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6 Ways to Save on Pet Care Costs

A vet offers advice on spending less on your dog or cat without skimping


(This article previously appeared on Grandparents.com.)

You don’t have to tell most pet owners that their pets are worth the time and money to keep them as family members. And in the best of circumstances (excellent overall health and nary an accident), the expenses are probably not so high.

But we’re talking real, not ideal. Pet care and upkeep can be a major expense, sometimes costing thousands of dollars a year. Yet it doesn’t have to break the bank.

Veterinarian Karen Halligan, DVM, an expert for the syndicated news magazine America Now, offers smart tips for saving money on Fluffy and Fido — without skimping on your duty as “beloved master.”

1. Saving on shots. Certain vaccinations must be given by a vet (for example, rabies), but others don’t have to be. And not every animal needs every other vaccination.

(MORE: 5 Ways to Pay Less for Pet Medications)

“It all depends on your pet’s lifestyle (indoor or out) and where you live,” says Halligan. Dogs who spend a lot of time around other dogs might need a Bordatella shot, while dogs who live in less urban places might need a Giardia shot. Ask your vet about the right protocol for your pet.

Smart move: Most cities have vaccine clinics at least monthly sponsored by the local veterinary community association. The shots are administered by vets and prices can range from free to $5 or so — quite a savings from vaccinations at the vet’s office which can cost your $30 or more.

Check it out: To find a low-cost clinic near you, do an online search for “(your city) vaccine clinics” or “(your city) veterinary community association.”

2. Saving on food. If you buy food for your pet frequently, you’re probably overfeeding. “Seventy percent of the cats and dogs who come into my practice are obese,” says Halligan, “which can lead to other more serious — and expensive — complications.”

Two feedings a day are common for dogs a year and older. And treats are for special occasions only; remember, they have calories, too.

Smart move: Talk to your vet about proper portion control and your pet’s ideal weight. (Buy food in which the first two ingredients have the word “protein,” so you know it’s nutritious.)

As for treats, “animals cannot distinguish between a whole treat or half a treat” says Halligan, so to save money “buy small treats or break big ones into pieces.”

Check it out: Go to Gift Card Granny to buy reduced price gift cards to places like PetSmart and Petco, which you can then use to pay for pet food or treats.

(MORE: 6 Best Small Dogs for Your Empty Nest)

3. Saving on medications. Pet Rx’s at Walgreens or Costco? You bet. Many medicines used on pets have been tested on humans — think antibiotics, itch creams, anti-anxiety meds.

Smart move: Ask your vet if there’s a generic alternative (automatically less expensive than name brand) and ask if it can be filled at your pharmacy. If your drugstore is expensive, shop around for the best price.

Check it out: For chronic conditions, consider getting your Rx online at places like 1-800-PetMeds. Online pharmacies often offer perks, like $5 off your order or free shipping on orders over a certain amount.

(MORE: Is Pet Insurance Worth Buying?)

4. Saving on emergency care. Sometimes a trip to the ER in the middle of the night can’t be avoided. But if the problem can wait, you’ll save money by going to your vet in the morning.

Smart move: Assuming your pet isn’t bleeding profusely, unconscious or howling in pain, and it’s after hours, call the emergency clinic, describe the situation and see if your pet’s condition can be attended to in the morning. A broken nail for example (where possible bleeding can be stopped with a styptic pen) would cost 25 to 30 percent more after-hours than during the vet’s regular hours.

Check it out: If you have a breed known for certain health issues (or just for peace of mind), pet insurance might make sense. Or create an emergency pet fund the old fashioned way: Put money in an interest-bearing savings account.

5. Saving on boarding. Does your pet really need a daily massage or a TV with Animal Planet in its “hotel” room? “No,” says Halligan. “The three most important things to consider before boarding your pet are cleanliness, caregivers who are kind and competent and positive testimonials.”

Smart move: If your vet boards pets, the cost will be less than a pet hotel. Depending on the size of the dog, you can save at least half, if not more. Plus, at your vet’s, you already know the staff.

Or ask a friend or neighbor with a pet if you can do a little boarding swap.

Check it out: Go to DogVacay.com, a site that lists vetted hosts across the country. Prices are comparable to boarding at a vet’s clinic. (A “wag room” at a pet hotel can run between $40 to $50 a night, but a single night at a “host’s” home can run $25 to $30, depending on the part of the country.)

6. Preventing major health issues. If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, the following simple preventive measures are in your and your pet’s best interests — financially and physically:

  • Neuter your pet before the age of seven months (or first heat). Halligan says many major illnesses (cancer, for example) are mitigated by early neutering.
  • Brush your pet’s teeth. Just as poor dental hygiene is linked to major health issues in humans (heart disease, hypertension), so it is with our pets. Invest $10 in a toothbrush and toothpaste (made for pets) and clean your pet’s teeth every other day.
  • Keep up with vaccinations. Neglecting a recommended vaccine will be far more costly in medical care than the preventive shot.
  • Take your pet for a yearly wellness exam. It’s one of the best preventive measures you can do.

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