10 Ways to save money on your pet

Is the cost of your doghouse keeping you in the poor house? For many people (including me) the furry family pet is an integral part of the family unit. Let’s face it, life is a lot more fun when there’s a dog to love and a cat to snuggle. But when your pet has their paws all over the family budget, then maybe it’s time to put a leash on the creature costs.

homemade pet costumes

According to Businessweek, Americans now spend a barking $41 billion annually on their furry friends, while 48.5% of all Canadian households say (PDF) they dish out $870 a year on pets.

These numbers leave me scratching my head. Going through my own pet budget, I spent $465 on my Blue Heeler mutt Pivo last year. And this total includes toys, food, a vet bill, and love. Wanna know how I did it? Here’s part one of 10 Ways to save money on your pet:

pets
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1. Adopt a pet.

How much is that doggy (or kitty) in the window? If that furry critter is a purebred puppy or a cat with credentials, then you’re gonna pay dearly to own a pedigreed pet. Unless you’re into dog shows and cat competitions, I highly recommend you skip the pet store or breeder and adopt a lovable mutt or adorable tabby from the ASPCA, SPCA, Humane Society, or your local municipal animal services.

pet adoption

Shelter adoption fees are generally under $200 for dogs and $100 for cats — you’ll pay more for puppies and kittens. These fees often include the cost of neutering or spaying, and the first round of deworming and shots. Before adopting, many shelters will encourage you to first bring the animal home on a trial basis to determine if the pet is compatible with your lifestyle. And adopting an adult animal over a newborn means that behavioral quirks and health problems are more apparent and can help you better choose the right pet for your family.

I strongly encourage you to steer clear from pet stores, suspect breeders, and newspaper classified ads since you could be perpetuating animal cruelty. Many of these animals might be farmed out of puppy mills, and supporting these stores continues the cycle of cruelty while increasing the number of unwanted pets in shelters.

Some thoughts on puppy mills:

I adopted my own lovable mutt, the big-eared Blue Heeler named Pivo, from my local shelter when she was two years old (human years, not dog years :) ). As a working dog in need of a job, she proved too high energy for the three families who previously brought her home, so the shelter was thrilled when I stepped up to bring her back to the family farm.

adopt a shelter dog month

The sad thing is, my dearest little dog is believed to be the product of a puppy mill, and was given away once a challenging dog emerged out of the cute, floppy-eared puppy. Today Pivo is a gorgeous, well-trained, and delightful dog who wants nothing more than a snuggle with the pack and to run freely on the farm. She’s amazing with young children, loves to play, and gives me a lick whenever I’m feeling sad or blue.

Bottom Line: You too can find the perfect pet at your local animal shelter. Sure you’ll save hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars with pet adoption, but you could also be preventing cruelty to animals, and that’s priceless.

2. Stop playing doggy dress-up or feline fashion.

Does your pet have a closet stuffed full of designer duds and pet costumes? Your furry friend doesn’t need to look runway ready or have a Halloween costume to be loved by you.

pet costumes


While the odd outfit or protective winter wear is fine, the vast majority of pet fashions are a complete waste of money. For example, this Martha Stewart Pets Tank Dress (it’s covered in ‘cute’ crabs) not only looks ridiculous, but sells for a wallet wagging $19.99 plus shipping! Is that really ‘a good thing’? Yeah, thanks Martha.

funny dog pictures

Anycrabbypooch, the only time I’ve dished out dollars for dog wear is when I needed to walk my dog in extreme weather. Since I live in the land of ice and snow (Canada, eh!), I spent nearly $40 on these high quality winter paw protectors — Muttluks Extreme Weather Dog Boots. Although they were a little pricey, they’ve lasted several years and hundreds of kilometers on rural roads, so this dog wear was money well spent.

Bottom line: The occasional outfit, pet costume, or protective wear is fine, but do watch the high costs associated with buying pet clothing. If you must buy winter or rain wear to walk your pet outdoors, invest in quality pieces that will last for years.

