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What I’ve Learned About Saving Money On My Pet

By Erik Folgate

Many personal finance bloggers have written great articles about the cost of owning a pet and ways to save money when owning a pet. I didn’t realize how much it really does cost to own a medium-sized dog. For one thing, if you don’t have children, that pet becomes like your child, so you tend to spend a little bit more money on them than usual. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with spoiling a family pet if you can afford it. I thought that you might be interested in ways that we have saved money on our dog by using common sense and practicing good preventative care. Here are some ways that we feel we’ve saved money in the long run on pet care.

  • Buy premium pet food. There are two reasons that buying the more expensive, higher quality dog food saves you money in the long run. For one thing, the dog or cat will stay healthier over its lifetime. Just like eating McDonald’s every day won’t help your health at all, serving your dog Ole’ Roy from Wal-Mart won’t help him or her out either. Also, I’ve read studies that higher premium dog food contains a more dense volume of protein and carbohydrates, which means that larger, active dogs will eat less of it. This doesn’t always apply for smaller dogs, but with larger breeds, the volume density of the food is important, because they’ll never feel full if the food is mostly comprised of corn gluten meal. We serve our dog only dry food, because again, it’s more dense than wet food that contains mostly water, and we serve her Science Diet Natural Blends which contains Lamb as the #1 ingredient. It’s $30 a bag, but sometimes that lasts us almost a month, because our dog will only eat about 2 cups a day, and she weighs 75 pounds. Give your dog the good stuff, and you’ll take less trips to the vet and less trips to the grocery or pet store to buy food. Look for foods that have lamb, chicken, chicken or lamb meal, or fish meal as the #1 ingredient and try to stay away from corn-based products.
  • Shop for a Veterinarian and be loyal to one. Pet care is highly competitive, so shop around for the right vet. Compare prices, and don’t be afraid to ask for their pricing schedule up front before getting care for your pet. There shouldn’t be any surprises about how much it’s going to cost. Once you’ve found a Vet that you like, stick with them. You’ll find that they take care of their loyal customers, and they might throw in things like nail clippings, baths, and overnight stays when you take your pet in for routine care.
  • Don’t skip out on the routine care. It’s so easy to get the necessary puppy vaccinations, and then never step back in a Vet’s office until your pet is having problems. Again, just like humans getting routine physicals to help prevent problems later on, the same rule applies for your pet. We take our dog every 6 months, and we usually walk out with a $100 bill, which is nothing compared to if your pet gets some kind of infection that requires antibiotics and other procedures. Also, routinely give your pet heartworm and flea medication. Entirely Pets has good prices for buying flea and heart worm medications. A great example of us getting screwed over by trying to cut corners is that our dog was about 65 pounds and we were giving her Frontline for dogs from 30 to 55 pounds thinking that it would not be a big deal, and she ended up getting a flea infestation, which caused hot spots to form on her body from skin mites. It cost us about $150 dollars to get control of the fleas and cure the hot spots, and it was all caused by trying to save a couple bucks on the cheaper Frontline.
  • Exercise your dog and cat regularly. Same rule applies to pets as it does to humans. We need exercise to sustain a healthy lifestyle. Cats often get overlooked as needing exercise. How many extremely obese cats have you seen? I’ve seen quite a few. Obviously, it’s tough to leash train a cat, so the best thing to do would be playing indoors with your cat like playing with one of their toys. When we owned cats growing up, one of their favorite things was batting around the milk jug rings that secure the caps on milk jugs. Obviously, only let them play with it while you are watching so they don’t try to eat it, but you should try it sometime. It looks like they’re playing hockey.
  • Make homemade toys. I just gave you one above for cats which is very simple. We like to recycle old shirts that we don’t want anymore by putting knots in them and making it a tug-of-war toy for our dog. She loves hearing the tearing sound that the shirt makes. It definitely fuels her fire. If you look around the house, you can probably get creative with making homemade toys. Again, let me stress that you would only want to have your pet play with a homemade toy while you are watching. Toys you buy in the store have passed standards for safety issues and your makeshift toy has not.
  • Get your pet spayed or neutered. You’ve heard Bob Barker say it for like 50 years, and he’s right. You should get them spayed or neutered if you don’t plan on breeding. It controls the pet population which helps prevent hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs get destoryed every year, and it also will help prevent possible costs later on in life. Dogs and cats that are spayed or neutered generally have less health risks and problems than those that are not.
  • Don’t spend money on pet insurance. This might be helpful if your pet needs a procedure that was unforeseen and not preventable, but generally, the premium you pay is just not justified for what these pet insurance policies will pay. You will still share a decent portion of the cost for the procedure on top of your premium, and if you think that human health care plans have a lot of stipulations, just take a look at the pet care plans. Banfield has a pretty good monthly payment program which acts sort of like an insurance policy, and you might want to consider that if you’d rather just pay a monthly installment fee than a $75 to $100 every 6 months or so.

My entire philosophy for spending less on your pet over a long period of time is putting the smaller amounts of money into your pet to help prevent problems down the road. Food, preventative care medications, and bi-annual visits to the vet are much cheaper than the cost of a complicated procedure, rare medication, or surgery. I know that some people will just put the pet to sleep if they require an expensive procedure but for many of us that own pets who are an integral part of the family, it’s not an option for us. And I’m not passing judgment who don’t think of their pets like that, because after all, all pets go to heaven, right? But, my experience is that the more quality care you put into your dog, the more money you will save over the long-term of their life.

Erik Folgate
Erik and his wife, Lindzee, live in Orlando, Florida with a baby boy on the way. Erik works as an account manager for a marketing company, and considers counseling friends, family and the readers of Money Crashers his personal ministry to others. Erik became passionate about personal finance and helping others make wise financial decisions after racking up over $20k in credit card and student loan debt within the first two years of college.

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  • http://www.masteryourcard.com/blog master your card

    What a great article. I have always assumed that pets are very expensive and have never really thought of ways to cut the costs of having one.

  • Elizabeth

    If you want to compare “premium” dog foods to make sure you are getting the most bang for your buck, try www.dogfoodanalysis.com for a basic rating system of most dog foods. Aim to feed your dog something that they rate 4 or 5 stars and as stated above, avoid corn, and also wheat and soy. Also, rotate the protein source with every bag or two. The whole dog journal also lists ‘premium’ foods and has more guidelines for choosing them. It doesn’t necessarily cost more to feed better quality foods!

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