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19 Tips to Save Money on Pets

By Alice Garbarini Hurley · November 14, 2022 · 9 minute read

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19 Tips to Save Money on Pets

America loves its furbabies. The percent of U.S. households with a pet is climbing — about 70% now, with more than 23 million households adding a cat or dog during the first pandemic year. That’s a lot of snuggles and pats, but they do come at a price. A price that, thankfully, is more negotiable than you think, without skimping on love or care.

Pet parents are vulnerable to the same heartstring tugs that parents of human babies feel. You want to keep them happy and healthy, paving the path to a long life, and you are willing to pay the price.

Smart shoppers, however, know how to save money on pets and where they can safely trim costs. Here, we offer 19 tips for lowering costs, including:

•   Cutting back on food expenses

•   Keeping your pet healthy for the long run

•   Reducing vet prescription costs

•   Saving on pet supplies and accessories

Common Pet Costs

Whether you select a Labradoodle from a breeder on a rustic Pennsylvania farm, adopt a tabby kitten from a crowded West Coast shelter, or anything in between, you will likely face these basic expenses:

•   Neutering or spaying

•   Collar, leash, harness

•   License fees

•   Microchipping if you choose, to track a lost pet

•   Vaccinations

•   Food, treats, and toys

•   Vet bills

•   Boarding or pet care if you travel

19 Money-Saving Tips for Pets

Pet care can get pricey. Hidden fees can pad your expenses, and even if you pay the average cost of pet insurance, your critter’s care may not be cheap.

But you can make costs more manageable. Be sure to comparison-shop and ask friends and neighbors for recommendations. These tips will also help you navigate the road to being a good pet parent without going broke.

1. Buying Pet Medicines Online

When the vet prescribes meds, it’s to help heal whatever is wrong under that fur coat. Sites like Chewy.com and PetMeds.com generally charge less for prescribed pills and ointments than your vet’s office. They also typically sell heartworm, flea and tick, and other medicines at lower prices. You can schedule autoship and qualify for free shipping at a certain spend threshold.

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2. Keeping Up with Vet Appointments

Keeping up with preventive care can be an example of how to save money on pets. Better to stay on track than skip well visits and find out an eye infection has gone untreated or that your pet has heartworm (generally detected in a routine stool sample test). A vet will typically check joints, ears, eyes, teeth, and weight, and keep your pet up to date on vaccines. (Some areas offer free rabies vaccination clinics. Check your town website.)

3. Researching Pet Insurance

Pet health insurance can cover well care or illness/accident treatment, depending on the policy, and averages from $30 to $50 per month (though some plans cost less and others might top $100 monthly, depending on the pet’s age, species, and breed). It’s advised to insure a young pet; later, a pre-existing condition may prevent coverage.

But let the buyer beware: An online search can produce a dozen lists of the “best” insurance, but most are on sites that make money from a brand if you click and purchase. Check to see if your “human” health insurer has a pet policy (Geico does, for instance). Other reputable organizations, such as the ASPCA, offer pet insurance, too.

Recommended: Choosing Pet Insurance

4. Walking Your Pet Yourself

If you are home to walk your pooch, you can save a bundle. Professional dog walkers can get pricey. Rates in the Northeast can run up to about $20 to $25 or more per visit for drop-in dog walkers and even more for group doggie daycare. The going rate for a hired kitty sitter is often about $25 per hour. Doing the job yourself or asking a young person in the neighborhood to step in can be the most money-smart option.

5. Adopting Instead of Buying

Learning how to budget for a dog? It’s generally more affordable to adopt from a shelter or rescue organization than to buy a pet from a breeder or pet store. Standard adoption fees for dogs can range from $129 to $767; for cats, costs typically run from $39 to $317. Fees may vary by breed but typically cover a veterinary evaluation, vaccinations, deworming, flea/tick treatment, and the cost of spaying/neutering.

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6. Spaying and Neutering Your Pets

If it’s costly enough to house and feed one dog or cat, what will happen if she delivers a whole litter? Spaying and neutering is the safe, recommended option for dogs and cats.

7. Researching Human Food Pets Can Eat

Avoid chocolate and other foods that can be toxic to pets (the Humane Society lists potential poisons ). Otherwise, though, some owners make their own say, rice, steamed carrots, and chicken dinner or dog biscuits (using ingredients such as peanut butter, oatmeal, and/or pumpkin). There are even some doggos with refined palates who turn up their nose at store-bought biscuits but love the home-baked ones.

Quick Money Tip:Typically, checking accounts don’t earn interest. However, some accounts will pay you a bit and help your money grow. Online banks are more likely than brick-and-mortar banks to offer you the best rates.

8. Buying a Smaller Pet

The bigger the pet, the higher the cost may run to feed, house, and even board or travel with the critter. So before you set your sights on Lassie or Marmaduke, think it over. Can you afford a large pet? A smaller animal may be a cheaper pet to own.

