Lacey Browne
By Anum Yoon / Len Penzo dot Com
August 26, 2015

If you’re like most pet owners, you consider your animal companions part of the family. But caring for pets can often lead to high expenses, which puts a strain on your household — and, more specifically, your wallet. It’s important to evaluate how we care for the animals we love without dropping your hard-earned money into a veterinary sinkhole.

Thousands of animals end up surrendered to shelters every year because their owners can no longer afford to keep them, but fortunately, there are many tangible ways to manage the cost of pet care. Here are just a few:

Invest in Pet Healthcare Ahead of Time

One of the best ways to combat the high costs of veterinary care is to prepare for them. Many financially savvy pet owners have a separate savings account for potential medical expenses, which include anything from emergency vet visits to end-of-life care. Another way to plan ahead is to invest in pet insurance.

Certainly, the cost-effectiveness of pet insurance plans is highly contested by analysts and pet owners alike. But for many pet owners, the investment far outweighs the risk. According to one consumer who decided to invest, vet bills tend to show up in a slow trickle: a series of $400 visits, over the course of a few weeks, that inch upward into a pile that costs thousands. Pet insurance can offset these costs by providing a much lower month-to-month premium, allowing pet owners to enjoy the peace of mind that sudden emergencies can be addressed without breaking the bank.

Spay/Neuter Your Pets

While the decision to spay or neuter is certainly a personal one, it also has a lot of implications — not just for your own animals but also for animals in your community. Homeless animals are everywhere. The Humane Society reports staggering numbers, with 6 to 8 million animals entering shelters every year. Fewer than half of these are adopted.

To put the problem in perspective, the vast majority of puppies and kittens killed in the shelter system are not the offspring of feral populations; rather, they’re healthy and fully adoptable. More than 2.7 million cats and dogs are euthanized in shelters every year in the United States. The only guaranteed way to prevent this problem is to spay or neuter your pet.

Spaying or neutering your cat or dog doesn’t just help curb the rampant overpopulation problem. It’s also better for your pet’s health, which saves you money in the long run. An article from USA Today states neutered male dogs live 18% longer than un-neutered ones, while spayed female dogs live 23% longer than their intact counterparts. Deciding to spay/neuter eliminates the chances of certain kinds of cancers, such as testicular cancer, and greatly reduces the chances of developing other types, such as prostate or uterine cancer.

Shop Wisely but Don’t Compromise on Quality

Pet food costs can add up quickly, especially if you have an animal that needs a particular diet. Most cats and dogs get by just fine on garden-variety kibble or canned food, so you’ll definitely save by buying store-brand food from major pet supply retailers. If you’re concerned about quality, check in with your vet first. But don’t buy food from the vet unless you absolutely must, because the prices will almost always be marked up.

If you can afford it, buy pet food in bulk. A big bag or case is usually significantly cheaper per ounce than a smaller one.

You can also avoid breaking the bank by making sure you feed your cats or dogs proper serving sizes for their weight and body type. If you overfeed or free-feed, you not only spend more money on food, but your pets could end up overweight, which can cause significant health problems.

One great way to save money on pet food and supplies is to sign up for loyalty programs through both local and major retailers. Major chain pet stores offer free loyalty programs that help cut costs by providing coupons, sale alerts and overall lower in-store prices.

Focus on Preventing Problems

Spending a little time and money on a regular basis to keep your pets healthy may help you save upwards of thousands of dollars in veterinary costs down the road. One important piece of the puzzle is to stay up-to-date on vaccinations — but there are also actions you can take at home.

Simple products such as a dog- or cat-specific tooth brushing kit will help keep your animal’s oral health in tiptop shape. Products made for humans may irritate their skin or digestive systems, but it’s not hard to find toothbrushes and toothpaste manufactured for animal health. Brush your pet’s teeth at least once a week to keep plaque, gingivitis and potential tooth loss at bay.

Watch for other problems, like any changes in your animals eyes. Your pets eyes should be free of discharge or cloudiness.

As with humans, the largest organ on a cat or dog is the skin, which is why it’s important to pay attention, even though problems may only appear “on the surface.” Invest in a quality skincare supplement to combat problems such as canine mange and skin infections on a regular basis.

Spend Quality Time With Your Pets

This may seem like a no-brainer, but too many pet owners forget about the importance of enjoying their pets’ company — which is by far the most rewarding part of having a pet in the first place! Providing daily exercise, play and affection is completely free. Some pets have higher activity needs than others, and it’s important to make sure those needs are met. For example, a herding dog will need multiple daily exercise sessions, but more sedentary breeds such as pugs may be satisfied with going for a short walk each day.

Keeping to an engaging exercise routine is critical not only for your pets’ physical health but also for their social needs. Most dogs are highly social animals, and they crave human attention. Similarly, while cats may seem more independent than dogs, they often need just as much interactive play and affection.

By spending time with your pets, you’ll learn all the ins and outs of their behaviors, which is invaluable knowledge for catching potential health concerns. When you know what’s normal for your animal, you’ll be far more likely to see smaller behavioral or bodily changes that could indicate serious illness. If you’re paying attention, you’ll be better equipped to notice problems early on, which will not only save money in the long run but can also save your pet’s life.

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