3. Wash and groom your pet at home.

Skip the pet boutiques and professional groomers to save anywhere from $15 to $75 per grooming. That’s right, those furry long-hairs and curly coated dog breeds can cost a fortune to get washed, dried, clipped, and cleaned. Investing in a set of quality Professional Animal Clippers may cost around $100, but they’ll last for years and save you hundreds in grooming fees over time.

dog wash equipment
Cheap Dog Wash: Use a big bucket, a small container, an old sock, and baby shampoo to get that doggy clean.

Home haircuts are a great way to save money if you and your pet have the patience to get through them. Regular brushing and nail trimming is also easy to do yourself, and helps you keep a close eye on your pet’s health.

dog wash dog
Winner: Congrats to Colleen McKie for writing the top caption on the Squawkfox Facebook page.

Bathing your dog in the tub (or outside on the lawn) with an unscented no-name baby shampoo costs under $2, and saves you over $15 on special doggie-branded soap — just put a towel on the bottom of the tub to avoid scratches.

Bottom line: For a one-time expense of $35, buy a set of combs and scissors that will save you at least $50 every few months by grooming your dog or cat at home. If you need a little help, pick up a copy of Dog Grooming For Dummies at your local library. And skip the special dog and cat shampoos by washing up with no-name baby suds — if it’s good enough for a baby’s soft skin, your pet will be fine.

4. Give your pet a toy, not the whole toy store

Do you have an entire toy box devoted to your dog? How much did that cost ya? While a few toys are great fun for both pet and owner, animals don’t require a lot of loot to be healthy and happy. My dog is pretty darn thrilled to chase after her $7 KONG and has never asked for a fancy designer Frisbee. Way back when I had cats, we’d stick a bunch of catnip in one of my dad’s old socks and watch them play and purr for hours. My tabby was particular with her food, but she never demanded a high-end plush toy for play.

Bottom line: Pet toys can be expensive, ranging from $5 to $50, and are marketed to humans, not pets. So be mindful of toy prices, and also consider making your own for less to save money. By all means throw your dog a toy bone (or two), but buy quality materials that can withstand your pet’s constant chewing, throwing, and scratching.

5. Pet insurance probably isn’t worth it.

Depending on your pet (cat or dog), plans can range from $10 per month for limited accident coverage to $50 per month covering illnesses and accidents.

pet insurance
OUCH! Getting kicked by cattle is expensive. Thanks for the mega vet bill, Pivo!

After punching the numbers and doing the math, I think it’s often more cost effective to save the premium money in a high-interest savings account; here’s why:

Over 10 years, paying $40 per month adds up to $4,800 in premiums. Compounded over 10 years at a modest 3.5%, this same $40 would add up to $5,754.03 in a high-interest savings account. Over a 10-year span, vet bills for things covered by insurance generally total an average of $3,000 to $4,000. Assuming a $100 deductible and 10 claims, this leaves $2,500 to $3,500 in actual payouts from the pet insurance company. Compared with an investment of $4,800 in premiums, it makes more financial sense to save the money in a high-interest savings account earmarked for pet medical expenses.

Bottom line: Before spending money on pet insurance, run the numbers to see if your pet’s insurance premium would be better off invested in a high-interest savings account.

Don’t miss the second part in this doggone series: Part Two: 10 Ways to save money on your pet.

Your Thoughts: Is pet insurance worth it? Do you groom your pets to save money? Are dog and cat costumes barking mad? How much do you spend on your furry friends?

Your two cents:

  1. Jules June 6th, 2011

    We spend about on average €60/month on our 3 cats, but about half of it is because the Tweeb is in renal failure and needs a prescription diet (actually, the prescription diet is to prevent her renal failure from manifesting–she’s now 4 years post-diagnosis and doesn’t even know she’s sick). Lately the total has been less, since I’ve been stocking up on their wet food when every grocery store was having a sale and bought a TON of kitty litter (almost 90 lbs’ worth) when it was on sale. The cats eat a mixed diet with raw chicken, kibbles, and a variety of wet foods, the better to take advantage of sales when they happen. And we save money by sticking to basic clumping litters–it’s not even scented–and just scooping the boxes every day.

