Ask any animal lover and they’ll tell you their pets are part of the family. Sometimes a very expensive part of the family. Vet visits, food, medications: it can all add up. It’s hard to know which expenses are essential, which are recommended, and which are just nice-to-haves.
To help you prioritize your spending, we reached out to veterinarians and money-saving experts for advice on how to provide your pets with the care they deserve on a budget.
Don’t Skip Vet Visits
“Annual examinations will actually save you money in the long run,” says Dr. Judy Morgan, a holistic veterinarian and author. “By being proactive and finding problems early, many things can be treated before they become major, expensive problems.” Morgan recommends asking your vet which procedures are recommended versus medically necessary.
For example, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and American Animal Hospital Association recommends vaccines for distemper, parvo and rabies be administered every three years, Morgan says, yet some veterinarians and clinics give them annually. “Why pay for something your pet doesn’t need?” she says.
Find Low-Cost Clinics In Your Area
To further save money on your pet’s medical needs, see if you qualify for reduced-price services, says Andrea Woroch, a money-saving expert whose tips have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Forbes.
Woroch says you can find accredited veterinary schools that may offer free or reduced-price care in your area through the AVMA. You can also find free or low-cost neuter or spay programs in your area through the ASPCA. Vaccination clinics can also save you money on office fees, she says.
See if Generic Options Exist
“Don’t assume you have to fill your dog’s prescription at the vet,” Woroch says. “Prices on pet medications can have markups of more than 100 percent in some cases.”
If your pet doesn’t need immediate treatment, see if you can find better prices online, she says, adding that you can also consider buying generic version of medications.
Talk to your veterinarian about if the generic version of the medication you need will work as well as the brand-name medication.
Know Your Breed
“Many purebred dogs and cats are genetically prone to developing certain health problems,” says Roberta Gleicher, a certified animal advisor who has a degree in animal husbandry. “Pet parents who have purebreds should know what these potential conditions are so they can take specific steps to reduce the likelihood they will occur.”
Pet insurance can help you save money on medical care and can cover anywhere from 80 to 100 percent of all costs after you meet your deductible.
“On average, pet insurance will cost between $18 to $22 a month, depending on the type of pet and its breed,” says Micah Pratt, lead insurance consultant for Obrella.com, a site that helps consumers navigate their insurance options.
His money saving tip: “Ask your employer if pet insurance is an optional employee benefit. If it is, take advantage of it.”
Start a Pet Savings Fund
If pet insurance isn’t an option, or if you choose a high-deductible plan, start a pet emergency fund, says Woroch.
“Be sure to include extra funds for emergencies, as unplanned visits to emergency clinics and overnight stays can add up fast,” she says.
Gleicher recommends putting aside a set amount of money each week. Even as little as three dollars can cover routine care and small emergencies, she says.
“If the pet continues to stay healthy, the money continues accumulating,” she says. “If pet owners start making weekly deposits when their pets are young, they should have enough money to provide proper veterinary care by the time their pets develop age-related health problems.”
Keep Pets’ Weight In Control
“Obesity leads to a variety of health problems,” says Gleicher. Severely overweight cats may develop diabetes, she adds, which can cost thousands of dollars a year to treat.
Underweight animals, on the other hand, may develop weakened immune systems and become more susceptible to infections, she says.
All of our experts say you shouldn’t try to save money by feeding your pets cheap (read: low-quality) food. For one, its low nutritional quality means you might end up feeding more of it to the pet, thus buying more, in the long run, says Gleicher. Morgan adds that a quality diet may keep pets healthier if it helps prevent them from developing chronic issues.
Become a Frequent Shopper
“Take advantage of rewards programs offered through your favorite pet stores,” says Woroch. Both national chains and local pet stores may offer loyalty programs, she says.
Woroch also recommends using sites like GiftCardGranny.com to find discounted gift cards to help you save you even more.
Try a House Sitter
Services like TrustedHousesitters.com connect you with travelers who will watch your pets while you’re gone in exchange for free lodging. This saves pet parents money and stress while they’re away.
Tanbay Theune, writer of travellingweasels.com, has served as a housesitter for several years. He’s taken care of dogs, cats, horses and even geckos. Because he works from home, he says he’s able to be with the pets 24/7. “Sometimes I even Skype with the homeowners while they are on holiday,” he says.
Keep Pets Inside and On Leash
“Pets that run loose are at greater risk of picking up parasites or becoming injured,” Gleicher says. That can lead to unexpected medical expenses. Cats are safer as indoor-only cats, she says, while dogs are generally safer walking on a leash.
Helen Anne Travis is a freelance writer based in Tampa, FL. She also writes for CNN, The Guardian and The Globe and Mail.