Americans love their pets. Whether it’s dogs and cats or parrots and fish, we can’t get enough of our furry, gill-sniffing friends.
In fact, two-thirds of Americans in 2020 were pet owners, according to the Insurance Information Institute. And in a recent Pumpkin survey, 82% of dog parents “significantly underestimated” the lifelong care of their dogs.
Two-thirds of dog owners expect to spend less than $8,000 on vet care over the dog’s life. Actual cost? Closer to $16,000!
Pets can certainly be expensive. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative and cut some costs whenever possible. We’ll help you get started.
21 ways to save money on pet care
1. Buy a small pet
If you haven’t chosen a pet yet, consider smaller animals.
A small dog will cost you $295 less per year than a large dog ($580 vs. $875), according to ASPCA data estimates on pet care costs that are likely to be higher now. That’s even less than a cat ($670 a year), due in part to the cost of cat litter. Obviously, a large Labrador will devour a lot more food than a small Chihuahua.
Of course, you can think of smaller animals. You’ll spend an average of $200 annually on a small bird and just $35 on a fish.
The first year costs for all pets are much higher due to one-time costs such as spaying or neutering, purchasing pet carriers and other equipment.
2. Adopt instead of buy
The price of a breeder for a dog can be five times higher than the cost of adopting one from a shelter. Not only that, but adoption costs often include vaccinations and health checks. With a breeder, you are often on your own.
More than two million shelter animals are euthanized in the United States each year. So you could save hundreds of dollars getting your dog or cat from a shelter, while also saving a life.
3. Join Pet Shop Loyalty Clubs
Join the Petco Pals Rewards program and you’ll receive a $5 gift card for every $100 in purchases.
Buy food that is already on sale, and with your rewards card, you can make savings over time. Most major retailers of pet supplies have similar programs.
Subscribe to multiple if you shop at more than one place.
4. Use discount gift cards
You can buy discounted gift cards on a number of good websites. Holds most cards for most of the pet supply chain.
For example, you will find:
5. Pet food sales monitoring
There really is a difference between high-end and low-quality pet foods.
And the evidence linking dog diseases to the grains in dog food suggests that it can make your pet sick and have future vet bills if you go too cheap.
But even the best pet foods are on sale, so why not stock up when they cost less?
You can find weekly ads for online pet supply retailers. You can also associate your email address with your customer loyalty card to get sales alerts.
6. Feed your pets some human food
What do baked carrots, steamed broccoli, and boiled eggs have in common?
They all cost less than cat food (at least the good stuff) and they are all safe and healthy for cats to eat.
WebMD has a list of foods your dog can eat, but watch out if that saves you money on buying regular dog food.
7. Hoarding savings tactics for cheap food
To really reduce the cost of pet food, try stacking bargains.
For example, you can buy your usual brand of Petco cat food with a coupon while it’s on sale. Then use your credit card’s debit program to increase your savings.
Or buy discount gift cards and use them when making a sale – a simple strategy that can make a good sale even better.
8. Store pet food properly
Some pets may raise their noses when eating if it is too old – and then you will have to throw it away.
Even if you fill their plates too much and the rest stays there all night, they probably won’t eat it.
Check the expiration date of your pet’s food, take it out a little at a time and store it properly to keep it fresh.
9. Sterilize or neuter your pets
You spend money up front to spay or neuter your pets, but there are long-term savings.
For example, some negative behaviors associated with not spaying or neutering dogs and cats can be expensive.
Unsterilized cats can damage furniture and carpets by spraying urine on them to attract males. Unvaccinated dogs can be more violent, which leads to potential lawsuits if they attack people.
There is also a huge cost to not fixing those pets: puppies and kittens.
10. Call your vet before you need it
The worst time to find an affordable vet is when you have a medical emergency. If you love your pets, you will pay any cost for now.
To lower the cost of routine and emergency pet care, choose an affordable vet before you need one.
Use websites like VetRatingz.com to avoid bad vets. Call the acceptors and ask them about the cost of a basic examination, vaccinations, dental cleanings, and other procedures.
If you have an idea of what services your pet might need, ask about them.
In any case, ask about a few different services so you get an idea of the general price level for each vet office.
11. Don’t shop at the vet’s office
Everything from cat toothbrushes to flea collars costs more at the vet’s office.
It’s best for you to buy anything you can buy at a pet supply store, including any over-the-counter medications or treatments.
12. Buy pet medicines online
Many pet medications are cheaper on the Internet.
Here are a few places you can fill up on pet recipes:
13. Think twice about pet insurance
Pet health insurance can save you from large and unexpected vet bills, but most pet medical procedures are not as expensive as their human counterparts. Try saving money in a sinking fund for your pet’s eventual medical needs.
Consumer Reports analysis of pet insurance found it to be overrated for a relatively healthy pet. Most pet owners who don’t have dogs or cats with chronic illnesses prefer saving money for emergencies.
14. Make sure your pets exercise
Pets benefit from exercise just as much as humans. It helps keep them healthy and avoid obesity, which means less vet bills.
15. Making pet furniture
If you’re the DIY type of person, why not make your own pet furniture? Why buy when you can make it for a much lower price?
Here are some examples:
16. Make pet toys
Have you ever bought the “perfect toy” for your furry friend, and just ignored it? All it takes to entertain a cat is a ball of yarn.
Moral of the story: Don’t spend a fortune on junk pet toys when you can make better ones.
Here are some resources to get started:
17. Make your own pet enclosures
Want to provide a fenced area for your dog or an outdoor “catio” for your cats?
Why don’t you do it yourself?
There are plenty of tutorials online on how to build your own dog fence, and you can check out pictures of cat enclosures for ideas.
18. Take care of your pets
Prices for professional pet grooming range from $20 to $100, depending on the size of the animal (cats are in the middle of this range).
But there’s no reason why you can’t comb, wash and clip your nails yourself. Not only will you save most of the cost (you’ll still spend a little on tools and shampoo), but grooming is another opportunity to bond with your beloved pet.
19. Find cheaper pet sitting areas
Pet grooming rates range from $15 for a temporary visit to up to $100 for an overnight stay.
Fortunately, there are alternatives.
Find a shattered friend that you trust and will work cheaply. Leave a little beer in the fridge and you might get a bargain. Trade pet care duties with friends and family to reduce the cost to zero.
20. Training your pet
Basic puppy training at PetSmart costs $219, which is just one of the many classes they offer.
Instead, read one of the many books that help you train your pets on your own.
Free online resources can show you how to train and teach your pets tricks – even how to potty train your cat.
21. Prove your home pet
Does the cat chew lamp wires? Has the pup ever lowered about half of your shoe set?
The American Humane Society has a list of ways to protect your home from pets.
Preventing damage to your stuff and avoiding vet trips with simple pet protection will save you money and possibly your pet’s life.
Steve Gilman is a former contributor to The Penny Hoarder. Author Robert Bruce contributed to this report.