide you with a rundown of individual pets’ personalities. That’s not possible when choosing a young puppy, kitten or exotic.

“Talk to the staff and volunteers at your local shelter — they are there to help make the best match for you! Ask lots of questions, and be honest about your lifestyle, living situation and others who live in your house — elderly family members and/or kids,” said Jennifer Brause, executive director and founder of Baltimore Animal Rescue & Shelter Care Inc. (BARCS). “The more questions you ask and information you provide, the better we can help you!”

Once you have your new friend you’ll want to give them the best of everything. But don’t go crazy adding extra cash to the billions spent annually on pets. Not sure where to start? Consider these ideas to keep your pet and your budget happy:

1. Look for low-priced vet care

Of course you’ll want to give your pet the best health care possible — you certainly don’t want to skimp on care and make your pet suffer – but that doesn’t mean you need to overspend. As we’ve told you, there are a host of no-cost and low-cost animal medical care providers. They offer inexpensive vaccinations, spaying, neutering and more.

So how do you find that budget-friendly care? Contact rescue or other animal-welfare groups including the one where you adopted your pet. You can get a rundown of animal welfare groups in your area at Petfinder.com. The ASPCA also has a list of low-cost spay and neuter programs for which your pet may qualify. The Humane Society has a list of charities that provide needy pet owners financial assistance for medical care of pets. Click on your state to find the ones near you.

2. Consider pet insurance

As we’ve previously reported, the cost of pet health insurance depends on many variables including your pet’s species and breed, where you live and your pet’s age.

To give you an idea, here are 2015 rates from North American Pet Health Insurance Association:

Dogs: average annual premiums

  • Accident only — $164
  • Accident and illness — $456

Cats: average annual premiums

  • Accident only – $136
  • Accident and illness – $316

So why invest? It may be worth it if your pet is a member of a breed that has a history of high-cost medical needs. One canine example is a British Bulldog, which often needs nasal surgeries and treatments, according to the American Kennel Club.

Pet surgeries and medical treatments are so prevalent now that pet health insurance providers are routinely entering the marketplace. That has made it easier for pet owners to personalize insurance and find cost-effective plans.

“Because there are more options available, you have a much better chance of finding a policy that covers what’s important to you and your pet,” Frances Wilkerson, a Chicago-area veterinarian and the founder of PetInsuranceUniversity.com, told Prevention magazine.

3. Don’t forget to coupon

You shop for your food with coupons, so why not do the same when buying your pet’s food, toys and more? Of course you’ll look for coupons from your favorite retailers but don’t forget to search online. Some major coupon sites that often have pet food and supplies include Coupons.com, The KrazyCouponLady.com and LivingRichWithCoupons.com. Check online pet food suppliers, too, including Chewy.com, PetFoodDirect.com and Entirelypets.com. They often offer major discounts on prescription food and other in-demand products.

If you are signed up for cash-back sites, such as Ebates, Mr. Rebates, or Swagbucks you will find that you can save even more on your online pet supply purchases in the form of a cash-back check. If you’re not signed up for one or all of these sites, you are missing out on a super painless way to save money online. Check them out.

Also read: “7 Ways to Cut Pet Food Costs.”

4. Consider boarding alternatives

Rather than pay to board your dog or cat when you go out of town, consider taking your pet with you on trips. PetsWelcome.com and PetsCanStay.com are sites that will help you find animal-friendly accommodations, according to VetStreet.com. Also, check with your vet to find a low-cost, in-home pet sitter. Or arrange to swap pet-sitting duties with friends who also need their pets cared for when they’re away from home.

5. Create low-cost toys

Retailers sell a variety of pet toys at high costs, but it’s just as easy to devise low-cost alternatives. You can make a cat scratching post by wrapping sisal rope around a post, says Vetstreet.com. A twisted towel can make a great toy for tug-of-war with a dog, they note. Just make sure you avoid toys that could prove toxic or result in choking. Talk to your vet or those at local animal shelters for other ideas.

6. Prioritize prevention

As with humans, pets are less likely to need expensive medical attention if they have good health habits. Be sure to get the recommended immunizations for your pets, stick with recommended dog and cat foods, keep cats indoors and make sure dogs are getting the exercise they need. Also, be aware of the common hazards your species and breed face. Check out “10 Pet Dangers You Don’t Know About.” Read up on the type of critter you have and get tips from animal-safety advocates like the Center for Pet Safety and American Humane organization.

Dogs, cats and other pets bring a world of joy to their owners. But don’t let your heart rule your head – or your bank account – when it comes to your pet. Adopt and love a pet but keep low-cost alternatives in mind when you buy your pet supplies and treats.

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