    I also don’t understand pet insurance, either. We set aside some money every month to cover their vet visits–once a year for Shadow and Noodle, and twice a year for the Tweeb. Because they’re indoor-only cats, the odds of a catastrophic emergency-vet visit are quite slim and when they do happen, it’s usually for little things (on the eve of our trip to Scotland, the Tweeb got her tail crinked in a door, which meant rushing to the vet to see if one of us would have to cancel).

    And, one last thing: there is NO SUCH THING as a “free” puppy/kitten! Noodle cost us €95, from the shelter. The Tweeb cost me $75 to adopt from City Kitties (highly recommended rescue in the Philadelphia area). I found Shadow on the streets of Philly–and she cost me $700 in vet bills during her first four months. Moral: adoption fees are CHEAP. Don’t whine about them!

  2. SB (One cent at a time) June 6th, 2011

    I am doing better, at least I don’t have to think about saving money on pets, I have none! Although I remember twitting about a tip to have smaller pets if there is an option. Yeah, to save money on them!

  3. Debra June 7th, 2011

    Your dog looks so cute in those boots.

    Sorry about Shadow’s vet bills, I guess we were lucky that my late cat Henry was healthy when my late sister Lyn found him in Mission Valley (San Diego). I was even more lucky when Henry decided do adopt me. It’s been slightly over a year since he died and I still miss him like I’d miss my left arm. Anyway, the point is: shelter pets are cheaper than store pets, not to mention what show or even pet quality pedigree pets cost.

  4. Vera June 7th, 2011

    I adopted my lovable 6 year old dog on Petfinder.com. He was a rescue. He cost $300 which included spaying. I learned how to groom him (he’s high maintence fur) I got a book from the library on how to cook dog food. I make 5 weeks of food for under $20, and I know exactly what goes into it. He gets toys from thrift stores and yard sales. An his absolute favorite toy is when you actualy play with him (not leave him by himself to play) I got his leash from Walmart and it’s lasted 4 years so far. Nothing fancy, the dog doesn’t really care. My only splurge was a doggy life jacket because we take the dog on our sailboat and he really can’t swim at all. Our cat sleeps in a cardboard box the kids decorated to look like a little cabin. He loves it!

  5. Shane June 7th, 2011

    I rescued my Amercian Bull terrier from a poor living situation – she arrived with a littler of pups. That rescue was a bit pricy to find good homes for the healthy pups, and nurse mom back to health but was worth it. (she still has had a few vet visits for minor skin irritations and such over the last year, but still cheaper thatn pet insurance premiums and deductibles). I did burn through a few pricy chew toys for Meg, and in the end finally found a Kong toy that she couldn’t chew to bits and I get free used tennis balls from friends and family who know she loves to play ball.

    We adopted our beautiful sealpointe siamese from a shelter arond Christmas, they do discounts at thistime of year so she was $45 and came to us with current shots, fixed and a free vet visit within the first 10 days after our adoption. We bought a few toys not sure what she would like and in the end took 2 toys and modified them into one that she truly loves. (We also discovered by accident that she loves to play with knit gloves, so we have a ‘handful’ of those laying about the house for her)

    We are all about not breaking the bank to provide our lovies a good home! :)

  6. Steven Fitzgerald June 11th, 2011

    Interesting article and very informative. Thank you

    I have a question about something that you reported: According to Businessweek, Americans now spend a barking $41 billion annually on their furry friends, while 48.5% of all Canadian households say they dish out $870 a year on pets.”

    I would be interested in being able to compare apples to apples, but the way that this data is presented it does not allow for me to do that. From the data presented I can’t tell if American’s spend more or Canadian’s.

    I think that it would interesting to know how much other countries such as France or China spend on pets per household. I would imagine that somewhere on the list is the country whose households spend the least on pets and that would be interesting to know too.

    Thank you again for the article.

