Spending Too Much on Pet Care? 3 Ways to Cut Back

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Story at-a-glance

  • In 2016, U.S. pet owners are expected to spend $62.75 billion on their pets, which is 4 percent more than what was spent in 2015
  • Preventive veterinary care and a fresh, species-appropriate diet are two areas worth splurging on in your pet care budget
  • Areas to save on in your pet expenses include grooming, as you can trim nails and give baths at home, and certain toys

By Dr. Becker

In 2016, U.S. pet owners are expected to spend $62.75 billion on their pets, which is 4 percent more than the $60.3 billion spent in 2015.1

The data, collected by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), shows a continued trend: spending on pet care has risen every year since the APPA began collecting such data in 1994.2

Broken down, the APPA data suggests it costs more than $1,600 a year to care for a dog and more than $1,100 to care for a cat. Food makes up the most expensive part of caring for a pet, followed by veterinary care, supplies and services, such as grooming and boarding.

Most pet owners view their pets as part of the family, and many spare no expense when it comes to their pet.

That being said, virtually every family has a budget, and pet care expenses shouldn’t push you continually into the red. (The exception may be if your pet has an accident or sudden illness, and the emergency treatment or surgery puts you temporarily over your budget.)

When considering where to splurge and where to save money on your pet, there are definite areas that deserve more spending than others.

Pet Care Saving Versus Spending

When caring for an animal, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure. By spending your pet care dollars wisely, you can actually save money by reducing your pet’s future veterinary care costs. Here are examples of how to best allocate your funds.

Splurge: Preventive Veterinary and Dental Care

Preventive health care involves regular monitoring of your pet’s health status and taking proactive steps as necessary to prevent the development of disease. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach; it should be tailored to your individual pet’s needs.

Your pet should be seen at least once a year for a regular check-up. However, if she is older or has a chronic health condition, a check-up with a proactive, functional medicine vet every six months is wise.

You’ll be able to check on things like organ function and make changes in your pet’s treatment protocol, to prevent more serious issues from occurring.

I believe checking your pet’s internal organ function is one of the best investments, as it can identify organ dysfunction before your pet goes into organ failure, and provides you the opportunity to address the problem you otherwise wouldn’t have known about.

Keep in mind that you do not need to vaccinate your pet on an annual schedule, either. Proactive vets advocate the use of vaccine titers in place of unnecessary, repeated vaccines.

In addition, keeping your pet’s mouth healthy will help keep her body healthy, as there’s an intricate link between oral health and overall health.

I recommend learning how to brush your pet's teeth and doing it consistently (daily if your pet is older or at least several times a week for younger pets). Oral exams will be included in your proactive wellness physical examination, to check for other issues that may be occurring in your pet’s mouth.

Splurge: Feed a Fresh, Balanced Species-Appropriate Diet

This is one of the most important tools to keep your pet healthy and, in turn, lower your veterinary costs in the future.

You’ll want to avoid feeding highly processed, high-carbohydrate and low-moisture foods (including most commercial kibbles, “grain-free”/high-starch dry food, and low-quality canned foods).

This type of junk-food diet is the opposite of what your pet is designed to eat, and feeding such foods to your pet will lead to significant metabolic and physiologic stress.

Instead, choose a fresh-food diet that is close to what your pet would eat in the wild. In the video below, you can view my rankings of best to worst pet foods.

Save and Splurge: Toys

Your pets need toys for mental stimulation and physical play, but you don’t need to break the bank to buy them. Some of the best toys can be made at home or are free (like re-purposing cardboard boxes for your kitty).

Also, many dogs destroy new toys in a matter of minutes, which may prompt you to buy really cheap toys, usually imported from China. Be careful with purchasing low-quality toys, including those made from plastic, which may contain harmful chemicals (flame retardants), questionable fillers or break apart easily, posing a choking hazard.

If you are going to buy toys, look for toys made in the U.S. out of 100 percent natural rubber, organic cotton or other non-toxic materials. Some of the best pet toys are handmade by individuals or very small companies using all organic or natural materials.

Another option to save some money is to make old toys new again. Leave out only one or two at a time and put the rest away for a week or two. When you pull them out, they’ll be like new.

Save: Clothing and Costumes

Pets don’t need (nor do many enjoy) wearing extravagant clothing and costumes. Items like hooded sweatshirts, Halloween costumes, raincoats and boots are typically unnecessary and, in some cases, may hinder your dog’s ability to move freely and naturally.

That being said, some dogs, particularly small or toy breeds, those with short or thin coats, older dogs, or those with chronic health conditions, may benefit from wearing a sweater or coat in cold weather. For this purpose, choose a plain sweater or coat with no zippers, hooks or buttons that may annoy your dog (or pose a choking hazard) in a natural material (organic if possible).

Save: Nail Trims and Baths

Taking your pet to the groomer can be pricey. It’s necessary to keep your pet’s nails trimmed, but you can learn to do so yourself. I’ve compiled tips on trimming your dog’s nails and trimming your cat’s claws previously.
The same goes for bath time. You needn’t shell out a lot of money for pet baths. Bathing your dog (and sometimes even your cat) at home will save you money and be less stressful for your pet.

It’s interesting to note that while having a pet does cost you money, it also saves you money on your own health care costs. In fact, researchers from George Mason University (GMU) conducted a study for The Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation, which found Americans save $11.7 billion annually in health care costs due to pet ownership, primarily in the form of reduced doctor visits.3

Of course, even with the inevitable spending on pet care, there’s no price that can be put on the “return on your investment” — the love and companionship of an animal.