10 Ways to Care for Your Pet on a Budget
Even if you’re broke, you can cut unnecessary pet costs without cutting corners in care
Is it becoming hard to afford your pet? Don’t despair. There are lots of things you can do before you consider surrendering your beloved companion, says Julia Pesek, community outreach coordinator at the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Nevins Farm.
Here are tips from Pesek and other experts on how to tame pet-related expenses when finances are tight.
1. Keep pets out of trouble. Decrease the chances of accident by keeping your animals inside, supervising them and having them on a leash when they go outside, advises Pesek. “Keeping control of your pet and a close eye on him will prevent injuries and accidents.”
2. Do basic care yourself. Taking your pet to the groomer can make a dent on your finances. Try to do as much as possible yourself without putting your pet at risk, says Judy Bell, vice president of Phinney’s Friends, a nonprofit in Massachusetts that helps low-income people keep their pets.
- Brush his fur and teeth regularly
- Check her ears weekly and clean as needed
- Check your pet’s paws weekly and ask your vet to show you how to trim nails
Related: How to Safely Trim a Cat’s Claws
3. Barter services. Ask your pet-loving friends to exchange something for pet services you can’t do yourself, like dog walking during work hours. “You could offer to clean someone’s house in exchange for dog walking,” suggests Bell.
4. Shop around. Comparison shop before deciding on any service or product, “even vet visits,” advises Bell. “Prices vary greatly from one business to another.”
5. Be smart about food. Don’t feed your pet low quality food. Keeping your pet on a healthy diet will reflect on her health and will save you money on vet bills later on, says Bell. If you’re broke and struggling to feed your pet, try these options:
- Look for discounted bags of food at pet stores. “When stores are discontinuing a brand or if the food will expire in a few months, you may get a really good deal,” says Bell.
- “Many food pantries for humans also carry pet food,” says Pesek.
- Ask at your local shelter if they have pet food to spare. “Shelters get donations all the time, and they’ll often share it with people in need,” adds Pesek.
- Look online for local nonprofits that distribute pet food to families below the poverty line, Bell advises.
6. Play with your pet. Playtime costs you nothing and means everything to your pet. Sticking to an exercise and play routine will save you on vet bills, as active pets lead healthier lives. And don’t spend money on toys. “Your dog will probably love a tennis ball or a stick as much as any other toy,” says Bell.
7. Ask for generic medications. Also, compare pharmacy prices with what your vet is charging, adds Pesek. At pharmacies you may even get an additional discount from services like AAA, Bell says.
Be wary of buying pet medicine online. Though the one-click shopping is easy and prices may be cheaper, you could end up with mislabeled or expired medicine.
8. Get your pet vaccinated. Ideally, you should take your pet to an annual vet check to catch any conditions before they turn into a huge problem. “Annual exams are critical to monitor your pet’s health,” says Cynthia Cox, DVM, lead veterinarian at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Boston.
But if you can’t afford the vet visit, go for the second best, advises Pesek: At least get your pet vaccinated. VETCO offers low-cost vaccination for animals at various PETCO stores. Also, many shelters and towns offer low-cost pet vaccination days. Call your town hall, nearest shelter or animal control officer to find out about those programs, Pesek says.
9. Find reduced-cost vet care. If you are below the poverty line, you may be eligible for veterinary services at a local free clinic, says Pesek. Look online, or ask a shelter or animal control officer for information on those.
But don’t wait too long to take your pet to the vet when something’s wrong. A health problem that could be solved with a simple vet visit and medication may quickly escalate to a four-digit expense at the emergency hospital, says Bell.
10. Try to save for emergencies. If a pet emergency comes up, you may be able to borrow from CareCredit, a health care credit service that also assists with vet care. But your vet clinic needs to partner with them to accept payments. “Ask about CareCredit at the vet before you have anything done,” advises Bell.
Related: How to Create a Rainy Day Fund
Ultimately, if you are broke, there’s still hope. Ask your vet clinic if they have a fund for low-income people or if they know of any clinics around that do, advises Pesek.
Also, look for nonprofits that help low-income people keep their pets. “There are lots of organizations out there trying to avoid pet surrenders and fighting to keep animals in homes where they are loved,” says Bell. The Humane Society of the United States keeps an updated list of resources.
“When someone extremely dedicated to their pets needs help, people go out of their way to help,” Bell says.