Whether it's a dog, a cat, or a guinea pig, pets are an important and beloved part of many family units. And just like the needs and living expenses of other family members, pets impact the household budget and bottom line.
According to the American Kennel Club, the average annual cost of dog ownership ranges widely—from $14,480 to $93,520. That price tag includes food, treats, dog toys, bed, leashes, and routine veterinary care, among other things.
Cats, meanwhile, cost about $634 annually, or about $53 per month, according to the ASPCA. Similar to dogs, this estimate takes into consideration the cost associated with cat food, medical expenses, treats, toys, and more.
The reality, however, is that the expense associated with pet ownership can vary widely, and for the savviest of owners, there's a long list of hacks for saving money throughout the year. Here are 10 ways to save money on pet ownership.
Shop for supplies at discount stores
The cost of purchasing pet supplies like beds, bowls, and toys can quickly add up. But that doesn’t have to be the case, says Stephanie Mantilla, a former zookeeper who is now an enrichment specialist and positive reinforcement-based animal trainer for Curiosity Trained. Mantilla suggests shopping at discount department store chains to score a bargain on basic pet necessities.
“Stores like HomeGoods and Marshalls carry pet items,” explains Mantilla, author of How to Clicker Train Your Cat. “You can get everything you need for a new pet, including leashes and crates, at significant savings. These stores get brand-new products when there’s overstock and sell them for up to 60 percent off.”
Skip the commercially made cat beds
While we’re on the subject of pet basics, you might also save money as a cat owner by skipping a factory-produced pet bed altogether, says Dawn LaFontaine, owner of the company Cat in the Box, which makes whimsical cardboard box playhouses for cats.
“A cat does not differentiate between a specially designed cat bed purchased at a boutique pet shop and an old pillow,” says LaFontaine. “Anyone who has ever owned a cat knows that they're as likely to settle down for a nap in the basket on your dining room table that usually holds fruit as in the $40 velveteen cat tuffet you were sure they were going to love.”
Along the same lines, LaFontaine also suggests skipping the mass-produced pet toys to save money.
“Cats will play with anything, from a ball of tin foil to the little plastic tab that comes from milk jugs, to a ping pong ball that bounces readily and has a way of skittering off with the tiniest swat, making a terrific cat toy,” adds LaFontaine.
Buy generic pet food
It goes without saying that we all want our pets to eat high-quality food that isn't full of artificial ingredients and fillers. Spending a small fortune on such food, however, is rarely fun. The good news is you don’t have to pay top dollar to feed your furry friends well.
“Many of the expensive food companies offer a generic brand of food as well that’s just as healthy but less expensive,” explains Mantilla. “For example, the brand Merrick also makes Whole Earth Farms, which costs a lot less.”
When shopping for slightly less expensive food, be sure to take the time to read the ingredient list. Ideally, meat is the first ingredient, advises Mantilla. At the same time, it’s a good idea to avoid meat by-products and corn.
“Both are low-quality filler ingredients that are used to bulk up food cheaply. Corn is not usually digestible and passes through your pets’ digestive system without providing any real nutrition, says Mantilla.
Another good alternative is grain-free food, which uses sweet potatoes along with meat. For cats, it’s a good idea to avoid foods that only include seafood, such as fish, as the main protein source.
“Fish can cause lower levels of thiamine, which is an essential nutrient for your cat’s health. Many cats become allergic to fish and fish tends to have higher levels of toxins in it than other proteins,” adds Mantilla.
Purchase pet insurance
On average, pet insurance costs between $30 to $50 per month for a plan with solid coverage, according to Value Penguin. Though it is possible to find plans for as little as $10 per month or higher than $100 per month. Premium costs depend on such factors as the pet’s age, species, and breed, among other things.
Selecting a policy wisely can often help save quite a bit of money over the course of a pet’s life.
“Enrolling your pet in an insurance plan will help offset the costs of preventative care along with accidents, illnesses, and other conditions,” says Michelle Burch, a veterinarian with Safe Hounds Pet Insurance. “Most programs will cover up to 75 to 80 percent of the veterinary expenses.”
It’s best to obtain a policy when you first get a pet, while they’re still a puppy or kitten. Waiting until later in the animal’s life after it may have been diagnosed with a pre-existing condition will often disqualify it for insurance coverage
“It is essential to start a policy before diagnosis to maximize savings,” says Burch. “Additionally, I recommend reviewing multiple policies before choosing one and ensure a plan will cover breed-specific diseases.”
Sign up for a veterinary discount plan
If you can’t afford pet insurance or don’t think it’s worth it, there’s yet another option: veterinary discount plans, which also offer savings on veterinary costs. One of the most well-known is PetAssure, a pet insurance alternative that provides members with a 25 percent discount on veterinary bills in exchange for paying monthly dues of as little as $7.95 per month.
