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Save Money on Pet Care with These 21 Tips

Americans love their pets. Whether it’s dogs and cats or parakeets and fish, we can’t get enough of our furry and gilled friends.

In fact, two-thirds of Americans in 2020 were pet owners, according to the Insurance Information Institute. And in a recent survey by Pumpkin, 82% of dog parents “drastically underestimated” their dog’s lifetime care.

Two-thirds of dog owners expected to spend less than $8,000 on vet care over the course of the dog’s life. The actual cost? Closer to $16,000!

Pets can be expensive, sure. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get a little creative and cut some costs whenever possible. We’ll help get you started.

21 Ways to Save Money on Pet Care

1. Buy Smaller Pets

If you haven’t yet chosen a pet, consider smaller ones.

A small dog will cost you $295 less per year than a large one ($580 versus $875), according to estimates from the ASPCA data on pet care costs that are probably higher now. That’s even less than a cat ($670 per year), partly because of the cost of cat litter. And, obviously, a large labrador is going to devour a lot more food than a little chihuahua.

Of course, you could consider even smaller animals. You’ll spend an average of $200 per year on a small bird, and just $35 on a fish.

First-year costs for all pets are substantially higher because of one-time costs like spaying or neutering, and buying pet carriers and other equipment.

2. Adopt Instead of Buying

The breeder price for a dog can be up to five times higher than the cost of adopting one from a shelter. Not only that, but the adoption costs often include vaccinations and health checks. With a breeder, you’re often on your own.

Over 2 million shelter animals are euthanized in the U.S. each year. So you might save hundreds of dollars getting your dog or cat from a shelter, while you’re also saving a life.

3. Join Pet Store Loyalty Clubs

Join the Petco Pals Rewards program and you’ll receive a $5 gift card for every $100 in purchases.

Buy food that’s already on sale, and with your rewards card you can rack up on savings over time. Most of the major pet supply retailers have similar programs.

Sign up for several if you shop in more than one place.

4. Use Discounted Gift Cards

You can buy discounted gift cards on a number of good websites. Most carry cards for more than one pet supply chain.

For example, you’ll find:

  • Pet Food Express on Raise
  • Petco on ABC Gift Cards
  • PetSmart on ABC Gift Cards
  • Pet Supermarket on Gift Card Bin
A woman compares prices of pet food.

5. Watch for Pet Food Sales

There really is a difference between high-end and low-end pet food.

And evidence linking canine diseases to grains in dog food suggests you could make your pet sick and have future vet bills if you go too cheap.

But even the best pet foods go on sale, so why not stock up when it costs less?

You can find weekly ads for pet supply retailers online. You can also link your email address to your customer loyalty card to get sales alerts.

6. Feed Your Pets Some Human Food

What do baked carrots, steamed broccoli and boiled eggs have in common?

They all cost less than cat food (at least the good stuff) and they’re all safe and healthy for cats to eat.

WebMD has a list of people foods your dog can eat, but watch out for whether that actually saves you money vs. buying your regular dog food.

7. Stack Savings Tactics for Cheaper Food

To really reduce the cost of pet food, try deal-stacking.

For example, you could buy your usual brand of cat food at Petco using a coupon while it was on sale. Then use your credit card rebate program to increase the savings.

Or, buy discounted gift cards and use them when there’s a sale — a simple strategy that could make a good sale even better.

8. Store Pet Food Properly

Some pets might turn their nose up at food if it’s too old — and then you’ll  have to throw it away.

Even if you just overfill their dishes and the remainder sits there overnight, they probably won’t eat it.

Check the expiration date for your pet food, dole it out a little at a time and store it properly to keep it fresh.

A vet interacts with a dog at her office.

9. Have Your Pets Spayed or Neutered

You spend money upfront to spay or neuter your pets, but there are long-term savings.

For example, some of the negative behaviors associated with not spaying or neutering dogs and cats can be expensive.

Unspayed cats can damage furniture and carpet by spraying urine on them to attract males. Unneutered dogs can be more violent, leading to possible lawsuits if they attack people.

