5 Tips to Making Pet Ownership More Affordable

May is National Pet Month, and we want to offer advice that will help you–and your pets–have a financially stable future.

One cannot put a price tag on the love and companionship a family pet offers, but pet ownership does carry a financial cost that can make it harder to balance a household budget.

The ASPCA reports that new house pets cost approximately $1,000-$2,000 in the first year, and $700 to $875 each year thereafter. The costs vary between cats, which are generally less expensive, and dogs, which vary depending on size. A five-pound dog is going to be cheaper to feed than a 50 lb dog.

But food is only one consideration when considering the costs of pet ownership. Here are 5 things to think about when trying to care for a pet on a budget:

  • Adopt, but demand a guarantee. Animal shelters are full of pets with great potential, and you’re usually saving a life when you opt to rescue a shelter pet rather than purchase one from a breeder. However, shelter pets may have medical problems or communicable illnesses. We’ve all known people who adopted a “free” cat, only to spend $600 at the vet the next week.

When adopting from a shelter, only consider locations that offer a guarantee, so if your new pet develops serious health problems right away, you can bring it back. This may sound heartless, but it’s not; if you are struggling to make ends meet, then you aren’t in a position to take care of a sick pet, and that pet is better off with someone who can. When money is tight, the pet you bring home needs to be in relatively good health or neither you nor the animal will have a very pleasant life.
  • Control veterinary expenses. The American Veterinary Medical Association says Americans spend an average of  $356 per year on a dog’s health care, and $190 on a cat’s. To help keep veterinary expenses low, start by choosing your vet carefully. Talk to you local humane society about finding a vet who does good work and doesn’t charge too much. Shop around, because vets vary widely in how much they charge.

When your pet needs medications, get a prescription so you can order them inexpensively online. Buying what you need from the vet raises the price and means more visits to the vet’s office.

You also should get in the habit of brushing your dog’s teeth if you don’t already. Just like with human teeth, proper care and cleaning will prevent more serious (and expensive) dental issues down the road.
  • Don’t go overboard on pet toys. The APPA (American Pet Products Association) reported that dog owners spend $107 per year on dog toys and treats for their canines, and $66 per year for toys and treats per cat. While toys can be essential for a pet’s mental stimulation and overall happiness, they aren’t going to notice if you buy all of your pet toys on clearance. There’s no reason to go overboard on toy spending when many dogs would be just as happy chasing a stick you find in the back yard. 

And in a related category, avoid buying clothing for you pets unless it’s essential because of extreme weather conditions. You pet is born with all the clothing it needs, and they don’t care about fashion. (Dogs are colorblind, after all).
  • Learn to groom your own pet. This is yet another category where cats are much cheaper than dogs; while the average American spends less than $20 on grooming cats every year, they spend seven times that amount on dogs. These days, the internet offers great educational information about nearly every subject, and pet grooming is no exception. Search YouTube for grooming videos, and chances are you’ll find a free lesson (you might even find videos that teach you how to groom your specific breed of dog).
  • Feed your pet right. When talking about saving money on pet food, most experts would advise you not to go with a discount brand of food. The difference in nutritional value between premium brands of dog food and the cheaper brands is worth the cost. The best advice pet experts can give is to feed your pet quality food, but feed it the right amount. Talk to your vet about how much food your pet should be given each day and what brand it should eat. A smaller amount of highly nutritious food is better for your pet than a large bowl full of cheap food loaded with fillers. The quality food will be more filling, and not overfeeding your pet will improve its health and save you money in veterinary bills down over the pet’s lifetime.

If you think ahead about your pet expenses and include the family pets in your budget, you should be able to keep the costs of pet ownership under control. It is crucial that pet owners do this, as shelters and rescue groups are reporting higher rates of pet abandonment as the economy struggles. If you have are experiencing a hardship and unable to find resources or a new home to care for your pet, according to No Paws Left Behind there are”no kill” shelters that will find adoptive families and good homes for pets.  Many times an animal that has become part of a family is not taken to a shelter for care, for fear of the pet being euthanized.

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