5 Tips for cutting pet care costs

Nov 20, 2009 at 8:00 a.m. ET

Bills, bills, bills. Between veterinary care, food and supplies, the cost of owning a pet can certainly add up. Exacerbating matters, in today's current economy, many pet owners can barely afford to feed their own families, let alone their pets. A recent survey among Petfinder.com animal shelters and rescue groups, 84% of them reported that they are receiving more pets in need due to the overall economic downturn.

Woman bringing white dog to vet

But just because the economy has gone to the dogs doesn't mean that you have to give up your precious pet for adoption. Here are some tips on how to unleash savings toward the care of your four-legged friend:

How to cut pet healhcare costs

1. Think long-term

A visit to the vet can cost nearly as much as your own doctor's appointments these days. Unfortunately, vet bills show no signs of decreasing, with the American Pet Products Association estimating that pet spending this year will reach an estimated $12.2 billion. It is wise, therefore, to always have a game plan for your pet's unexpected injuries or illnesses.

Although it may sound counterintuitive, forking down cash each month for pet insurance is a way to save on unforeseen vet bills, particularly if your pet is elderly or chronically ill. In other cases, it may make more sense to set aside money that you might normally spend on treats or toys into a special savings fund should an emergency arise, suggests Betsy Saul, cofounder of Petfinder.com.

You can explore your options and make a plan that works best for your own finances, as well as your pet's state of health. Not only will you end up saving money in the long run, but you will also give yourself peace of mind, which is even better.

2. Prevention is the best medicine

Taking a proactive approach to your pet's health care will save you significant amounts of time and money by nipping any potential health crises in the bud. Thus, it is crucial to take your pet to the vet annually, as well as to make sure your pet receives the medications and vaccines recommended by your vet. Checking in with your vet on a regular basis and taking heed of his or her suggestions will enable your pet to achieve optimal health.

According to Dr Heidi Hulon, a small-animal practitioner and President of the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association, "many of the diseases that we vaccinate for can be deadly and can cost a lot to treat."

3. Choose pet food with care

Hold that thought before you grab the first bag of kibble that you see on-sale at the supermarket: When it comes to pet food, it pays to invest in a high-quality food that meets your pet's nutritional needs.

'The cheaper food provides lower quality nutrition, meaning you have to feed more for the pet to be full,' says Hulon. The equivalent of Twinkies for pets, lower-quality commercial pet foods force owners to feed pets more frequently, which in turn, leads to more buying.

This doesn't mean that you have to spend an arm and a leg on pet food, but make sure the food you are purchasing delivers plenty of nutritional bang for the buck.

4. Cancel that kennel appointment

The next time you are heading out of town, consider arranging for a trusted family member or friend to watch over Fido. Not only will you save on sky-high boarding bills, but your pet will feel much more secure in the comfort of his or her own home.

It's a good idea to meet with your designated pet sitter a day or two before you embark on your trip, just so you can show them where you keep food and supplies and go over details.

"Leave detailed instructions regarding care and your veterinarian's phone number for the sitter," advises Hulon. Also remember to bring your sitter's number with you, just in case something comes in or you simply want to say hello to your furry friend.

5. Give DIY grooming a go

When it comes to primping your pet, there's no need to pay top dollar. As Saul says, "Your canine will be cute no matter what he wears--even if it's just his or her own fur." By regularly bathing your pet and trimming his or toenails, you'll save yourself a pretty penny.

So take matters into your own hands, and let the brushing begin. OK, so your pet's locks might not look as lustrous, but that's a small price to pay.

Ultimately, the best gift you can give your pet is TLC. Investing in your bond with your pet will reap major rewards in the long run.

more pet care tips:

5 tips: How to keep your furry friend in top shape
Pet separation anxiety: 4 Tips to help cope
Common home remedies for your dog