When money gets tight, you might look at cutting your costs, including what you're spending on your pets.
But there are good and bad ways to save on veterinary care, food, and other pet-related expenses.
You don't want to compromise your pet's health. So before you slash your pet budget, talk to your veterinarian about what's best for your animal and your wallet.
"The most important thing is to communicate with your veterinarian," says veterinarian Nate Clark, DVM, of Werner Animal Hospital in Morris Plains, N.J. "We pay our own bills, like everybody else. And we understand when costs need to be managed."
Here are some dos and don'ts for saving on pet costs:
Ways to Save on Pet Costs
Good ideas for saving on pet costs include:
- Consider three-year vaccinations. Vaccines given every three years may be slightly less expensive. But cost should not drive this decision. Your vet can tell you what's best, based on your pet's lifestyle and environment.
- Keep your pet fit. Exercise your pet and don't let your pet eat too much. You'll save on food costs and medical bills associated with obesity, long-term wear and tear on joints, and conditions like arthritis, Clark says.
- Rethink what your pet eats. Quality food is important. Do you need the absolute most expensive premium brand? Probably not. Check with your vet first. And avoid low-quality food -- it can lead to GI upset and other problems.
- Shop around for medications. Ask if a generic, less-expensive substitute or over-the-counter product might work. Your vet may not offer the lowest price. Ask for a written prescription so you can compare prices.
- Spay or neuter your pet. Spaying and neutering help address pet overpopulation and can prevent big veterinary bills down the road. Studies have shown that spayed and neutered cats and dogs are less likely to have behavioral issues and less likely to suffer some medical problems.
- Banish the bling. Your dog could care less about the studded leather biker vest or Denver Broncos jacket you dress him in on game day. "One of my client's Chihuahuas has a $275 sterling silver Tiffany heart charm bracelet for a collar -- it's the same one I bought for my wife," Clark says.
- Check boarding extras. Kennel prices can vary widely. A la carte items can send your bill through the dog run roof. Your cat does not need a story read to her at bedtime and an activity coordinator to meet with her three times a day.
- Barter with friends. Why hire a pet sitter? Your out-of-work neighbor or the responsible high school kid down the street might love to walk your pooch a few times a week in exchange for a gift certificate to a local restaurant or an iTunes gift card.
- Trim your pet's nails. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to do it. Invest in quality clippers and some styptic powder in case you nick the quick. You'll save about $18 a visit.
- Break your date with the groomer. Have your pet groomed less frequently. Better yet, do it at home. Invest in quality trimmers and check out a free YouTube video. Then sit back and watch the fur fly as you give your Labradoodle that puppy cut.
- Brush your pet's teeth. You can add two to four years to your pet's life by keeping their teeth cleaned and save on dental cleaning bills, to boot, says I. Craig Prior, BVSc, a veterinarian and medical director of Murphy Road Animal Hospital in Nashville. Consider using food and treats that help with tartar prevention.
- Ask your veterinarian if your pet needs heartworm preventive year-round. In areas where it is colder much of the year, the answer may depend on your pet’s risk factors and lifestyle. Your area's temperature matters because mosquitos can't pass heartworm disease to pets unless they get about a month of days in which the temperature doesn't dip below 57 F. So if it's chillier than that where you are, it may be worth asking your vet if your pet can take a couple of months off of heartworm preventive.
Don't Go There
Some cost-cutting measures aren't a good idea. For instance:
- Don't skip your pet's wellness visits. Spending money on prevention may save more in the long run. So don't skip your pet's annual wellness visits and routine vaccinations. "Preventive care saves on sick pet care in the long run," Prior says. "In this economy, we've been seeing people push off their pet's wellness care, and as a result the pet becomes sick, and it costs them more."
- Don't try do-it-yourself vaccines. There's no guarantee they've been stored at the correct temperature and aren't expired. "In some cases, the vaccine's going to be useless and you may as well just squirt water at the pet," Prior says.
- Don't cut corners by giving your pet "human" meds like ibuprofen, aspirin, or your own prescription medications. "I have had clients accidentally kill their pet by doing this," Clark says.
- Don't skip or alter dosages of your pet's prescription medication unless your veterinarian says that's OK. Your pet needs the right dose, every time.