There’s also the obvious huge cost of not fixing those pets: puppies and kittens.

10. Call the Vet Before You Need One

The worst time to find an affordable vet is when you have a medical emergency. If you love your pets, you’ll pay whatever it costs at the moment.

To lower the cost of routine and emergency pet care, choose an affordable vet before you need one.

Use websites like VetRatingz.com to avoid bad vets. Call the acceptable ones and ask what they charge for a basic checkup, vaccinations, teeth cleaning and other procedures.

If you have an idea of what services your pet might need, ask about those.

In any case, ask about a few different services so you get an idea of the general price level of each veterinary office.

11. Don’t Shop at the Vet Office

Everything from cat toothbrushes to flea collars costs more at the vet’s office.

You’re better off buying anything you can at a pet supply store, including any non-prescription medications or treatments.

12. Buy Pet Medications Online

Many pet medications are cheaper online.

Here are a few places you can fill pet prescriptions:

  • Discount Pet Medicines
  • PetCareRx
  • VetDepot
  • 1-800-PetMeds

13. Think Twice about  Pet Insurance

Pet health insurance can save you from unexpected and large vet bills, but most pet medical procedures aren’t nearly as expensive as their human equivalents. Try saving money in a sinking fund for your pet’s eventual medical needs.

Consumer reports analysis of pet insurance found it overpriced for a relatively healthy pet. Most pet owners without chronically ill dogs or cats are better off simply saving money for emergencies.

Weighing whether pet insurance is worth it? Here’s a closer look at the pros and cons.
A man is pulled by his small dog.

14. Make Sure Your Pets Get Exercise

Pets benefit from exercise just like humans. It helps keep them healthy and avoid obesity, which means fewer vet bills for you.

15. Make Pet Furniture

If you’re a DIY type of person, why not build your pet’s furniture? Why buy when you can make it for a lot less?

Here are some examples:

  • Cat Condos
  • Pet Beds
  • Dog Houses
  • Pet Stairs

16. Make Pet Toys

Have you ever bought the “perfect toy” for your furry friend, and they just ignored it? All it really takes to entertain a cat is a ball of yarn.

Moral of the story: Don’t spend a fortune on unwanted pet toys when you can make better ones.

Here are a couple resources to get you started:

  • DIY Dog Toys
  • DIY Cat Toys

17. Make Your Own Pet Enclosures

Want to provide a fenced area for your dog or an outdoor “catio” for your cats?

Why not do it yourself?

There are plenty of online tutorials on how to build your own dog fence, and you can check out photos of cat enclosures for ideas.

18. Groom Your Own Pets

Professional pet grooming prices run between $20 and $100, depending on the size of the animal (cats are in the middle of that range).

But there’s no reason you can’t comb, wash and clip nails yourself. Not only will you save most of the cost (you’ll still spend a little for tools and shampoo), but grooming is another opportunity to bond with your beloved pet.

A woman takes two dogs out for a walk.

19. Find Cheaper Pet Sitting

Pet sitting prices run from as little as $15 for a stop-in visit to as much as $100 for overnight stays.

Fortunately, there are alternatives.

Find a broke friend you trust who’ll work for cheap. Leave a few beers in the fridge and you might get a deal. Trade pet-sitting duties with friends and family to get your cost down to zero.

20. Train Your Own Pet

Basic puppy training at PetSmart costs $219, and it’s just one of many classes they offer.

Instead, read one of many books that help you train your pets yourself.

Free online resources can show you how to train your pets and teach them tricks – even how to train your cat to use a toilet.

21. Pet-Proof Your House

Has the cat chewed through your lamp cords? Has the pup taken down about half your shoe collection?

The American Humane Association has a list of ways to pet-proof your home.

Preventing damage to your things and avoiding vet trips with simple pet-proofing will save you money and possibly your pet’s life.

Steve Gillman is a former contributor to The Penny Hoarder. Senior writer Robert Bruce contributed reporting.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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