If you’re like most people, you’re working hard to make your money work as hard as you do, but you’d still like to enjoy the fruits of your labor. When it comes to pet care, you really can do both – but only if you know what corners to cut and how to get the most for your money.
Problem is, many people don’t.
While we’ve long recognized in human medicine that preventive care works better - it’s less expensive, and less painful – than dealing with preventable illness or injury, too few pet parents pursue wellness care for their cats and dogs. But educating yourself about wellness care and working with your veterinarian to provide your pet with it really will save in the long run. It’s the best place to start saving, in fact, even if it costs you on the front end.
What is Wellness Care?
First, let’s stress what it’s not: yearly shots. Vaccinations are no longer recommended annually for most dogs and cats, but that's not a good reason to skip your pet's yearly vet check (twice-yearly for older pets). These "well-pet" examinations can spot little problems before they become expensive ones. You also want to be sure not to neglect dental care. You can and should ask your veterinarian about short-term promotions (such as for Dental Health Month every February) and dental care discounts such as for multi-pet families or senior citizens. Lastly, while it used to be a highly contentious issue within the veterinary community, you can and should ask for your veterinarian to write a prescription for generic medication to be filled elsewhere – but do give your veterinarian the chance to match prices.
Don’t price shop for veterinary care, however. You’ll get the best care for your pet by working in partnership with your veterinarian, and once you have found a good one, building a relationship of trust and respect. In terms of human medicine, again, can you imagine searching for the cheapest pediatrician or cardiac surgeon? Of course not!
Despite your best intentions, accidents and illnesses can happen. That’s why it’s important to be sure you can cover your pet’s care by having pet health insurance. The advances in veterinary specialty care are amazing, but they are often expensive. Pet health insurance will allow you to make the best decision based on your pet’s medical needs, not your bank account or credit line.
Aside from veterinary care, there are some fairly easy ways to save significant money on pet care. Here are a few:
1. Keep your pet fit and trim.
A majority of dogs and cats are overweight and those extra pounds increase the likelihood of serious health problems such as arthritis, diabetes, and cancer. If your pet is overweight, get your veterinarian's help to reduce weight slowly to avoid the health risks of sudden weight loss, especially in cats.
2. Learn to do things yourself.
Most people can learn to handle basic pet grooming at home, from bathing to nail trims. If nothing else, you can probably stretch out time between professional grooming for high-maintenance pets with some at-home care. Check your library for grooming guides and find breed-specific tips with an internet search.
3. Brush your pet's teeth.
This tip is more about health than grooming but it'll lengthen the time between necessary but expensive cleanings at your veterinarian.
4. Minimize risk from accidents.
Saving the life of a pet who has been hit by a car or poisoned can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars - and these tragedies can often be prevented. Keeping cats as indoor-only pets will prevent injuries and protect them from communicable diseases; a sturdy fence and the use of a leash will do the same for dogs.
Go through your home with an eye toward possible hazards, especially foods, plants and drugs that can be ingested, as well as cleaning supplies, pesticides and herbicides. Embrace has a great Pet Poison Prevention Center to help educate you!
5. Consider purchases carefully and buy in bulk.
Shopping for pets can be great fun, but that new designer collar may be something you want to postpone if there's wear left on what your pet's wearing now. When it comes to toys, though, cut them back, but not out -- good chew toys have saved many an expensive pair of shoes.
You can save money buying the largest bags of food or litter, or get case discounts on canned goods. Split your dry food purchases with family or a friend, and store your portion in an airtight container. (Do keep product info from the bag, though, in case there are questions or problems. You can cut out the information and save it or just snap a picture with a smartphone.) Buying in bulk is usually better than dropping in quality. And ask your veterinarian for recommendations in the price range you can afford.
6. Look for freebies and secondhand items.
Check classifieds, Craigslist and the Freecycle network to find bargains. Crates, cages and cat trees can often be had for next to nothing - or nothing at all. And don't forget to return the favor: Don't let supplies you no longer need rot in your garage. Sell them at a decent price, or give them away to other pet lovers, shelters or rescue groups.
7. Share services.
Other pet lovers are likely also feeling the squeeze, so look into sharing or trading services such as pet-sitting. Remember that bartered services don't need to be the same: You can save just as much money if you can provide one kind of service (such as tax-preparation) for another (such as pet-sitting or dog-grooming).
8. Get Pet Insurance
Unexpected vet bills can really drain your rainy day fund, but pet insurance reimburses a portion of the cost. Plus, some pet insurance plans offer discounts for things like multiple pets or if you enroll through your company’s employee benefits. For example, Embrace offers a 10% discount1 when your employer offers it as a voluntary benefit. If your company doesn’t offer pet insurance, ask them to consider it.
These are really just the beginning. If you focus on preventing illness and injury, covering your pet in case of emergency and looking for creative ways to cut costs on the rest, you really can save a lot of money without short-changing your pets at all. You can bank on it, or plan a vacation you and your pet will both enjoy.
1 Discount not available in FL, HI, ND, & RI. Discount is 5% in TN.