En español │As much as you love your pet, you've probably noticed that he can take a hefty bite out of the household budget. That's particularly tough for families who are saving for retirement — and for those who are no longer in the work force. But there are ways you can safely trim what you spend on Spot—and still keep him happy and healthy.
1. Work with your veterinarian. Take your pet at least once a year, ideally twice, to exams: These "well-pet" visits can often detect problems before they become more expensive to treat. When it comes to prescriptions, ask your veterinarian to match prices, or take script to a local or reputable online pharmacy, including those run by veterinarians. You can also save by asking for higher doses and getting a pill splitter. Finally, don't forget to ask about discounts or promotions: Many vets offer a special break for seniors.
2. Reduce risk of accidents. Saving the life of a pet that has been hit by a car or poisoned is expensive — and these tragedies often can be prevented. Keeping cats indoors will prevent injuries and protect them from disease; a sturdy fence and the use of a leash will do the same for dogs. Medications — both over-the-counter and prescriptions — are the top poisoning risks; keep them behind cupboard doors, and make sure house guests do the same.
3. Keep your pet healthy. Most dogs and cats are overweight, and those extra pounds increase the likelihood of serious health problems, such as arthritis, diabetes and cancer. If your pet is a normal weight — you should be able to feel ribs — measuring food, keeping treats to a minimum and exercising regularly will keep him that way. Keep your pet bathed and brushed, and your home clean to help prevent the allergies that send many pets to the veterinarian.
4. Consider insurance. A good policy can protect you from having to decide whether or not to put your pet down when you can't afford care. Because pet insurance plans range widely — some cover preventive routine care, others have lower premiums because of high deductibles — do your research and read the fine print to make sure the most likely health problems of your pet are covered.
5. Shop smarter. Shopping is fun, but your dog really doesn't need that designer collar. When it comes to toys, cut them back but not out — chew toys have saved many a shoe. You can save by buying the largest bags of food or litter, or get case discounts on cans. Split dry food purchases with family or a friend and store your portion in an airtight container. Keep product info, such as the lot number from the bag, in case there are questions or problems.
6. Do it yourself. Handle basic grooming at home, from bathing to nail trims. If nothing else, you can stretch out time between professional grooming for pets with high-maintenance coats, such as poodles. Look on the Internet for grooming guides, and check out YouTube.com for actual demonstrations. Another do-it-yourself savings strategy is to brush your pet's teeth. It'll lengthen the time between cleanings at your veterinarian's while keeping your pet healthier.
7. Share services. Trade services, or barter for goods and services. Remember that bartering can be flexible: You can save just as much money if you can provide one kind of service (such as tax-preparation) for another (such as pet sitting or dog grooming).
With these simple strategies, your pet will never want for the best care — and you can take that to the bank along with your savings.
Dr. Marty Becker, AARP's resident pet expert, is a regular veterinarian contributor to ABC's Good Morning America and The Dr. Oz Show. He has co-written several top-selling books on domestic animals and currently helps run the website PetConnection.com