7 Ways to Stretch Your Pet Care Budget
Each February, Lawrence Blakely brings in his mixed-breed dog Bradley for an annual dental cleaning at a veterinary clinic in Sandpoint, Idaho. Besides ensuring that his dog comes home with clean teeth and healthy gums, Lawrence also saves money by booking the procedure during that month, when his clinic offers a discount, and by using that visit to have his veterinarian give Bradley a thorough head-to-tail examination.
“I’ve had dogs all my life, but Bradley has turned out to be the most wonderful, most interesting animal I’ve ever had,” says Lawrence. “I’m a big believer in preventive care—including for my dog. He deserves quality care. Some people are shocked that his teeth are cleaned regularly, but I know that infections in the teeth and gums can travel in the body and become systemic—and expensive—problems to treat. To me, this is a great investment for a great dog.”
In these money-tight times, even pets are feeling the bite of the economy. So how can you make smart, budget-conscious choices without shortchanging the health and care of your pets? For answers, we sought advice from two veterinarians who champion the human–animal bond: Bernadine Cruz, DVM, who practices at the Laguna Hills Animal Hospital in Laguna Woods, California, and serves as a resident veterinary advisor for an online pet care community, and Marty Becker, DVM, of Bonners Ferry, Idaho, who is fondly known as America’s Family Vet and serves as veterinary contributor to Good Morning America.
Tip #1. Book twice-a-year veterinary visits. “They are good for your pocketbook and good for your pet,” says Dr. Cruz. “Cats and dogs age more quickly than people do, so a lot can change for our pets health-wise in a relatively short amount of time. You can catch some serious—and potentially pricey—conditions early (when they cost less to treat) by sticking with twice-a-year visits.”
Tip #2. Turn to your dog as your workout buddy. Save on a gym membership by exercising daily with your dog. This can help both of you stay fit and enjoy flexibility, strength, and balance.
“Besides helping pets lose weight, exercise also helps eliminate some behavioral problems, such as separation anxiety, which can save you money on medications and trainers,” points out Dr. Becker. “Different pets need different amounts of exercise, so talk to your veterinarian before starting your pet’s workout program.”
Tip #3: Maintain a health diary for your pet. Jot down any changes—even slight ones—from your pet’s normal routine. If your otherwise energetic Labrador retriever is slowly walking up the stairs instead of bounding up them or your always-begging Persian cat walks away from the food bowl, record these incidents, and alert your veterinarian.
“Your dog may have the first stages of arthritis or your cat may have a dental issue that needs checking out,” says Dr. Cruz. “Keeping a health diary is very helpful because sometimes when you take your pet to a hospital, you may be a little nervous or not always remember to ask the veterinarian about something different you’ve noticed in your pet.”
Tip #4. Invest in quality commercial food that best suits your pet’s age, health, and activity level. Dr. Cruz says premium food lists a meat or meat byproduct as the first ingredient and has the highest digestibility and nutrition per serving.
“Go online to the manufacturer’s website and request coupons to save money,” says Dr. Cruz. “Or become part of a pet food club and buy in bulk, storing the dry food in a cool, dry place in reusable plastic containers or trash cans with well-fitting lids. Feeding good food goes a long way toward keeping your pet at his healthiest.”
Tip #5. Stop those begging eyes. Save money—and take the guesswork out at mealtime—by always using a measuring cup for dry food, advises Dr. Becker. This way, you don’t accidentally overfeed, which will lead to more money out of your pocket and can put your pet at risk for becoming obese and more prone to health woes, including diabetes, joint problems, and heart conditions.
“Sadly, nearly 50% of America’s pets are overweight or obese,” says Dr. Becker. “By not overfeeding, you can not only save money but perhaps even extend the healthy life of your pet.”
Tip #6. Keep toxic substances out of paw’s reach. Make sure you store foods such as bread dough, chocolate, grapes, and onions; over-the-counter medicines such as acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen; and household cleaners in secure areas away from curious pets. For a more complete list of household toxins and advice on safeguarding your pet against accidental ingestion, visit the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control. Minimizing ingestion risks can save your pet’s life and avoid a costly emergency veterinary visit.
Tip #7. Obtain pet insurance. Seek policies that offer wellness plans and enable you to take your pet to a veterinary hospital of your choosing. These plans can offset expenses for unexpected treatment of injuries or illnesses that can cost thousands of dollars.
“If you can afford it, get the premium policy for your pet and start when they are puppies or kittens,” says Dr. Cruz. “You can really save money in the long run.”
More Ways to Save
- Brush your pet’s teeth at least a few times a week to reduce plaque buildup.
- Create a scratching post for your cat out of carpet remnants and scrap wood.
- Save money on chew bones by buying a synthetic hollow bone and filling it with cheese or treats. Clean it in the dishwasher after use.
- Take a course on pet grooming to learn how to properly trim your pet’s coat and nails.