  7. Jonathan June 12th, 2011

    I do have to take issue with the Kerry’s analysis on pet insurance. I think this is something that every (dog) owner should consider at some point in their pet’s life. I would recommend that you take coverage out no later than age 7 as approval is usually guaranteed and the premiums still reasonable (some companies charge the same premium regardless of age, but the annual deductible increases slightly). I had a German Shephard who recently passed of cancer and I made 2 large claims under her policy. I insured her from age 7 until age 10 when she died. Her first operation was for a tumor/growth on the outside of her belly that was deemed cancerous. Because of the insurance, I was able to ‘afford’ a specialist surgeon to do the in-depth pre and post diagnosis and operation, rather than my local vet. The pre-diagnosis and operation cost $5000 and the insurance company paid out $3500 of the claim for their portion. I pay $45/month for the pet insurance (large breed). My dog lived another 2.5 years because of this operation and they were good, healthy, mobile, fun-filled years. She became ill again this spring and again I had an operation to remove a spleen and a tumour that was growing on the spleen. Again, it was done by a specialist and the the operation was $5000. The insurance company covered $3500 of the cost. After the spleen & tumor was autospyed it was deemed that she had an untreatable, terminal cancer, which took her 2 months later. Again I was happy for the extra time and my dog’s quality of life was good. After the operation she was back to the energy of an 8 year old and had a happy two months before she passed peacefully without suffering. I had no idea prior to operation if she was terminal or not. So in total my policy paid $7000 in benefits. After premiums of $1620 this still saved me over $5000. But the most important thing is that IF I DIDN’T HAVE THE INSURANCE I WOULD HAVE BEEN FINANCIALLY FORCED TO END MY DOGS LIFE THE FIRST TIME SHE BECAME SERIOUSLY ILL. Its hard to put a value on the extra time the insurance bought her (2.5 years). It was a blessing to have her all that extra time. Now I get that some people would not spend even $1500 to save their dog’s life, much less do it twice. But those who consider their dog a best friend,companion,family member and would do anything reasonable to save them know what I am talking about. I don’t have children so I consider my dog a very reasonable return on the little bit of money that I shell out. They are definately cheaper than kids, that’s for sure. If you really want to save cash, have pets instead of children,haha. Maybe Kerry should right an article on the savings of kids vs. no kids. That would be really frugal ;) Now I am sure some of you are balking at that comment and I made it for a reason. Some things we spend (or spend a little too much) money on are done for purely emotional reasons and the returns are not quantifiable. Pets and children would be good examples. How can you equate the joy you get back for the finances you committ to these causes? Its not the same as an inanimate object such as a car, tv or other ‘toys’. When you can save the life of someone you love it means so much more than the money you put into it. So I think Kerry’s case against pet insurance is a weak one. Without pet insurance your pet will get the care you can afford but likely not the best medical care/expertise it needs when it becomes seriously ill. I am glad I could always use a specialist and give my Shephard the best care. Mentally this was very helpful when going thru a tough time of illness. If you get the insurance later in the dogs life (before age 8), there is a good chance you will use it due to age-related illnesses. I find Kerry’s knowledge and strategies on insurance in general usually very ignorant, lacking and short sighted. Her strategies are usually frugally flawed and its clear time and time again her expertise and experience in the area of insurance is grossly lacking. Please stick to money saving tips at the grocery store, thank you.

