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:

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.

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?