Make your pet more frugal

A post I published last week mentioning frugal fitness garnered a couple of comments that getting a dog is not a frugal choice.

Of course, we make many decisions in our lives that are governed by more than frugality. At least, I hope so.

But the facts are in, and pet ownership certainly is not cheap. This chart prepared by the ASPCA shows the rundown. I don’t yet have pet insurance, which it lists as a cost, but annual vet exams and vaccinations more than make up the difference for my two dogs (one large, one small). Additionally, there are other unanticipated expenses: Our big dog just had his teeth cleaned (he’s a rescue, and they were awful), and the little dog has allergies that require him to take daily medications. Little dog had a growth on his ear that needed lab testing, and big dog has fatty tumors that will, undoubtedly, lead us to other lab expenses.

There are ways, however, to make pets more affordable:

  1. Buy the best, cheapest food that works for your pet. Free Money Finance (which often writes about how costly pets are) just posted about pet food. The comments provide some additional information. One of our dogs eats the formula that seems to work best for his allergies and digestion, which is a medium-expensive brand from PetSmart. The other eats Kirkland Ultra Premium dog food from Costco. Compare costs by ounce or by pound to find the best value. But don’t sacrifice cost for price — you’ll pay in irritability, weight gain, a not-so-shiny coat, allergies and/or excessive amounts of poo. And no one likes poo.
  2. Avoid wet food. It’s more expensive, can cause bad breath, and doesn’t clean the teeth like dry food does.
  3. Brush their teeth. Just as with our own teeth, an ounce of prevention is worth several hundred dollars’ worth of dental cleaning. Nothing like a little beef-flavored toothpaste to get that brush in the mouth. (Unfortunately, I find it as hard to remember this as to remember my own flossing regimen — but fits and starts is better than nothing.)
  4. Get care at a discount. Simply Thrifty mentioned that this month is National Pet Dental Health Month, so many dentists are offering discounts on cleaning. Call now to get in. She also mentions dental schools for human dental care. I wonder if vet schools offer similar bargains?
  5. Go no-groom. Frugal pet owners will choose a pet that doesn’t require professional grooming, which can run around $200 per year or more. Or, learn to do the job yourself.
  6. Go smaller … but not too small. The smallest dogs are expensive to care for because they can have health issues. Big dogs are expensive to care for, too — and they eat more food. Plus, a dog on the small side will cause less wear and tear on household furnishings, and require smaller (and thus less expensive) beds, toys, treats, collars, leashes and crates.
  7. Forget status. A rescue dog or shelter dog costs less to adopt than a pedigreed pooch. Cats at a shelter are extremely inexpensive to adopt (around $25 at our local shelter, and they sometimes come buy-one-get-one-free). An older pet might have the bonus of already being spayed or neutered (the procedure costs $100 to $300 typically), perhaps (hopefully!) have been trained, and will likely have outgrown the puppy or kitty crazies that drive animals and owners to destruction/distraction.
  8. Crate train your dog. Train the dog to stay in a crate or confined area when you are away. You will gain peace of mind, and in terms of dollars and cents, you will avoid the costs of replacing furniture, rugs, clothing and toys that could be destroyed by a rampaging pooch — or just worn out faster by a pup jumping on and off the couch a thousand times a day. Plus, you might avoid a vet bill after Fido or Kitty eats something he shouldn’t have.
  9. Spay/neuter – and shop around. In addition to avoiding unplanned litters of “grandpets,” the ASPCA also mentions that spaying and neutering animals dramatically lowers their incidence of breast, ovarian, uterine and testicular cancer. Many municipalities offer low-cost spay/neuter clinics and low-cost vaccination clinics. Check the yellow pages in your area, call the Dumb Friends League, or inquire with your pet licensing authority for recommendations.
  10. Keep their weight healthy. Just like humans, pets’ health suffers if the animal is overweight. Unlike humans, pets are at the mercy of owners who can control the pets’ weight by changing the amount of kibble they eat at each meal and eliminating unhealthy snacks. Ask a vet about your pet’s ideal weight and keep him or here in the ballpark. Most pets like a bit of fruit or veggie for an occasional treat — find what your pet likes and what agrees with his/her system, and keep other snacks low-fat.
  11. Track health conditions. Some conditions like fatty tumors (or lipomas) are common, could be worrisome, but generally aren’t. If your pet is prone to them, get the vet’s initial rundown on their safety. Then make a “map” of your pet, mark where existing lumps are located and write down the approximate size. Check the pet every so often and compare to your “map” to be sure any lipomas aren’t growing.
  12. Compare prices. Human pharmacies fill pet prescriptions, according to this article. I haven’t tried this one yet, but with my dog that requires chronic medication, a quick price comparison shows that filling his prescriptions at the Costco pharmacy could save $126 dollars a year, cutting 53 percent of what I’m currently paying the vet. I think I’ll bite the bullet next time a refill comes up and ask the vet to write a prescription.

Please chime in with your tips, too. Stay cheap … but please, allow us to love our furry friends.


19 thoughts on “Make your pet more frugal

  1. catalan gardener says:


    The point about teeth is really important. We neglected our first dog’s dental health and boy did we all pay for it. Poor boy had to have lots of teeth out and was lucky as it can lead to all sorts of other problems.

    We now take the cheat’s optiion and give our girls raw beefy bones once a week. They spend ours grinding their teeth against the bone to get of each scrap of meat and marrow. Their teeth our immaculate. As the bones are raw they don’t splinter or anything so no problem for them.