“It’s basically like the AARP for pet care,” says Daniel Caughil co-founder of The Dog Tale, a resource site for dog owners.
One caveat here, says Caughill, not all veterinary clinics accept these types of discount plans. In the case of PetAssure, you can visit its website, enter your zip code and find local, participating vets.
Don’t skip the preventative care
Preventative care may seem like an unnecessary expense to some, but experts say it can save you money over the course of a pet’s lifetime.
“Treatments for things like heartworm or fleas and ticks are key to stay on top of [through preventative veterinary visits] to avoid expensive, unexpected vet bills associated with parasites,” says Sarah Wooten, a veterinarian with Pumpkin Pet Insurance. “These issues are more common than one would think.”
It’s also important to regularly get blood work done for your pet and routine dental care—health maintenance measures that can reduce costs over the long run.
Along the same lines, Dr. Wooten says it’s important to bring a pet to the vet without delay when you notice issues developing.
“Diseases, especially infections, can progress quickly and get expensive just as fast,” she explains. “Early intervention is best for your furbaby and should minimize the duration and intensity of treatment.”
The good news is that often preventative costs can be defrayed by comprehensive pet insurance policies, which cover many of these types of visits and treatments.
Speaking of prevention, not overfeeding your pet will go a long way for both its health and your budget.
“Overweight and obese pets experience an increase in preventable diseases, including arthritis, ligament tears, diabetes, and heart disease,” says Burch. Just like we all need daily exercise, so does your pet.
Shop around for medication prices
The cost of prescription medication for a pet can often be as pricey as prescriptions for human family members. But even this cost can be reduced if you’re a savvy pet owner.
“You can ask your veterinarian if they have a generic option of the medication they’re prescribing,” says Burch. “If they do not have a generic alternative, you can ask for a prescription and call different pharmacies for price quotes. Multiple pharmacies have pet programs to help offset medication prices.”
GoodRx coupons can also be used to help discount prescriptions, adds Burch.
Groom pets at home
Depending on where in the country you live, and the type of pet you have, professional grooming can be very pricey, and over the course of a year, this particular expense really begins to add up. The website Thumbtack says the average price of dog grooming is between $60 to $90. Cat grooming averages about $50 per session, according to HomeGuide, though it can be as low as $30 or as high as $70 in some places.
Want to bring these costs down a bit? Consider at-home grooming.
“Acclimating your pet to home nail trims and ear cleanings will pay off in the long run. If you are able to provide basic grooming services for your pet at home it will be less stressful for your pet as well as your pocketbook,” says Wooten.
While the idea of clipping nails and cleaning ears may sound daunting or slightly intimidating to some readers, don’t let it throw you for a loop.
“Grooming dogs and cats on your own can be easy, or it can be difficult. It all depends on the person and the pet, but it really helps to start when pets are very young to get them used to it, and to invest in good tools, like professional grooming clippers,” continues Wooten.
You may also want to check out YouTube for free grooming videos, including the Love of Grooming channel.
Establish a dog walking or pet sitting club with your neighbors
Have you ever paid someone to board or walk your dog while you’re not home or away on vacation? The steep daily cost of such services can bust your budget. But here’s a brilliant way around them–create a dog walking or pet sitting club.
“See if other dog owners in your neighborhood have the same need, and form a rotating dog walking service with them,” says Caughill of The Dog Tale. “This way your pup is never alone for too long, and you all can save money.”
Grow or make your own pet food and snacks
One final option for those who have the acreage, or simply the time: grow or bake your own pet foods and snacks.
Daniel Morris, who founded the website Pet N Pat, along with his wife, Naomi, keeps a large herb garden on their property to feed a pet rabbit. The couple also grows chickweed, clover, and milk thistle to feed their chickens.
“This drastically cuts down on the number of pellets we have to feed them,” says Morris.
“Our dog, a Labrador, also loves a lot of the veggies that we grow—carrots, broccoli, zucchini, bell peppers, and so on.”
“Not only does feeding your animals from the garden significantly reduce costs, but it's also better for them. Our garden is spray-free and organic, and the food is served a lot fresher,” adds Morris.
Caughill, of The Dog Tale, meanwhile suggests creating baked snacks for your dogs.
“Dog food and treats can really add up,” says Caughill. “I make my puppy healthy sweet potato bites by dicing up a couple of sweet potatoes and roasting them at 200 degrees for two hours. It’s so simple to make, and the same product from the store costs $15.”
Single-ingredient treats are the safest (and often the healthiest) homemade snacks for dogs. But if you’re interested in DIY dog food, there’s a long list of possibilities–everything from frozen peanut butter and yogurt treats to oat and apple biscuits, or even pumpkin and blueberry treats.
Who out there is ready to become the Martha Stewart of the pet food world?