Having a pet can bring great joy, laughter and comfort to all around. Unfortunately, they can also mean additional, even unexpected, expenses in today’s already tough economy. According to the ASPCA, approximately 500,000 to 1,000,000 cats and dogs are currently in danger of abandonment due to the economic downturn. While caring for a pet is an expense, it doesn’t have to be expensive.

pug dog

Here are eight ways to keep costs down for your four-legged family member:

1. Reduce initial expenses

Rescue a pound animal. For $120 we rescued a six week old puppy and were provided with first round shots, spay/neuter, a free check-up, micro-chip, and license.

Train the dog yourself. “Raising Your Dog With The Monks Of New Skete” is an excellent title, and the introductory book on positive reinforcement, available at your local library.

Look for crates, scratching posts, and other initial needs on Craigslist. People give away free scratching posts and dog houses quite often. Crates help with potty training and can be found for half price.

2. Better food = Less time at the Doctor

It’s a standard correlation that works for people and their pets. The higher quality diet, the stronger your body will be. This doesn’t necessarily mean spend more, so much as watch the ingredients on the label. Look for whole meats instead of ground meal and avoid known allergens such as corn. Also, watch the feeding instructions. Higher quality foods often recommend smaller portions. Letting your furry friend control his or her intake could be a recipe for the Biggest Loser Pets Edition.

3. Groom at home.

If I were to take my dog, Bronx, to the groomer every time he needed a bath, I’d be spending at least $30 a month. Instead, he gets washed at home and a trip to the groomer every few months. My cat, Maggie, never liked a bath session, but it never killed her either.

  • Make sure you have a good shampoo that is species appropriate (dog or cat). You can purchase a groomer quality shampoo on the Internet.
  • Have a good brush, and possibly some scissors. If you’re animal is prone to matting you might have to trim out a tangle or two.
  • Have either a Dremel tool or animal nail scissors, and styptic powder. If you want to trim your pets nails, your options are either a Dremel grinder, something like a Pedipaws, or animal nail scissors. Either way you have to be careful not to take too much off or you can damage the quick. The styptic powder helps with any bleeding.
  • Lastly, if you have the courage to trim your spouse or child’s hair, you may also be willing to take on your dog’s. Standard hair cutting scissors or electric clippers can do a very nice job.

Note: Small dogs generally need something called an anal gland expression. Your groomer can show you how to do this, but if not done regularly, the gland can become impacted and need a Veterinarian’s attention. This might make some people squeamish enough to skip the at-home groom.

4. Create a pet care network.

Boarding your dog or cat can easily run $20-$50 a night, depending on location, special needs care, and size of the animal. If you create a network of friends with pets, you can trade animal care with people you trust. For example, our friends just went out of town for a weekend and we watched their house and dog. In exchange, they will be watching our dog when we go on a trip. Also, since your pet knows the people and the environment, he’s less likely to stress himself sick, lowering potential vet bills.

5. Make your own toys.

Toys are equally for your animal’s amusement and yours. Unfortunately, they can be expensive, and easily dismembered, lost, torn, or otherwise maimed. An easy way to defray the expense of toys is to make your own. You know that sock whose mate is indefinitely missing? Put a little catnip and tie a knot at the end. Slice that sheet that’s seen better days into strips and braid into a tug toy that’s machine washable.

6. Try a shot clinic instead of the Doctor’s office for annual vaccinations.

Many Veterinarians have low cost shot clinics at their offices once a week, and some even go out to various parts of the community. This past May I took my dog to a local feed store that was having a shot clinic and got all of his shots except for Rabies (not needed yet) for $22. Adding Rabies would’ve made it a whopping $36 as opposed to $95 at last year’s vet visit. These are commonly found at animal boarding or daycare centers and feed stores. If you have the stomach for it, some feed stores will even sell the shots to you for a DIY, but I’ve found it’s better to have the vet’s certificate. Don’t forget to call your local humane society or pound; many have low cost shots everyday.

7. Flea treatments can be expensive, but they don’t have to be.

My dog uses Frontline Plus. At the vet, it’s $17.99 per dose, and that’s a monthly treatment. I got his latest three month pack on ebay for $29, and saw it available at Costco for $35. Do some research online, through pet prescription sites, Amazon, and even eBay to find the best deals. Check for serial or package numbers to make sure your purchase is legitimate.

8. Set a limit on major care.

As much as we would like to say that we would spend “whatever it takes” to carry our pet through an emergency, it’s often more of a lofty goal than a reality. Many surgeries are expensive, with long and difficult recoveries, and no guarantees that your loved one will even make it through. My family had a Labrador Retriever that died on the operating table due to previously undiagnosed hemophilia, so when we got Bronx we had a lengthy discussion and decided on no major surgeries, and a $3000 limit. Ironically, I have the same limit for my husband as well.

Making smart choices for the care of your animal can allow your pet to live a long, happy life, with you.

Photo by e3000.