In 2019, Americans spent $95.7 billion on pet care supplies and over-the-counter medicine, and 2020 spending is estimated to be around $100 billion. On vet care alone, pet owners spent $29.3 billion. There’s no escaping that looking after your dog's health is expensive, especially when things go unexpectedly wrong.
Table of Contents
- General Dog Care Costs
- Dog Health Costs
- Veterinary Bills
- Medication for Dogs
Caring for a dog costs money, but your pet doesn’t have to be a bottomless money pit. There are many things that you can do to reduce the cost of routine dog care, prevent future expenses and minimize the impact of unexpected costs.
Preventative care, education, buying cheap pet meds and otherwise being aware of some budgeting tricks will go a long way in your plight to save money on vet care. The best resource you have is your vet that's open minded to preventative measures.
General Dog Care Costs
1. Educate Yourself in the Matter
Learn as much as you can about routine dog health care. Read books, watch DVDs and YouTube videos (check out our channel) or attend a dog care evening class. Providing preventative care at home reduces costs and keeps your dog out of the vet’s office.
Try your hand at nail clipping, grooming, ear cleaning, basic first aid and administering medications. Learn the signs of when all is not well with your canine friend. Recognizing early symptoms of illness can save your dog’s life and reduce vet bills dramatically.
2. Be Selective with Dog Supplements
Pet stores now have an entire isle designated to dog supplements. But just what does your dog need? It’s easy to be seduced or to feel pressured by marketing. If you’re buying premium dog food, then you’ll already be adding supplements into your pet’s diet.
Does the dog need any more supplements? Talk to your vet about pet supplements that will actually benefit the dog. Note that in most cases, supplements aren't necessary and may be one of those worthless purchases. Otherwise, they can even be harmful to your dog. So it all comes to balance and finding the sweet spot.
3. Adopt the Right Dog for Your Lifestyle and Budget
Research breeds before you buy or adopt a dog. There are plenty of dog breed quizzes online that will provide you with a serious of important questions about your lifestyle, budgeting and more to assess which dog breed would fit you best. Not all dogs are the same.
For example, IAMS quiz will help you understand the likely costs, temperament, potential health issues and exercise needs of a specific breed. Be honest: can you give that breed what he needs to thrive and maintain optimal health? If you can’t and you buy it anyway for the wrong reasons, it will likely cost you a lot in the long run.
4. Get Creative
One crucial aspect of dog care is keeping your pet mentally stimulated. You could buy every dog puzzle, food stuffed dog toy and soft toys out there, or you could improvise a little. Dog toys can be expensive and often have a short life, especially if Fido is a chewer. If you're on a budget and want to avoid these costs, you must think outside of the box.
Why not create your own fun and games using household items? You can find many online tutorials like this one for DIY dog toys, games like these and other interactive toys for dogs. It will cost you a fraction of the expense to build these types of homemade dog toys yourself instead of buying them at pet stores.
5. Budget Wisely
We all fall to impulsive buying, or into the habit of buying certain brands or products for no good reason. A regular review of where you’re spending your money will help you identify essential and non-essential costs related to your dog, as well as costs that are higher than they need to be. Budgeting is personal finance 101, so don't delay on this.
Some of the best tips I've read on clever budgeting:
- Personal Income Flowchart
- Khan Academy “Practical Money Skills”
- The Millionaire Next Door
- The Total Money Makeover
- Bogleheads Philosophy
- The Richest Man in Babylon (free eBook)
6. Put Some Money Aside
So you’ve got your budget sorted out but not all dog care costs are predictable. There’s emergency veterinary care and unexpected illnesses your dog may attract; there's replacing dog grooming and training supplies when they break, hiring a dog walker while you recover from a broken leg… You never know when hidden costs may pop up.
Having a “Fido Fund” of sorts will provide you with a buffer when you need it. It's just another side emergency fund that all pet owners need. Some people do this for their own general emergency costs (like car breakdowns, etc.) which is never a bad idea. As a pet owner, you should consider dog insurance and keep a small stash for pet emergencies.
Dog Health Costs
7. Prevention is Cheaper (and Better) Than Cure
There are a lot of things you can do on a routine basis to prevent your dog from serious health problems later on in life which will not only save your dog from going through “uncomfortable” periods, but also saves you hundreds and even thousands of dollars.
- Brush Fido’s teeth daily – Research shows that 80% of dogs have gum disease. Keep your dog’s teeth and gums healthy with daily brushing and an annual trip to the vet for a professional clean. Tooth extractions can cost up to $1000, so the fewer the better.
- Don’t let him become obese – A fat dog isn’t a healthy dog. Avoid costs of long-term health issues such as liver disease, diabetes and breathing problems – which are becoming very common – by keeping a check on your dog’s weight.
