During times of economic struggle, pet owners may be looking for ways to reduce the cost of caring for pets. But some measures that seem to reduce costs may end up being more expensive in the long term because of impacts on a pet’s health.
Dr. Rebecca Ruch-Gallie, head of Colorado State University’s community practice unit within the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, offers the following tips.
– Don’t skimp by purchasing low-cost food. Continue to feed as high a quality of dog or cat food as is affordable. Less expensive food often has lower nutritional value. Cheap foods may be high in ‘fillers’ such as grains that are not typically digestible by the pet and provide little to no nutrition. In addition, pets on low-quality pet food often need more food to be satisfied and to obtain good nutrition, which ultimately ends up eliminating any savings realized by not paying for a high-quality food.
Over the short term, low-quality food may not impact a pet’s health. The pet owner will find himself feeding the pet and cleaning waste more often. But in the long term, pets will experience increased health problems such as diabetes and obesity-related issues, and owners will pay higher veterinary bills.
If a pet is on a prescription diet, it’s important to the pet’s health – and the owner’s budget – that a veterinarian is consulted before the pet is removed from that diet. Often, prescription diets are very effective treatments for a condition that is more expensive to treat with medications in the long term.
– Be creative and frugal when giving treats. If you only feed a dry food, consider giving a small amount of canned food as a treat to dogs or cats. Some pets may be lactose intolerant, but if they are not, yogurt and cheese may make suitable treats as well. Also consider using your pet’s kibble as a treat – measure out a suitable amount of dog food each day, for example, and draw treats and meals from that amount.
Also, watch how many treats pets are given. Are multiple members of the family giving the dog treats throughout the day? Those treats may add up to lots of pennies, and they also may add up to an unbalanced diet for the pet. Treats should not be more than 5 percent of a pet’s diet; if it is more, the diet is out of balance.
– If Fido is fat, consider putting him and the food budget on a diet. About 30 percent to 50 percent of companion animals are overweight or obese, according to Ruch-Gallie. Reducing the amount of food an overweight pet consumes is better for the pet’s health and stretches pet food budgets. Pet owners concerned that their pet has a weight problem should first consult with their veterinarian to identify a target weight before putting their pet on a diet.
– Curb pet-related impulse buys. While treats, bones, toys and such may be costly in some stores, significant savings can be found online or at discount stores. Some pet-supply stores have lower pet food prices but higher treat and toy prices. It pays to comparison shop at different stores and online. Veterinarians often can recommend reliable and reputable websites offering good deals.
However, be wary of online veterinary pharmacies. Many online sources for veterinary prescriptions don’t sell quality products, and some may sell knock-offs of medications that ultimately won’t benefit the pet.
– Learn how to groom pets at home. Brush pets daily or every other day. There are multiple benefits including increasing the bond between the pet and caretaker if such grooming is a good experience for the pet. Brushing cats and dogs also distributes oils in the animal’s coat, increasing the health of their skin and fur, decreasing matting and lowering risks of skin infections and irritations (which may lead to expensive veterinary bills).
In addition, people who groom pets often notice changes and abnormalities in their skin and coat and may notice body changes, lumps or other indications of the early stages of illness or disease. Catching these illnesses early often means that treatments are less expensive than they would be as the illness progresses.
There is a reason why many veterinary appointments are made soon after a pet’s trip to the groomer, Ruch-Gallie said, The groomer knows the animal’s coat and body and is likely to find changes more quickly as a result of the grooming routine.
Trimming cat’s claws and dog’s nails and grooming their fur at home also saves money spent on professional groomers.
– Practice good dental hygiene. Daily brushing of dog and cat’s teeth has significant returns. Even brushing for a short amount of time, particularly right against the gum line with an enzymatic, pet specific toothpaste decreases the risk of infection in a pet’s mouth. Those infections often spread to the blood and into organs such as the kidney or into joints.
In addition, keeping a pet’s mouth clean helps veterinarians rule out health issues during a visit. Bad breath may be an indication of a digestive issue, but pet owners who don’t brush their dog or cat’s teeth can’t help veterinarians rule out poor dental hygiene. Often, veterinarians fully clean a pet’s teeth – a procedure that requires pets to undergo full anesthesia – before discovering that the root of the bad breath may be much more serious.
In addition, pets who undergo a regular tooth brushing at home don’t have to spend as much time under anesthesia during a regular dental cleaning.
– Don’t skip vaccinations or flea and tick prevention. Vaccines protect pets from painful and tragic diseases such as rabies, and fleas and ticks carry harmful diseases such as the plague that may also be spread to people in contact with dogs and cats. The diseases are much more expensive to treat than the cost of vaccines administered to pets.
Many veterinary clinics now use vaccines that cover a cat or dog’s health for three years, which stretches the value of vaccines.
Some vaccination clinics are offered for pets, but be aware that pets only receive vaccines and not a thorough, careful exam.
– Buy fewer toys, and trick pets into thinking those toys are new time and time again. Pets need toys, particularly indoor cats, to keep them active and keep their mind engaged. However, many pet owners tend to buy too many toys, or pets tend to lose interest in toys over time.
However, keeping a stash of five to 10 toys on hand and rotating a few of them allows pets to be stimulated by ‘new’ toys often. Provide two or three toys for play at a time and store the others. Replace the toys every two to three weeks with some of the toys that have been set aside, and pets will find them as stimulating as they were when they were new.
Be creative with ways to make toys more interactive. Consider buying Buster Cubes or Kongs for dogs and cats to give them more stimulation while they eat or enjoy treats. Hang feather dancers over heating vents so they move for cats. Move toys from room to room to provide a different venue for pets to play in.
– Weight the benefits of purchasing health insurance for pets. While health insurance may seem pricey, it can be worth the $20 to $30 monthly premium, particularly for some pets. Pet insurance dramatically reduces the costs of large veterinary bills ranging from emergency care after an accident, cancer treatment and preventative check-ups and care including vaccinations. Insurance can cut large bills by hundreds of dollars.
Several different companies offer pet insurance, each with different coverage options and some with exclusions. Some companies will not cover hip dysplasia treatment in some large breeds, for example, while others will. Read the fine print and consult with a veterinarian.
Pet insurance is a particularly good investment for pet owners with older pets, outdoor pets or dog and cat breeds particularly prone to certain diseases or illnesses.
– If possible, maintain an annual wellness exam schedule for your pet. Catching an illness or disease early is almost always less expensive to treat than an illness discovered after it has progressed. Veterinarians may also recommend routine blood work, and Ruch-Gallie recommends paying for it if possible. By nature, animals do a good job of disguising when they are not well; blood work can identify problems long before a pet allows its owner to see symptoms.