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5 Ways to Beat Pet Inflation

How to keep your pet healthy for less

woman shopping in the pet food aisle with a smiling poodle in the cart
Moment / Getty Images

If you have a pet, you want to give it the best care possible. But that may be harder to afford right now. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that in November 2022 petflation boosted the cost of pet food a whopping 15.7 percent, year over year. Wet food for dogs and cats rose even more, 22.6 percent and 18.8 percent, respectively. The total pet category (food and services) rose 12.7 percent.

Medical care can be especially challenging to afford. In a TEDx talk in Santa Barbara, California, Matthew Bershadker, president and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, estimated that the top 40 percent of pet owners can regularly afford veterinary care, the middle 40 percent can sometimes provide it and the bottom 20 percent may not be able to. “It’s simply not an option. The cost of veterinary medicine is out of reach for so many,” Bershadker said.

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What can you do? Fortunately, there are ways to lower, defray or eliminate some expenses. You could, as the ASPCA suggests, do nail-cutting, brushing and even grooming at home instead of paying for these services. Following are more ways to keep costs down, as you provide your pet with loving care.

1. Include pet care in your budget

First, track expenses, as you may be spending more than you think. According to a survey by Rover.com, depending on where you live and your lifestyle, one dog may cost from $480 to $3,470 per year. These figures don’t include upfront costs, such as supplies, initial veterinary care, and spaying or neutering, which may bring that figure to $1,050 to $4,480 — for a dog that’s healthy.

A cat, says the ASPCA, may cost around $634 annually for food, treats, safe toys, routine checkups, vaccinations, and flea and tick and heartworm medications.

Pet costs are necessary, just like food, rent, or mortgage payments, says Matthew Gaffey, a certified financial planner at Corbett Road Wealth Management in McLean, Virginia. To better afford them, look for discretionary items in your budget that you can easily cut. “They will likely pale in comparison to the love you have for your pet,” Gaffey says.

2. Anticipate unexpected costs

Jan Valecka, a professed dog lover and a CFP at Valecka Wealth Management in Dallas, Texas, encourages her clients — including a retired woman with five dogs — to plan for expenses, especially if they’re living on a fixed income. Her estimate for one dog is $600 per year for food, treats and other items, and $800 for vet visits. You’ll also need to allow for boarding if you travel or are hospitalized.

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Also, should your pet become injured, you may need to rush it to the vet. To cover these costs, make sure to have an adequate emergency fund, just as you do to pay for roof or car repairs. It’s best to avoid paying for these services with a credit card.

“Pets are often a significant cost when special circumstances like surgery occur,” says David Demming, a CFP at Demming Financial in Aurora, Ohio. For one cat he knows, a hip replacement might have cost as much as $15,000. “Fortunately, it was ‘only’ a $3,000 surgery,” he says.

3. Ask about pet food and services at food banks

During the pandemic, the ASPCA provided food for dogs and cats through regular food banks to take advantage of the distribution infrastructure that was already in place. It offers free and low-cost pet resources, including veterinary care, in New York, New York; Los Angeles, California; and Miami, Florida, and in Oklahoma for horses and other equines.

Your local community may offer resources that will help cover costs. During the pandemic, the ASPCA began distributing food for dogs and cats through regular food banks to take advantage of the distribution infrastructure that was already in place. It offers such services in New York, New York; Los Angeles, California; and Miami, Florida, and in Oklahoma for horses and other equines.

“We encourage pet owners to contact their local food banks and animal shelters to learn more about what resources, including pet food, supplies and/or medical care, that may be available,” says Christa Chadwick, vice president of Shelter Services at the ASPCA.

Other nonprofits are also ready to help, as they strive to help people keep their animals, rather than having to surrender them to a shelter.  

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GOODS, a program of the Seattle, Washington-based Greater Good Charities, distributes pet food and supplies to animal rescue partners in the U.S. and abroad. It sources and manages excess, rebranded, and short-dated food and supplies from donors, including manufacturers, distributors and retailers. GOODS then makes them available to thousands of animal welfare organizations, food banks, Veteran Affairs locations and other qualified agencies.

4. Think ‘preventive care’

Also, regard your pet’s health as you do your own. Preventive health care can help stave off a long list of health problems and diseases. And while preventive care has its costs, it will save you money in the long run. The ASPCA offers this advice.

  • Schedule your pet’s annual exam. It’s much more expensive to treat illnesses than protect against them.
  • Include mandatory vaccines. Some vaccines are optional, while others are essential to prevent serious diseases. Discuss your pet’s particular needs with your vet. Some areas have clinics that will vaccinate your pet at cost or for free, and your veterinarian may offer a payment plan if you can’t afford vaccinations.
  • Keep a regular dental routine. Dental disease can lead to expensive heart and kidney problems. Ask your vet which products to use and how often, including pet-safe toothpaste.  
  • Protect against fleas and ticks. They can cause minor skin irritations, but also life-threatening blood loss and disease. Use topical flea and tick solutions as directed, never substituting a product intended for a dog on a cat, or vice versa.  
  • Watch your dog’s skin. Excessive scratching, chewing and licking may indicate external parasites, infections, allergies, metabolic problems and stress, or a combination of these.

5. Shop for vet services before you need them

If free services are limited or unavailable in your area, then shop veterinary practices, comparing fees and costs — before an emergency occurs. Should illness strike, talk with the vet and choose the treatment plan that matches your goals and available resources.

What about pet insurance? The ASPCA, which offers this coverage, says that if you want it, purchase coverage while your pet is healthy.

It’s up to you. However, in a Forbes Advisor survey, more than three-quarters (79 percent) of pet owners said they don’t have pet insurance. And their choice wasn’t necessarily related to income level.

Valecka, who has purchased pet insurance in the past, says she decided the coverage wasn’t worth the cost of the premiums she paid.

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