    We’ve also learnt (the hard way) that all shoes should be stored out of dog’s reach – one of our girls is a tad footwear obsessed! Sometimes I wish we’d crate-trained but we didn’t so we just keep things tidy instead!

  2. SavvyChristine says:

    This one works more if you have a cat, but don’t bother buying tons of toys. Cats like old boxes, bits of paper tied to string, and crumpled balls of paper to bat around. Fold up a blanket, and you have an instant bed. Cats are low-maintenance when it comes to toys.

  3. Condo Blues says:

    Don’t forget the pet toys! You can make cheap chew toys by briading and knotting three strips of leftover fleece, a worn out sweater, or an old towel. Braided fleece chew chews are the only toy that survives playtime with my sister’s Boston Terrier.

  4. robj98168 says:

    LOL On this. I often say there is no such thing as a free dog. My new puppy, a href=””>Romeo, so far has cost a whopping $350- that is nuetering,toys(those loofa dogs are not cheap), initial vet visit. Food is not that bad- I buy his food at a local pet natural food; that is combined with Wellness brand dry dog food, not too expensive for those boutique pet food brands- his natural food which is a soft stew, is about $10 per 5 lbs- but lasts almost 2 weeks. I watch how much he eats very closely- I had a pug that is no longer with us that was very over weight (33 lb puggy) OF course that is a combination of his being nuetered, and the fact that he came over weight to begin with. (He was a rescue)
    Romeo will have to be groomed- I could do it myself, but am afraid too as Romeo is nervous around groomers and moves alot and ultimately gets nicked.
    But despite the cost, Romeo is more than worth it- especially when he is on your lap giving puppy love- you can’t put a price on puppy love

  5. Melissa says:

    If you crate train your dog, they’re also likely to be more welcome when you do take them to the vet or groomers because they’ll be better able to handle short times of confinement in more comfort.

    Also, see if there are things you can do for your pet that a pro currently does. On our younger dog, I finally asked our vet to show me how to trim her nails and what tool they used because when I tried to use our existing clippers she yelped and yanked her feet away, but at $10 a trim, I was willing to learn. Turns out that after I bought $6 clippers that were a different style to match my vets, while it took some soothing and some treats, the clipping now occurs at home and for free.

  6. cheaplikeme says:

    @Rob – congratulations on your cute puppy! And you’re right, you can’t put a price on love. Sigh.

    @Melissa – Good point! Now I need a frugal way to thank my vets for putting up with my Weim, who apparently peed on them several times while he was getting his teeth cleaned this week.

  7. Mike says:

    I’d have to disagree with the food comment. It’s better to go on the side of higher quality (more expensive usually, but shop around) pet food. You will feed less (a lot less) and your pet will be healthier.

    This is especially important with cats. Dry food should not be the only food you feed. The carbohydrates used to make the pellets of dry food can lead to kidney damage and diabetes in the long term, especially with cheaper foods. Also, most cats don’t drink enough water (descendants of desert animals) to offset what they use to process dry food. A regular feeding of wet food has more protein and water and leads to better health of your cat.

    Cats also don’t chew their hard food like dogs do, but instead ‘crack’ it and swallow it, so the benefit on their teeth is negligible. Supplementation with raw meaty bones is best (ie chicken necks/backs).

    Other than that I like most of the tips, but food shouldn’t be cheaped out on, you pay for it later.

  8. biz319 says:

    Great ideas – here’s mine. I did buy the cheapest dog food for my dog – he hated it. That is until I add just a bit of beef broth and stir it all around.

    Several times a year my dollar store sells cans of generic beef broth for 10 cans for $1 and I stock up. I use half a can in the morning and the other half at night.

    Happy dog!

  9. cheaplikeme says:

    These comments are great examples of “different strokes for different folks.” By “best, cheapest,” I mean shop around for the best quality for the lowest price. For our higher-volume-eating dog, we purchase “super premium” dog food at Costco, with a higher meat content and no corn content, and a cost of several dollars less per 40-lb. bag than Pedigree, which has corn (often an allergen) as the first ingredient.

    Also, our cats always did fine on whatever … whereas our dogs have allergies to certain foods. I have heard that cats are carnivores, whereas dogs are omnivores, and so cat food should be highly meat-based to suit their metabolisms. Any other cat tips are invited!

  10. Yvette says:

    The best, cheapest food that I feed one of my cats happens to be homemade after figuring out that she doesn’t tolerate grains.

    It’s not for everyone, and I’m still working out the kinks, but grinding up bulk-purchased chicken and freezing it in small portions is MUCH more affordable for her needs than buying the two expensive brands that she would be able to tolerate.

    I couldn’t believe that the “hypoallergenic” prescription food my vet recommended had corn and soy in the top 3 ingredients! (click the link on my name to read my blog post about it, called “Obligate Carnivore.”)

  11. dr-molar says:

    We hadnt thought of the dental pet market, however this is something which upon thinking we feel would be very popular. I have a pet cat, and yes i do ensure its oral healthcare is kept as a priority. How many others do? Poor dental care affects humans and pets i’m sure. Your article is brilliant as it touches on an area of pet care which is often overlooked.

  12. Nina says:

    AAA (auto club) has some sort of arrangements with various pharmacies, here in California. I don’t know if they do it in other states too.

    Walgreens and Longs are included. With your card/membership, you can save from 1/3 to 2/3 on non-insured prescriptions – which of course includes pet medication.

    My Zebby has petit mal and his monthly medication would be $21.00, but with AAA discount at Walgreens, I pay only $7.00!

    I wish I had known about this in the past with my other dogs. This is the only prescription I have filled with the discount, but Walgreens said that it varies by prescription.

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