9. Storing the Pet’s Food Properly

Safeguard your pet’s nutrition; you don’t want to waste your investment. Keep dry kibble tightly sealed in a cool, dry place. House mice love to hoard and nibble it. Store any refrigerated pet foods in the fridge and check expiration dates.

10. Joining a Loyalty Club at a Pet Store

Sign up for no-cost rewards programs at stores like Petco and PetSmart to earn coupons or discounts. When you enroll in the PetSmart Treats Program, you can earn points for every $1 spent in stores and online and redeem them on services including Grooming Salon, PetsHotel, Doggie Day Camp, and Dog Training.

11. Making Your Own Pet Furnishings & Toys

Here’s how to save money on pet supplies: Get creative. Why buy a cute tent for your kitten? The rascal will prefer to curl up in an open sock drawer or suitcase, or inside a shopping bag. Toys? Cats adore an empty box, a ping-pong ball, or an empty paper towel tube. For dogs, forfeit a designer bed. A cute, washable throw rug on sale makes a soft sleeping pad.

12. Buying Pet Food in Bulk

If you’re driving distance to an animal feed store, price dry pet food in bulk. You may save a bundle. Costco also sells pet food and supplies in multi-packs, a bargain compared to the supermarket.

13. Grooming Your Pet at Home

Shampoos, blowouts, and pink satin bows at the groomer are pricey, and keeping a curly dog coat from matting and knotting requires frequent visits. Early on, get your pet used to at-home grooming. Buy the right tools to clip your cat’s nails and trim your dog’s hair. Brush their teeth and clean their ears, too. You can save a nice amount by DIYing it.

14. Shopping Pet Goods at Discount Stores

Below-retail stores like T.J.Maxx and HomeGoods carry pet holiday costumes, beds, and bowls. Dollar stores often stock pet items, too. (As with human food, check expiration dates on discounted pet food.)

15. Finding a Veterinary Discount Plan

Your job could help you cut petcare costs. Some workplaces offer the perk of being pet-friendly, eliminating the need for doggie daycare or a professional walker. Others provide pet health benefits for employees. Pet Assure can help you know how to pay vet bills because they lower costs at clinics in the network; ask your HR department about it.

16. Training Your Pet Yourself

To save money on obedience training, learn the basics with a guidebook and YouTube videos, or sign up for more affordable group classes at a big-box pet store.

17. Handling Your Pet’s Dental Care

This can take a big bite of your budget, especially when a dog’s teeth decay, requiring anesthesia for extractions. Ask your vet early on about the best brush and toothpaste, how often to brush, and recommended dental chews.

18. Finding Cheaper Pet-Friendly Hotels

It can be challenging to find a hotel that accepts pets when you’re traveling, and harder still to find one that doesn’t add a surcharge for the privilege.

Nearly all Red Roof Inns welcome pets for free. (They can’t top 80 pounds, so maybe not an option if yours is Clifford-size.) Other hotels may charge up to $50 or more per night or up to a $75 pet fee per stay, on top of your rate as a human. Doing your research before you hit the road can help you identify the cheapest way to travel with pets.

19. Getting Free Secondhand Crates and Carriers

Rather than buying new, check swap sites for dog crates and cat carriers, or ask on your Facebook page. Many people no longer have a pet but still have a crate or carrier in the basement. As any new parent knows, the importance of saving money is an even bigger issue when you add a new member to your household, even if a canine or feline.

The Takeaway

Owning a pet can be costly, from vet visits to food bills. But the estimated 85 million families and singles with pets is a number that’s growing because of the unconditional love and loyalty a furry friend can bring. You can find plenty of ways to embrace the affection but trim the costs, from DIY grooming and dental care to bargain-hunting at discount stores for accessories.

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Are pets worth the expense?

While it’s a highly personal assessment whether a pet is “worth it,” the fact that 85 million U.S. households own pets says a lot about how much people value them. Pets can’t pay us back in money but do lavish intangible dividends, such as love, friendship, joy, loyalty, and companionship. These are gifts you cannot put a price on.

How much does a typical pet cost?

Standard adoption fees for dogs can range from $129 to $767; for cats, costs typically run from $39 to $317. If you buy an animal, there’s a wide range of costs. You could spend very little with someone locally whose cat had a litter or you might pay top-dollar for a purebred dog. After the first year, cat owners can expect to pay about $801 annually and dog owners $875 a year in standard expenses.

What is generally the biggest expense to owning a pet?

Typically, the biggest expense of pet ownership is vet care. A new pet will cost more, due to spaying/neutering. But even after that, you can easily spend several hundred dollars annually to cover well checks and vaccines. For this reason, some people investigate pet health insurance to help with the cost.

Photo credit: iStock/alexei_tm

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