    Setting up a ‘sinking fund’ for your pet or ‘self insuring’ is a foolish approach. Firstly, don’t buy a policy that covers everything under the sun for your pet (vaccines, checkups, etc.), buy one that covers the pure risk of expensive occurrences, those being accidents and illnesses. This will keep your premiums down. Secondly, if you start saving $40 a month and three months later you need to spend 2-5k at your vet there would be nowhere near enough money in your ‘pet savings fund’ to cover the cost. At that point you may have to decide if your pet stays or goes. You will not want your hand to be forced in this situation when there could be another option. Maybe you should try that approach with your house too, after all its not mandated by law. Heck, if your house does not burn to the ground you will be really ahead of the game financially. But if it does you will be devasted. The self-insurance argument almost always comes up when people talk about insurance and it ONLY works in this scenario: the loss occurs AFTER you have saved up sufficient funds to replace the item or expense incurred. If it happens BEFORE, you are left in the lurch. Obviously I am not a fan of ‘self-insuring’ anything of real value. Also, I don’t know where Kerry can get 3.5% return on her high interest TFSA account without the funds being locked in GIC-style, so if you do, please let me know. Rates are in the 1.5-2% range right now, so that’s another flaw in her forecast of 3.5%. Additionally, I do believe that her accrual calculation does not factor in reduction of capital and lost interest for when you have to draw on the principal for pet expenses during those ten years. Many pets live longer than ten years, another thing you can’t quite plan for with financial assumptions. But insurance can cover the longevity risk. So its easy to start seeing the flaws with this type of approach. If you buy a policy that only covers the expensive pet bills (accident and sickness), there is no way you will be claiming 10 times during the life of your pet. I will leave it up to the readers if they want to insure early or late in the life of the pet. The level of medical care (and cost) is a personal decision for every pet owner. If you are the type of person that says the family pet has to go as soon as a bet bill quote comes in too high, then pet insurance is not for you. I am not even saying that is necessarily wrong, either. However, if you are the type of pet owner who cares very deeply for your pet and the premature loss of your friend is something that you would like to avoid, if at all possible, then you should seriously ignore Kerry’s advice and put a policy in place sooner rather than later. Take my advice on which risks to cover, shop around and you can find a good policy for a reasonable premium. People who think that insurance premiums are a total waste often have never had to make an expensive claim on them. Those who have are always very grateful that the insurance was there in their greatest time of need. My pet insurance gave me an invaluable extra 2 months of time to say goodbye to a dear friend, rather than having to endure a sudden, traumatic and unexpected loss because my finances left no alternative. Just some food for thought.

  8. Janice Muir July 28th, 2011

    I LOVE my electric kitty litter box (Simply Clean). I happily paid another $130 CDN when the first one died. They offer cheap replacement motors on their website, but I’m not mechanically inclined. Electric litter boxes allow me to run my multi-cat household much more efficiently with a lot less mess and odour.

    It was the hamsters and guinea pigs that cost the most – expensive foods and cage accessories. Well worth it, though for our entertainment.

    P.S. All of our pets, except the first 2 hamsters were rescued, even the dogs, snakes, and anole. Most lived full life spans.

  9. The Informal Martriarch August 29th, 2011

    I loved the video of your doggy in the booties, so funny.

    I met you on Saturday at the Million Dollar Neighbourhood thing. It was very exciting!! I’m the “hairdresser” :) I’ll send u an email soon.

    I would just like to confirm all your ideas as being good ones. I adopted my adorable basset hound, paid $100!! She’s a priceless addition to our home, we just adore everything about her saggy little self. She too was from a puppy-mill type situation but she was the mommy doggy who had so many puppies. I loved her cuz she was tired and saggy from having babies…just like me!!

    I am going to RIGHT AWAY start that high interest savings account for her. A while back she was attacked by two other dogs and we have to go without TV and long distance and internet for quite some time. Not too big of a deal but I’d feel 100% less stressed about emergency situations of we had money saved for her. FANTASTIC idea! Plus I’m certain she’s not insurable.

    The one thing we DO do is go to a pro to get her nails trimmed. She flips out every time this is done and her nails have been so hard to get short as they were all curled over when we got her. I have to take her in every two weeks to get them trimmed down to size but they can handle her and I cannot. Over time it’s a worthwhile investment because me cutting them made her issues worse and if her nails stay too long, it’ll be hip issues in the future!

    We also spend about $60 every few months for her doggy food, I also see that as an investment in to her health. She lost 13 pounds, stopped puking all the time and even some cysts disappeared with a good doggy food!

    end novel.

  10. Melanie January 24th, 2012

    I have a long-haired cat and was paying close to $100/visit to the groomers! Bought a cheap pair of clippers but finally realized I had to upgrade to get through the undercoat… best money ever spent (although I admit she doesn’t look as pretty when I do it at home).

    Our problem is with our Border Collie. He’s had ear troubles and yeast infections for YEARS! We’ve tried everything from antibiotics, antiseptic rinses, special food, making his food but the only thing that gives him some relief is raw food and that is super expensive!!

    We also take the fur babies to a rural vet, costs to have some dental work for the cat done in the city were more than double what it cost to drive 30min to a neighbouring town. Also helps to find some of the “old guard” as a vet close to us for an emergency visit was cheaper than some of the newer “boutique” vets that try to push pet insurance on you as a way to justify their insane fees!!

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