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5 Ways to Cut Pet Expenses

Save money and keep your pet healthy

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The pooch’s fuzzy face and wagging tail. The kitten’s nonstop purring. You want to scoop them up and take them home. Adopting from a crowded shelter is a good deed — if you understand what you’re getting into.

We are a nation of pet parents who gladly open our wallets for them. According to the American Pet Products Association’s National Pet Owners Survey, 66 percent of U.S. households, or a total of 86.9 million, have a pet. The association projects that Americans will spend $143.6 billion for pets and pet supplies this year.

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Animals need basics like good food, routine medical care and other items. Sometimes, the costs add up unexpectedly, and sadly, some folks find they can’t afford their pets.

Research conducted in June 2022 by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) shows that in the previous 12 months, when pet owners across the country relinquished a dog or cat, the top contributing reasons were housing changes, job changes — and the expenses involved. Inflation has hit the price of pet-related items hard, as it has in other categories.

“When thinking about adding a new pet to your household, it is vital to consider the up-front costs, as well as the long-term financial obligations,” says Rena Lafaille, director of administration at the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York City. “Often, people aren’t aware of the ongoing costs of owning a pet, such as veterinary care, food, grooming, toys, training and supplies.” Fortunately, you can find ways to cut down on the expense of pet care.

Experts urge you to review your budget to make sure it can handle the additional expenses before bringing an animal into your home. You need to keep your financial plan intact.

In a recent survey by Lending Tree of 1,000 pet owners, 26 percent said they were struggling to afford their pet costs, with 23 percent taking on debt to cover them.

In a 2022 Forbes Advisor survey of 2,000 dog and cat owners, 63 percent said that inflation has made it more difficult to pay a surprise vet bill; 44 percent said they had used their credit cards to pay for their vet bills in the past year, 18 percent said they relied on their savings, and 5 percent said they took out a loan.  

At PAWS Atlanta, people left 166 pets at the shelter’s front gate last year. Joe Labriola, who heads the facility, told CNN that some of those abandoned animals had serious medical issues. “The only thing we can guess is that people just can’t afford those expenses, and they’re hoping by dropping off [their pets] at our facility that we’re going to be able to pick up the slack.” In Washington, D.C., Lisa LaFontaine, CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance, said in an interview with PBS NewsHour that she has seen owners surrender dogs, cats and even bunnies.

Do the math beforehand

Smart planning is the key. According to another pet products association survey, two-thirds of pet owners consider their pets when making their financial plans.

Chris Cybulski, a certified financial planner at Chisholm Trail Financial Group in Round Rock, Texas, has clients who plan to retire in January. Their dogs are “family” they would never give up. One required $10,000 worth of medical care before dying this year. Another dog is very old and requires frequent vet visits.

Cybulski created a “dog budget,” separate from the family’s everyday expenses, in the couple’s retirement plan. “My clients gave me a rough idea based on the dogs’ age and breed what expenses we could face. By breaking the budget out, we can better plan for what cash flow looks like,” he says.

Here are five ways you can make pet ownership less costly.

1. Know your initial costs

Although these figures can change based on the type of pet, the ASPCA estimates that the average dog or cat owner spends $1,100 to $3,200 during the first year of owning a pet. This estimate may include medical fees such as for spaying or neutering, supplies like a collar and leash, food, toys, bedding, crate, and many other costs including behavior support and training.

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Katherine Edwards, a certified financial planner at Mainstreet Financial Planning, based in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, says that many vets have payment plans for puppies and kittens to help cover the cost of the first year of expenses. The plans often include several checkup visits, all vaccinations, and any costs associated with having the pet spayed or neutered and microchipped.

“It is also important for pet owners to consider extra costs in case of an emergency medical situation,” Lafaille said.

Consider 1-year-old Suki, who was born with patent ductus arteriosus, an opening between the two major blood vessels leading from the heart. Her owner couldn’t afford the lifesaving open chest surgery the little dog needed and surrendered her to the shelter at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) in Boston. Fortunately, the MSPCA-Angell Animal Medical Center helped, and Suki has recovered. She now has a new home.

