Pet Care Practicalities: Tip-of-the-Day #165


Rising costs aren't stifling people's desire to own pets: About 63% of U.S. households own a pet, up from 56% in 1998. The number of dogs, cats and other pets now totals about 359 million, according to a consumer survey by the pet-products association. Now that you've got your pet, why not learn ways to pare back on the costs associated with owning a pet? Here are 13 tips to get you started:

1. Take care of some pet needs yourself. Did you know that by brushing your pet's teeth regularly you can reduce your number of vet dental-cleaning visits? Those can run about $200 a pop! Also, ask your vet about trimming your pet's claws. It's not tough to get the hang of, and it will save you approx. $40 a visit. In addition, if you regularly brush your pet's coat, you'll reduce grooming costs, and your cats will have fewer hairballs. If your dog is prone to ear infections, ask your vet how to clean your dog's ears.

2. Find out if your pet needs annual vaccinations - not every pet does! The American Animal Hospital Association changed its guidelines, recommending that "a number of the core vaccinations (be done) every three years," instead of annually. That change was to prevent over-vaccination, but it helps pet owners save a bit, too. Plus, if you have an in-door cat, you may not need all of the vaccinations associated with outdoor activity, and, as your pets age they also don't require all the shots they needed in their youth.

3. Shop medications. Just like my blog postings for people saving on meds, you can save on meds for your pets too. Call your local pharmacy or look online for lower prices.

4. Shop for a veterinarian by comparing fees. Routine visits can range from $50 on up to $200, so it pays to shop around! Nationwide, pet owners average $211 for dogs and $179 for cats in routine vet visits each year. But don't sacrifice quality, and compare the same service by finding out what that routine visit covers.

5. Shop around for pet supplies. Don't assume the pet superstore, the local mom-and-pop or the online market has the cheapest prices. For example, a litter box costs about $25 at a large Petco outlet in San Francisco, while a small mom-and-pop store nearby charged about $18.

6. Curb your desire to buy your pet gifts. Clothes and fancy bags are a completely unnecessary expense (fun as they can be). While 80% of pet owners report buying gifts for their pets, a better gift might be some playtime. Doh!

7. Avoid emergency clinics when possible. At most emergency veterinary clinics, almost every procedure and medication and boarding fee is marked up. Try to avoid going if you can, especially if your emergency occurs between 8 and 5 and your regular veterinarian is open.

8. Consider pet insurance. Check the policy's exclusions carefully to see how well it would fit your lifestyle. Some plans cover every routine visit and every vaccination, with premiums running around $25 to $30 a month. But, you don't necessarily need insurance for costs you know you'll incur. Pet-insurance policies aimed at covering catastrophic events usually have high deductibles and lower monthly premiums of about $10 to $15 which tends to make more sense for most people.

9. Think twice before adding more pets to your home. You might get a multi-pet discount on insurance, but regular costs will increase. There just aren't huge economies of scale with multiple pets. When you look at the big-ticket items - food and vet care - those are items that every animal needs in their own right and there is no shortcut in savings there.

10. Save for end-of-life care. "End-of-life issues" can run $500 to $1,000 and while some insurance policies cover the cost of euthanasia and cremation, most don't. It's something to consider (hard as it is to think about).

11. Don't buy the cheapest food. Higher-quality food helps keep your pet healthier and vet bills lower!

12. Don't overfeed. Many people feed more than the package guidelines, but feeding the right amount saves on food costs - which average about 40% of a pet owner's total costs - and reduces the likelihood of obesity-related ailments.

13. Spay or neuter your pet. Spayed and neutered pets have fewer health problems down the road (prostate and ovarian cancer among the biggest issues). Also, once neutered, your pet will "roam" less, which lessens the chance of getting hit by a car.

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