Money may not be able to buy you happiness, but it can buy treats, toys and training for your furry four-legged friend — and that’s basically the same thing.
Pet ownership is a serious financial commitment, especially when inflation is as high as it currently is. But even with mounting day-to-day costs and the temptation to splurge on a growing roster of boutique services, you don't have to go broke to be a good pet parent.
How much do pets cost to support each year?
First-year expenses tend to be the highest, since you’ll likely have to buy new gear and supplies, pay adoption fees and — if you’re adopting a young pet — shell out for medical expenses like spay/neuter procedures, microchipping and vaccinations. After the first year, you’ll pay an average of $1,000 annually per dog, and slightly less for a cat. An emergency vet visit can add thousands of dollars to this estimate.
How to save money on pets: 7 tips for pet parents
If you’re the proud parent of a dog or cat, here are some easy ways to cut day-to-day costs.
1. Weigh the costs and benefits of pet insurance
Pet insurance rates vary by location, breed and scope of coverage. But a typical policy starts at about $50 a month for dogs and about $30 a month for cats, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.
Pet insurance plans don’t cover routine or preventative care, like vaccinations or teeth cleaning. And you’ll have to spend enough money out-of-pocket to meet your deductible (typically about $500). After you hit that amount, you’ll still owe a percentage of the remaining costs (between 10% and 30%, depending on your coverage).
Is pet insurance worth it? It depends. A 2021 Money analysis of pet insurance rates and vet costs found the odds are low for collecting on insurance if your dog or cat has a “normal” medical life without pre-existing conditions or major illnesses. Even minor accidents may not add up to enough to meet your annual deductible: According to a survey from the American Pet Products Association, cat owners spend an average of $170 to $255 a year on vet visits for surgery, sickness or an emergency. For dogs, the averages range from $285 to $460. So insurance is most likely to pay off if your pet develops a serious illness or has a major accident.
The bottom line? Pet insurance is ideal for pet owners willing to pay for peace of mind against the worst-case scenario.
If you're in this camp, read the fine print carefully. Pet insurance policies come with a lot of exclusions and caveats, including sometimes requiring you to meet a new deductible each time your pet has a new health condition. Many policies come with annual or lifetime limits, too, meaning that if your pet has a very expensive condition, you may still need to cover costs once your insurance is maxed out.
2. Consider switching to a high-deductible pet insurance plan
Pet insurance can help keep vet expenses low, if you find the right plan. For most people, the best option for cutting monthly costs and maintaining protection against expensive emergencies is a high-deductible plan. Choosing a $500 deductible over a $200 one saves pet owners hundreds of dollars a year in premiums. (Check out our comprehensive guide on how to buy pet insurance for more tips.)
3. Avoid health issues with a ‘wellness’ plan
Insurance in the pet world is reactive; it typically kicks in after there’s a health crisis. Staying on top of things like annual shots, check-ups and dental cleanings can help prevent the need for more expensive procedures down the line.
Some veterinarians offer what’s called a “wellness plan” for this type of routine care. For $30 to $50 a month, depending on the plan, all your routine veterinary services will be covered. That includes vaccinations and preventative care and often extends to things like nutrition counseling and dental care.
The caveat here is that you may need to shop around for an animal hospital that offers such a plan. And if you do enroll, you might have to use all of the covered services — every single year — in order for the wellness coverage to make sense financially. Knowing your monthly costs upfront can help you budget appropriately.
Another option is to look for a low-cost vet clinic in your area. These services, often run out of veterinary schools or through non-profit organizations, offer discounted services to lower-income pet owners.
4. Hunt for coupons and discounts
Feeding your dog or cat healthy, high-quality pet food can prevent medical conditions down the road. Good pet food can be pricey, but a little research will yield steep discounts.
You can find pet food coupons in newspaper inserts, and on the websites of pet food brands themselves. Big box stores like Petco and Petsmart offer subscription plans and customer loyalty programs that are also worth checking out. If your brand (or pet store) has regular sales, plan to buy food in bulk during those times. And if you order your food online, consider a delivery subscription service like Amazon or Chewy to get a 5% to 10% monthly discount.
You can swap brand-name food and treats for cheaper, generic versions — just be sure to look at the list of ingredients first. Try to avoid low-quality fillers like corn or meat by-products.
Shop for toys, beds, bowls and other items at discount stores like TJ Maxx or HomeGoods. And if you need to take your dog to a daycare center, purchase a package of days at a discount.
5. Compare pet medication prices from multiple suppliers
Just like with human medicine, pet medicine pricing isn’t standardized. Shopping around can help you find the best price on prescriptions for your cat or dog.
Be sure to ask your vet if there’s a generic version of the medication your pet needs. Check what it costs to buy it through your vet, too. They may be able to buy in bulk and pass on some savings to you.
Don’t take the first price you’re offered, either. After getting an estimate from your vet, look at local pet stores and specialty online retailers like 1-800-PetMeds, Discount Pet Medicines or PetCareRx and make a comparison. Costco and Amazon, which both carry a decent number of pet meds, are also worth looking into. When in doubt, using an app like GoodRX can help you snag the best deal.
6. Understand how reimbursement rates work before choosing a pet insurance policy
Most pet insurance providers have reimbursement rates of 70% to 90%, meaning you’ll only be on the hook for 10% to 30% of covered vet expenses. Generally, the higher the reimbursement rate, the more you'll pay in monthly premiums. If you anticipate that your pet will need a lot of medical care, high reimbursement rates can save you money in the long run. But oftentimes, you'll save more by choosing a lower reimbursement rate at an affordable monthly premium.
7. Look for discount opportunities to save on pet insurance costs
Before you buy pet insurance, check if your employer offers coverage — an increasing number of companies do. Some auto and renter’s insurers will let you bundle pet insurance into your coverage for a discounted rate, and many pet insurance companies themselves offer discounts for military members, seniors and customers purchasing plans for more than one pet.
How much does pet insurance cost?
Pet insurance costs vary widely depending on the insurance company, the deductible you choose and the kind of pet you have. Your pet’s health, breed, age and sex will also influence the amount you pay, with coverage for dogs typically ranging from $50 to $120 a month for comprehensive coverage, and coverage for cats hovering between $20 to $50 per month.
Why buy pet insurance?
Pet insurance helps mitigate the out-of-pocket costs of caring for your dog or cat. Coverage is especially beneficial in the event of a serious medical condition, where vet expenses add up quickly; sometimes costing thousands of dollars. In these scenarios, pet insurance kicks in after you meet your deductible, and typically reimburses you for 70% to 90% of the bill.
Compare pet insurance quotes to protect your pet's health
The best way to find low-cost pet insurance is to shop around for a policy. A separate Money analysis of pet insurance pricing found wide ranges in what different insurers charged, sometimes adding up to hundreds of dollars a year. Most pet insurance companies let you easily request a quote online so you can quickly compare monthly premiums and annual deductibles.
Summary of Money's 7 ways to save money on your pets
There are lots of different ways to cut down on pet-related expenses. These tips can help you save hundreds of dollars a year:
- Consider switching to a high-deductible pet insurance plan.
- Weigh the costs and benefits of pet insurance.
- Avoid health issues with a wellness plan.
- Hunt for coupons when buying high-quality, healthy pet food.
- Compare pet medication prices from multiple suppliers.
- Understand how reimbursement rates work before choosing a pet insurance policy.
- Look for discount opportunities to save on pet insurance costs.