- Get your dog neutered – Vets strongly advise dog owners to get their pet neutered once he reaches physical and sexual maturity. It not only prevents the cost of unplanned pregnancy and behavior issues, but also reduces the likelihood of health complications later in life.
- Schedule an annual health check – Catching health problems early on will help you to keep Fido fit and well and, in many cases, reduce the cost of medical treatment. This should be a part of your “prevention is better than cure” plan.
8. Dog-proof Your House
Puppies and stressed dogs get into all sorts of trouble. That often means chomping on anything in sight and particularly your belongings, furniture, upholstery and much more expensive things.
To avoid that, you'll need to dog-proof your home by keeping surfaces clear of harmful substances and chewable items not only to save yourself from having to replace items, but also to prevent costly intestinal or other surgery on your dogs.
9. Dog Care Apps and Other Technology
Smartphone apps and other pet technology inventions like Alexa for example have made dog care easier than ever and, subsequently, cheaper.
For example, there is a growing number of pet apps to help you keep track of your dog’s care and health needs including all types of illnesses, potential health issues, vet appointments and parasite treatment schedules. You can also test your dog's DNA to know what health problems to expect in the future and prevent them ahead of time.
When using smartphone apps, you won't be forgetting vet appointments and facing charges, or missing a flea treatment and triggering that flea allergy. There are even apps to help you identify substances poisonous to dogs to avoid costly trips to the vet’s office.
10. Vet Promotions
Keep an eye out for vet clinic promotions on routine treatments like vaccinations and parasite control for dogs. Some veterinary clinics provide free nurse consultations too, so that you’re only charged if you require actual treatment or a referral to the vet. You can also try free websites like Ask Veterinarian or others.
11. Shop Around for a Vet and Be Loyal
Compare the cost of services at your local vet clinics before selecting a veterinarian, and then stay with that veterinary clinic. Long-term patients receive heftier discounts on treatments, and it's better to establish a relationship with a vet who knows your dog.
12. Health Plan
Paying for a monthly health plan can greatly reduce your costs and improve your commitment to routine check-ups and treatments. Packages of pet insurance for dogs generally include discounts on treatments such as parasite control, vaccinations and annual check-ups. Some plans also offer discounts on consultations and medication costs.
However, before you jump onto the pet insurance bandwagon, make sure to calculate potential costs of owning your dog, and see if insurance makes sense for you. Sometimes, it can cost you more to get an insurance plan, and a pet savings account may make more sense to you, so it all depends.
13. Use a Veterinary College
Student vets need real life case studies. Ask your local veterinary college if they offer discounted treatments. You can score some hefty savings on routine treatments such as vaccinations, neutering and health checks.
Some places offer discounted vet care for those who need it most, like this RSPCA. Google around for things like “free vet care [your city]” and seek out these places in advance so that you know where to go once you really need to; make a list of phone numbers and sites.
14. Not-for-profit Services and Dog Charities
Find out if your local ASPCA, Humane Society, rescue shelter or other charities offer discounted services. Breed specific charities often offer financial support for emergency treatment. There are also charities and trust funds that assist with routine vet bills and fund treatment for certain diseases in dogs and cats.
Also, PetMD and HumaneSociety offers some great advice on affordable vet care and where to look for cheap or free vet clinics. Spend time doing the research, and try to do that before you actually need any help for your Fido rather than doing it all in haste later.
Medication for Dogs
15. Be smart with prescriptions
Do you realize that when you buy prescription drugs from your vet you’re probably paying a 100% to 160% mark-up fee? There’s an easy solution to avoid this though – ask your vet for a generic prescription so that you can purchase drugs for less online or at your local pet store.
If you buy your dog's medicine online, use one of the 18 sites that belong to Vet-VIPPS accredited pharmacies. These comply with federal and state licensing requirements and quality assurance, so that you know you're not getting scammed.
16. Human Medication Alternatives
Human medications are generally far cheaper than pet medications, but note that some of them – such as Advil, Tylenol, Xanax and many others – can be unhealthy, dangerous, toxic and downright fatal to dogs. However, some are perfectly fine to give your pup.
Just to be safe, ask your vet if there is a cheaper human alternative that is suitable for your dog’s condition. You could get savings of over $50 per treatment.
17. Shop Around Still
The same rule of mark-up fees and overblown prices applies to human medicine, too. So if you have found that some medications work for your dog, don’t just head down to your local pharmacy. Open Google and compare online pharmacy prices for human medications.
18. Drug Cards
Finally, if you’re using human medications to give to your dog, then get yourself a free drug card. Anyone can sign up for a drug card which can save you up to 75% on FDA approved drugs at selected local and online pharmacies.