Save money on pet care

It's that time of year again — summer vacations are over, the kids back in school, and the holidays are looming on the horizon. Finances are tight and budgets have been stretched.

It's difficult to budget for medical care for your pet because most pet owners do not have insurance. The good news is that you don't have to shortchange your pets to save money. By focusing on prevention, smart buys and sharing, you can slash what you spend on your pets. Here are some tips from :

Work with your veterinarian to cut costs. Some dog and cat vaccinations are no longer recommended annually, but that's not a good reason to skip your pet's yearly vet check (twice-yearly for older pets). These "well-pet" examinations can spot little problems before they become expensive ones. Check for short-term promotions such as for Dental Health Month (which is coming in February). Consider pet health insurance. Ask your veterinarian about rebates from the manufacturers of necessary preventative products such as heartworm or flea and tick preventatives.

Keep your pet fit and trim. A majority of dogs and cats are overweight, and those extra pounds increase the likelihood of serious health problems, such as arthritis, diabetes and cancer. If your pet is overweight, get your veterinarian's help to reduce weight slowly to avoid the health risks of sudden weight loss, especially in cats.

Buy the best quality pet food you can afford. Inexpensive foods contain lower quality ingredients with less nutrition. As a result, you need to feed more of these foods than the higher quality foods -- meaning that even though it may cost a little less per pound, you have to buy it more frequently and usually have to "scoop" the backyard more often.


Learn to do things yourself. Most people can learn to handle basic pet grooming at home, from bathing to nail trims. Check with your groomer for breed specific tips to help you maintain your pet's coat between professional groomings.

Brush your pet's teeth. It'll lengthen the time between necessary cleanings at your veterinarian's.

Minimize risk from accidents. Saving the life of a pet who has been hit by a car or poisoned can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars -- and these tragedies can often be prevented. Keeping cats as indoor-only pets will prevent injuries and protect them from communicable diseases; a sturdy fence and the use of a leash will do the same for dogs. Go through your home with an eye toward possible hazards, especially foods, plants and drugs that can be ingested, as well as cleaning supplies, pesticides and herbicides.

Consider purchases and buy in bulk. Shopping for pets can be great fun, but that new designer collar may be something you want to postpone if there's wear left on what your pet's wearing now. When it comes to toys, though, cut them back, but not out -- good chew toys have saved many an expensive pair of shoes. Keeping a few toys out of reach so you can switch them out every few weeks brings new life to old toys and piques your dog's interest. This is a good time to wash up the toys that your dog has tired of and store them away for the next switch.

Look for freebies and secondhand items. Check classifieds, Craigslist and the Freecycle network ( to find bargains. Crates, cages and cat trees can often be had for next to nothing -- or nothing at all. And don't forget to return the favor: Don't let supplies you no longer need rot in your garage. Sell them at a decent price, or give them away to other pet lovers, shelters or rescue groups.

Share services. Other pet lovers are likely also feeling the squeeze, so look into sharing or trading services such as pet-sitting.

Melissa Schaal is a doctor of veterinary medicine for Lake Pepin Pet Clinic and Hospital in Lake City.

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