A Veterinarian’s Top 7 Tips for Saving Money on Pet Care

By Dr. Patty Khuly

Not sure how much food your pet needs? Ask your vet.If you've got pets, you've got bigger bills than those who (inexplicably) manage to live without them. But that's no major cause for alarm. After all, our animals are more than worth their weight in gold. Nothing could induce us to live without them. And they probably end up saving our lives so many times over that it'd be sheer folly to do without them, anyway.

But that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt when the veterinary invoices and food bills start stacking up.

Ideas for the Budget Conscious

I should know. I spend hundreds a month on pet care. And while it's a lifestyle choice I've rationally elected for myself, that doesn't mean I have to like the constant drain on my bank account. Which is why I work hard at finding new ways to mitigate those expenses.

SEE ALSO: When to Splurge and When to Save on Your Cat

And because I think pet people like us need to find ways to help one another, I'll let you in on some of my favorite ways to save money on pet care. Here they are, by category:

1. Feeding. Go ahead and do the math. Once you do, you'll probably agree that food accounts for far more of what you spend on your pets than you'd previously thought. All that bagged, boxed, pouched and canned stuff takes its toll on most any budget - especially if you stick to the high-end stuff or your pets require specialized therapeutic diets.

Here are my top tips in this category:

  • Feed only what your pet needs, not what's written on the side of the bag or can. After all, one of the biggest causes of pet obesity is overfeeding. And pet obesity is expensive, too! Not sure how much your pet needs? Ask your vet.
  • Buy in bulk and store it well. Storage is key. If you can't keep food fresh for a month, don't buy enough to last you that long. I've been known to buy several months' worth and pack the freezer with it (back when I had freezer space).
  • Feed home-cooked meals as a supplement to commercial diets (or on their own if you're really ambitious). I've found that home cooking for my pets allows me to use up stuff I might otherwise toss. But stick to veterinary nutritionist-recommended recipes for safe, long-term results. And if you really want to save, be sure to buy from those big-box grocery clubs (you know who they are).

2. Drugs. There are tons of ways you can save big on your pet's pharmacy needs. Consider these suggestions:

  • For many human drugs that are used in veterinary medicine, inexpensive generics are commonly available at your local big-box pharmacy. But beware: If there is an approved veterinary equivalent, your veterinarian may be required to write you a prescription for that instead.
  • Buying in bulk also works for saving money on drugs. That is, if your veterinarian is willing to write you a script for that amount. (Some drugs should only be doled out in small amounts.)

SEE ALSO: When to Splurge and When to Save on Your Dog

3. Preventive care. Prevention is much cheaper than treatment. There's no question. That's why, rather than suffer through the ailments a lax approach leads to, it's generally cheaper to:

4. Veterinary care in general. This is where the savings start to add up - and fast. Here are my top suggestions:

  • Pet insurance works! This is especially true when it comes to big-ticket items like major orthopedic surgery. But always do your homework on the companies and their policies. They're not all created equal.
  • Find a veterinarian who works best for you and stick with him/her. Maintaining a relationship with one veterinarian (or a small group of veterinarians) is the best way to have your pets' needs known and your own wishes understood so that extraneous expenses don't happen.

5. Treats. If you don't feed treats, you won't save money in this category. But so many pet owners increasingly favor "treating" their pets that it's becoming a larger expense than most realize. A pop-top can here, a chewie there - it all adds up. Then there's the rawhide, cow hoof and antler addiction to consider.

Break the expensive cycle by either making your own treats (I freeze chicken hearts on a tray then bag them for a nice frozen treat and bake savory peanut butter-oatmeal cookies) or by simply refusing to feed anything commercial. Consider that carrot nibblers, air-popped popcorn and apple slices (for example) are healthy, inexpensive, low-calorie alternatives to the standard commercial fare.

6. Entertainment. Some pets just love their tiny little luxuries. Toys and trinkets abound. But it's not hard to make your own. I make my own dog toys with over-chewed tennis balls and old jeans. Or how about growing your own catnip? There are so many ways to save here that I could write a book. (And maybe I should!)

7. Exercise. A gym membership costs how much? And running with your dog costs what? No need to do the math. It's plain there are bucks to be saved there.

So what say you? What are your top tips for saving money on your pet's care?

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