This is a guest post written by Emily Starbuck Gerson. Thanks for submitting this, Emily! I don’t have a dog or cat, and so I have no idea how to reduce pet costs.
Emily Starbuck Gerson is a recent college grad living in Austin, Texas. She is a writer and blogger for CreditCards.com, where she focuses on young adults and frugality. She plays cello, does semi-professional photography and is the proud mother of a short-haired Tabby and a Miniature-Pinscher/Chihuahua mix.
Who doesn’t love animals? Furry friends lower our heart attack risk, reduce stress and blood pressure and bring us unparalleled happiness. The part of pet ownership that isn’t often discussed is how expensive they can be.
I have a dog and a cat, and in the last year, I’ve had to race them to the vet for multiple emergencies (two cat fights, eye infection, and a messy bout with garbage eating). The costs of the visits ranged from $120 to $240 apiece, and because I haven’t even been out of college a year, my parents have had to rescue me financially more than once. In addition to routine and emergency pet visits, there’s also monthly flea and heartworm medicine, food, annual vaccines and other necessities. I love my pets, but I had no idea they would be so costly.
If you can’t resist getting a dog or cat of your own, here are some tips on keeping it cheap:
Utilize low-cost clinics. Here in Austin, many people don’t realize we have two low-cost clinics, Emancipet and Animal Trustees of Austin, which offer greatly discounted vaccines and spay/neuter services. Vets often charge outrageous fees for annual vaccines, so these clinics can save you big bucks.
Remember that they are animals. Every time I’m shopping and see the pet aisle, I’m tempted to buy cute toys and knickknacks. Then I take one home and the dog rips it up or the cat ignores it. My maternal instinct overcomes me and I forget they are not children. They are animals, and do not need massive toy collections.
Do the grooming yourself. Buy pet shampoo (which is very cheap at Wal-Mart), grab a friend and use the kitchen sink or bathtub. Buy nail clippers (or a Dremel sander tool) to shorten those nails. If your dog is long-haired, buy clippers and shave it yourself. It may not be a dog-show caliber ‘do, but who cares?
Shop around. Different vets charge different prices for the same services. So do trainers and boarders. Ask friends for recommendations and call around for quotes. I love my dog boarder, who charges $22 a night. My coworker is wild about his but pays over $40 a night. Everyone has different thresholds for how much they want to spend on pets, so call around first.
Ask how much it costs. You pay an exam fee for every vet visit. You’re also charged for every test, X-ray and medicine, and you usually aren’t asked permission beforehand. I was shocked how high my first vet bill was — I didn’t know that several simple tests cost extra because the vet didn’t say anything. When your vet enters the exam room, say, "Before you do something, please tell me how much it will cost. I can only afford what’s absolutely necessary."
Order medicines online. Vets charge a hefty price for heartworm and flea meds. Online pharmacies, such as 1-800-PETMEDS, offer the same products at significant discounts. They still need a prescription from your vet, which some vets refuse to give. In that case, you can use an international pharmacy online, such as VetShopOnline.com, which doesn’t require a prescription. They provide the same medicines we have, just in metric measurements.
Keep them healthy. If your pets get regular exercise, don’t eat things they shouldn’t and are well cared for, you will usually need to go to the vet only for annual check-ups. If a pet is unhealthy, you will have to spend extra money on specialized food, medicine and additional vet visits.
You probably don’t need to spend money on pet health insurance. In my family, we love our pets, but if they are old and sick, we let them go. These days, many people will do anything to keep their pet alive, including chemo and radiation therapy and surgeries costing thousands of dollars. If you’re that committed, pet insurance may be a lifesaver. If you don’t plan on going that far if your pet falls ill, you will probably pay more for the insurance than you will ever rack up in vet bills. The pet health industry is not based on insurance like the human health industry is, so it can also be complicated. In this blog post on AOL’s WalletPop, the writer says pet insurance can be a bargain. If you’ll scroll below to the comments, however, you’ll see several people diligently paid for pet insurance, but the companies refused to cover anything and much money was wasted. There are many types of pet health insurance, some very costly and some quite cheap. Some cover routine visits, while others cover emergencies only. If you do decide to get pet insurance, be sure to extensively research your options. If you’d like more thorough information on how it works, this About.com.