By DEB HIPP
If you think the $150 fee you paid when you adopted your dog was your biggest expense as a pet owner, you may be in for a surprise.
Taking good care of your dog or cat can be costly. In fact, Americans are projected to spend over $62 billion on their pets this year, according to the 2016 American Pet Products Association's National Pet Owners Survey.
According to the survey, here are some basic annual expenses you may encounter:
|Surgical vet visits||$551||$398|
|Routine vet visits||$235||$196|
However, it's possible to save money without compromising on the quality of care for your pets.
1. Go to low-cost veterinary clinics.
You may be able to save on vaccines, spay or neuter surgery, microchips, heartworm and flea prevention, and wellness exams at low-cost veterinary clinics.
Low-cost clinics are generally offered by nonprofit animal welfare organizations whose goal is to offer spay and neuter and other services at an affordable price so that lower-income residents, multiple-pet owners and the general public can provide proper veterinary care for their dogs and cats.
For example, at Spay and Neuter Kansas City (SNKC) in Kansas City, Missouri, a dog spay or neuter costs up to $110, and a cat spay or neuter costs up to $55.
Fees for those surgeries can cost up to $400 at a typical veterinary practice, according to Amy Herrington, director of operations at SNKC.
2. Shop thrift stores, garage sales and Craigslist.
You can buy cat and dog bowls at thrift stores for a dollar or two. At yard sales, you may find collars, leashes, sweaters and small stuffed animals for 25 cents to 50 cents each.
You may also find a crate -- or a cage for your bird, ferret or rabbit -- on Craigslist for less than half of what you'd pay at a pet store.
To protect your pet's health, always clean crates before using them. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends using half a cup of bleach in a gallon of water for cleaning kennels. Wash, rinse and air the crate thoroughly before letting your pet inside.
3. Don't automatically buy meds from the vet.
You may be able to ask your veterinarian to write a prescription to fill your pet medicine for possibly less money at a pharmacy such as Wal-Mart or Costco. Giant Eagle and Kroger pharmacies also offer discounts on pet medicines.
Some chains even allow you to enroll your pet in pharmacy savings plans.At Rite Aid, you can save up to 15 percent on pet prescriptions with its Rx Savings Program for Pets. Walgreens' Prescription Savings Club offers a $20-per-year individual plan or a $35 annual plan for all members of your immediate family, including pets.
By enrolling my senior dog, Toby, in Walgreens' program, I was able to save $15 a month on his pain medication.
4. Make your own pet toys.
Why pay $12 for a plastic water bottle inside a stuffing-free squirrel when your dog is likely happy to crunch on a water bottle inside a mismatched sock?
Or you can cut an old T-shirt into strips and braid them together for a dog chew or throw toy.
For cats, fill a small sock with catnip and tie the end in a knot. Or securely attach a couple of feathers to a piece of string or a small bell to a coat hanger to dangle above your cat's head or zigzag across the floor.
Search for "make your own pet toys," online, and you'll get plenty of ideas for toys fashioned from string (though be sure your pet doesn't chew or swallow it), cardboard and other household items.
5. Build a pet emergency fund.
It's a good idea, especially if you don't have pet health insurance, to save money every month in a separate bank account for emergency and unexpected veterinary costs.
Here's how much you may pay for surgery to treat some of the most common pet conditions, according to Veterinary Pet Insurance:
- Malignant skin mass: $1,915 (dog); $1,656 (cat)
- Bladder stones: $1,589 (dog); $1,631 (cat)
- Cancer of the spleen: $2,404 (dog); $1,750 (cat)
- Benign skin mass: $552 (dog); $526 (cat)
A pet emergency fund would have come in handy for me, as I spent more than $4,000 over two years on veterinary fees, laser therapy, medications and a special harness after Toby suffered a slipped disc.
If I'd saved $50 per month in a dedicated savings account over the 10 years since I adopted my dog, I would have saved $6,000, more than enough to cover those costs.
6. Trade pet-sitting.
Dog owners spend about $333 annually to board pets while they're away, and cat owners spend about $130 annually, according to the APPA survey.
I save on boarding costs by trading dog-sitting services with my neighbor. I feed and walk her dog at her home while she travels, and she takes care of my dog at my house when I go on vacation. Our dogs need four in-home visits per day, which would cost $10 to $15 per visit if I paid a pet-sitter.
Last year, I was away from home for about 30 days total, so with this arrangement, I saved up to $1,800 on pet-sitting.
7. Shop for supplements and food online.
The first time I bought a joint supplement for Toby, my vet charged me $110 for 150 tablets.
The next time, I bought the same product for $80 on Amazon. That's a $30 savings every three months. You could also search a price comparison website such as PriceGrabber.
You can also shop online for food. Run a search for your pet's food brand and "coupon" -- you may be able to save a few bucks.
It's easy to spend a lot of money on expensive pet store items, marked-up medications and veterinary fees. However, doing a little research could allow you to save money on pet expenses so you can build an emergency fund and avoid charging unexpected costs to a credit card.
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