2. Budget for essentials                               

Fortunately, pet food inflation has been easing, according to figures for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Pet food prices rose 7.6 percent in the 12 months that ended in September, compared with 8.7 percent in August.

Edwards advises having an emergency fund of three to six months’ expenses to use for car repairs and other items — including the cost of a new animal. “Then review your budget, adding in a new line item for the pet which would include food and medications such as heartworm prevention.”

Hard as it might be, you’ll want to keep to that budget and avoid making impulse purchases, such as toys or extra treats, for your furry friend.

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3. Don’t skimp on important stuff

Do shop smart for your pet as you do for yourself and your family. Buy in bulk. Freeze extra food when you can. Buy online when it’s cheaper. Look for deals and stock up.

Invest in early training and/or socialization for young animals; in preventive medicine — mandatory vaccinations, parasite prevention and treatments; in microchipping and pet registration; and in a quality tag that identifies the animal. 

To save, shop around for spaying and neutering services, basic dentistry, annual vet visits and basic exams. Research foods to feed your pet well, but don’t overfeed. Sometimes, therapeutic diets are necessary to maintain your pet’s health.

Don’t ignore periodontal disease, as it can cause major health issues. Ask your vet about brushing your pet’s teeth. Depending on the pet’s coat, periodic trips to the groomer may be required to avoid matting. Some people buy tools and groom at home.

4. Consider pet insurance

Fluffy is injured at the dog park. Muffy eats something she shouldn’t have. Do you need pet insurance? Opinions differ, so you might want to discuss it with your financial adviser. It averages $32.50 per month for cats and $53.34 per month for dogs, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association. Compare that to one emergency that costs $1,000 or more.

Edwards suggests buying it while your pet is healthy if an emergency trip to the vet or a serious illness would be a financial strain. She says that many plans cost the same amount as the “care plan” or “wellness plan” your vet may offer. Typically, these plans are purchased annually, and cover basic, in-house vet care. “Insurance also covers things such as dental cleanings, emergency surgeries and other expenses that come up along the way,” she adds.

However, in many cases, insurance won’t cover preexisting or chronic conditions, serious illnesses like cancer, or genetic issues a purebred or mixed animal may have.

5. Get help, if you need it

Should you find yourself in a real bind, call a food bank, animal shelter or animal hospital and explain your situation. They’ll help you keep your pet so you can avoid surrendering it.

As people continue to struggle with inflation and an uncertain economy, the pet food pantry at PAWS Atlanta often empties out quickly. Every day, the shelter takes calls about rehoming pets.

5 Ways to Save on Pet Costs

The ASPCA suggests some easy ways to reduce pet costs. Try them! 

  • Groom your pets at home

​Skip the price of a groomer and trim your pet’s nails and fur yourself. Your pet will love it, your house will have less fur floating around, and your cats will have fewer hairballs.

  • Consider pet health insurance

An operation for your pet can cost thousands. If you think you can’t afford that, consider buying pet health insurance. Be sure to read the fine print, though — not all plans are created equal.

  • Spay or neuter your pet

Spaying or neutering your pet can prevent not only unwanted pups or kittens but also serious health problems, including uterine, ovarian and testicular cancers. Many animal shelters provide resources for low- or no-cost spay/neuter surgeries.

  • Brush your pet’s teeth

It’s a lot cheaper to brush Fido’s teeth than to pay for a professional cleaning. Don’t use toothpaste made for people, which contains fluoride and may irritate your pet’s stomach.

  • Schedule regular checkups

Don’t skip your pet’s yearly exam. It’s much more expensive — and risky — to treat illnesses than to protect against them. It’s also a good idea to shop veterinary practices by comparing fees for preventive care.

Source: ASPCA

LaFontaine said that the Humane Rescue Alliance will help if possible: “If your animal has a minor medical condition and you can’t get a vet appointment or can’t afford it, you can bring the animal to us. We have wonderful — a wonderful hospital here. And our doctors will treat your pet and you can pick them back up. Last year, we were able to keep 642 animals with their people, with the families who already love them.”                  

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