18 - 2009

Make your pet more frugal

A post I published last week mentioning frugal fitness garnered a couple of comments that getting a dog is not a frugal choice.

Of course, we make many decisions in our lives that are governed by more than frugality. At least, I hope so.

But the facts are in, and pet ownership certainly is not cheap. This chart prepared by the ASPCA shows the rundown. I don’t yet have pet insurance, which it lists as a cost, but annual vet exams and vaccinations more than make up the difference for my two dogs (one large, one small). Additionally, there are other unanticipated expenses: Our big dog just had his teeth cleaned (he’s a rescue, and they were awful), and the little dog has allergies that require him to take daily medications. Little dog had a growth on his ear that needed lab testing, and big dog has fatty tumors that will, undoubtedly, lead us to other lab expenses.

There are ways, however, to make pets more affordable:

  1. Buy the best, cheapest food that works for your pet. Free Money Finance (which often writes about how costly pets are) just posted about pet food. The comments provide some additional information. One of our dogs eats the formula that seems to work best for his allergies and digestion, which is a medium-expensive brand from PetSmart. The other eats Kirkland Ultra Premium dog food from Costco. Compare costs by ounce or by pound to find the best value. But don’t sacrifice cost for price — you’ll pay in irritability, weight gain, a not-so-shiny coat, allergies and/or excessive amounts of poo. And no one likes poo.
  2. Avoid wet food. It’s more expensive, can cause bad breath, and doesn’t clean the teeth like dry food does.
  3. Brush their teeth. Just as with our own teeth, an ounce of prevention is worth several hundred dollars’ worth of dental cleaning. Nothing like a little beef-flavored toothpaste to get that brush in the mouth. (Unfortunately, I find it as hard to remember this as to remember my own flossing regimen — but fits and starts is better than nothing.)
  4. Get care at a discount. Simply Thrifty mentioned that this month is National Pet Dental Health Month, so many dentists are offering discounts on cleaning. Call now to get in. She also mentions dental schools for human dental care. I wonder if vet schools offer similar bargains?
  5. Go no-groom. Frugal pet owners will choose a pet that doesn’t require professional grooming, which can run around $200 per year or more. Or, learn to do the job yourself.
  6. Go smaller … but not too small. The smallest dogs are expensive to care for because they can have health issues. Big dogs are expensive to care for, too — and they eat more food. Plus, a dog on the small side will cause less wear and tear on household furnishings, and require smaller (and thus less expensive) beds, toys, treats, collars, leashes and crates.
  7. Forget status. A rescue dog or shelter dog costs less to adopt than a pedigreed pooch. Cats at a shelter are extremely inexpensive to adopt (around $25 at our local shelter, and they sometimes come buy-one-get-one-free). An older pet might have the bonus of already being spayed or neutered (the procedure costs $100 to $300 typically), perhaps (hopefully!) have been trained, and will likely have outgrown the puppy or kitty crazies that drive animals and owners to destruction/distraction.
  8. Crate train your dog. Train the dog to stay in a crate or confined area when you are away. You will gain peace of mind, and in terms of dollars and cents, you will avoid the costs of replacing furniture, rugs, clothing and toys that could be destroyed by a rampaging pooch — or just worn out faster by a pup jumping on and off the couch a thousand times a day. Plus, you might avoid a vet bill after Fido or Kitty eats something he shouldn’t have.
  9. Spay/neuter – and shop around. In addition to avoiding unplanned litters of “grandpets,” the ASPCA also mentions that spaying and neutering animals dramatically lowers their incidence of breast, ovarian, uterine and testicular cancer. Many municipalities offer low-cost spay/neuter clinics and low-cost vaccination clinics. Check the yellow pages in your area, call the Dumb Friends League, or inquire with your pet licensing authority for recommendations.
  10. Keep their weight healthy. Just like humans, pets’ health suffers if the animal is overweight. Unlike humans, pets are at the mercy of owners who can control the pets’ weight by changing the amount of kibble they eat at each meal and eliminating unhealthy snacks. Ask a vet about your pet’s ideal weight and keep him or here in the ballpark. Most pets like a bit of fruit or veggie for an occasional treat — find what your pet likes and what agrees with his/her system, and keep other snacks low-fat.
  11. Track health conditions. Some conditions like fatty tumors (or lipomas) are common, could be worrisome, but generally aren’t. If your pet is prone to them, get the vet’s initial rundown on their safety. Then make a “map” of your pet, mark where existing lumps are located and write down the approximate size. Check the pet every so often and compare to your “map” to be sure any lipomas aren’t growing.
  12. Compare prices. Human pharmacies fill pet prescriptions, according to this article. I haven’t tried this one yet, but with my dog that requires chronic medication, a quick price comparison shows that filling his prescriptions at the Costco pharmacy could save $126 dollars a year, cutting 53 percent of what I’m currently paying the vet. I think I’ll bite the bullet next time a refill comes up and ask the vet to write a prescription.

Please chime in with your tips, too. Stay cheap … but please, allow us to love our furry friends.

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