21 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Save Money on Pet Care


We consider our cats our children.

We once spent $1,000 to cat-proof a back yard so Jack and Opie could roam outside without escaping to the dangerous world beyond the fence — the life expectancy of a cat is several times longer if it doesn’t run free.

Our guys have a variety of cat furniture, and they eat food that costs more than $7 per pound.

Maybe you spoil your pets, too. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to save money on pet care.

For example, you can buy expensive food, but on sale. You can build elaborate (or simple) pet furniture, instead of paying a fortune for it.

Here are some more ways to save money on your pets.

1. Buy Smaller Pets

If you haven’t yet chosen a pet, consider smaller ones as a way to save money on pet care.

A small dog will cost you $295 less per year than a large one ($580 vs. $875), suggests ASPCA data on pet care costs. That’s even less than a cat ($670 per year), partly because of the cost of cat litter.

Of course, you could consider even smaller animals. You’ll spend an average of $200 per year on a small bird, and just $35 on a fish.

Note: First-year costs for all pets are substantially higher than the figures above because of one-time costs like spaying or neutering, and buying pet carriers and other equipment.

2. Adopt Instead of Buying

The breeder price for a dog is multiples higher than the cost of adopting one from a shelter.

You’ll probably save money on pet care by getting your dog or cat from a shelter, and you could also save a life.

Over 2 million shelter animals are euthanized in the U.S. each year. We adopted Opie from a shelter, and Jack adopted us when he was finally ready to upgrade his alley-cat lifestyle.

3. Join Pet Store Loyalty Clubs

I just received a $5 gift certificate from Petco, because I used my Petco Pals Rewards card for the last $100 in purchases there.

I bought food that was on sale (rewards card required, of course). Most of the major pet supply retailers have similar programs.

Sign up for several if you shop in more than one place.

4. Use Discounted Gift Cards

You can buy discounted gift cards on a number of good websites. Most carry cards for more than one pet supply chain.

For example, you’ll find Pet Food Express on Raise and Petco on ABC Gift Cards.

5. Watch for Pet Food Sales

We buy expensive cat food, because there’s a difference in quality.

And evidence linking canine diseases to grains in dog food suggests you could make your pet sick and have future vet bills if you go too cheap.

But even the best pet foods go on sale, so why not stock up when it costs less?

You can find weekly ads for pet supply retailers online. You can also link your email address to your customer loyalty card to get sales alerts.

6. Feed Your Pets Some Human Food

What do baked carrots, steamed broccoli and boiled eggs have in common?

They all cost less than cat food (at least the stuff we buy) and they’re all safe and healthy for cats to eat, according to Animal Planet.

WebMD has a list of people foods your dog can eat.

(Not that cooking for your pets means they’re spoiled or anything.)

7. Stack Savings Tactics for Cheaper Food

To really reduce the cost of pet food, try deal-stacking.

For example, I recently bought our usual brand of cat food at Petco using a coupon, while it was on sale. And, I paid with an American Express card with an “Amex Offer” for a $5 statement rebate.

Or, buy discounted gift cards and use them when there’s a sale — a simple strategy that could make a good sale even better.

8. Store Pet Food Properly

We discovered early on that our cats refuse their food if it’s too old — and then we have to throw it away.

Even if we just overfill their dishes and the remainder sits there overnight, they won’t eat it. 

Check the expiration date for your pet food, dole it out a little at a time and store it properly to keep it fresh.

We prefer to use up our cat food months before the expiration date. We store it tightly wrapped in the refrigerator. The cats like the food better this way (yes, we tested), and we save money not having to throw away any of it.

9. Have Your Pets Spayed or Neutered

You spend money upfront to spay or neuter your pets, but there are long-term savings.

For example, some of the negative behaviors associated with not spaying or neutering dogs and cats can be expensive.

Unspayed cats can damage furniture and carpet by spraying urine on them to attract males. Unneutered dogs can be more violent, leading to injuries or possible lawsuits if they attack people.

There’s also the obvious huge cost of not fixing those pets: puppies and kittens.

10. Call the Vet Before You Need One

The worst time to find an affordable vet is when you have a medical emergency. If you love your pets, you’ll pay whatever it costs in the moment.

To save money on pet care — both routine stuff and emergency treatments — choose an affordable vet before you need one.

Use websites like VetRatingz.com to avoid bad vets (we can tell you from experience, they’re out there). Call the acceptable ones and ask what they charge for a basic checkup, vaccinations, teeth cleaning or other procedures.

If you have an idea of what services your pet might need, ask about those.

In any case, ask about a few different services so you get an idea of the general price level of each veterinary office.

11. Don’t Shop at the Vet Office

In our experience, everything from cat toothbrushes to flea collars costs more at the vet’s office.

You’re better off buying anything you can at a pet supply store, including any non-prescription medications or treatments.

12. Buy Pet Medications Online

Many pet medications are cheaper online.

Here are a few places you can fill pet prescriptions:

13. When It Comes to Pet Insurance, Choose Wisely

Unexpected vet bills can be the most expensive part of having a pet.

Pet insurance for dogs, cats and even birds can keep the costs of pet care reasonable. While the monthly premiums are an additional expense on top of food, toys, treats and grooming, pet insurance is worth it for medical emergencies, especially serious illnesses or injuries.

Like all insurance, it’s a gamble. You will likely spend more over the course of your animal’s life on monthly premiums than the cost of regular vet care if your pet is healthy. 

But if your furry friend gets sick or suffers a major injury, insurance will potentially save you a lot of money on pet care.

Here’s how to choose the best insurance for your pet.

Pro Tip

Pet insurance does not cover pre-existing conditions. If your pet has health problems, try to save the money you would spend on insurance, and instead put it into savings for future care.

14. Make Sure Your Pets Get Exercise

Pets benefit from exercise just like humans. It helps keep them healthy and avoid obesity, which means fewer vet bills for you.

15. Make Pet Furniture

Why buy pet furniture when you can make it for a lot less?

Here are some examples of what you could build:

16. Make Pet Toys

We buy toys for our cats at least a couple times each year.

The result is almost always the same: What seemed so cute and fun in the store is completely ignored by Jack and Opie.

The good news is they love almost everything we make for them, especially paper balls and anything involving string.

Moral of the story: Don’t spend a fortune on unwanted pet toys when you can make better ones.

Here are a couple resources to get you started:

17. Make Your Own Pet Enclosures

Want to provide a fenced area for your dog or an outdoor “catio” for your cats?

Why not do it yourself?

You can see one of my own creations in my post about building cat enclosures.

More recently, I fenced in a patio area and cat-proofed it for $450 ($140 just for a building permit). The lowest quote I got before going it alone was $950.

There are plenty of online tutorials on how to build your own dog fence, and you can check out photos of cat enclosures for ideas.

18. Groom Your Own Pets

Professional pet grooming prices run between $20 and $100, depending on the size of the animal. Cats are in the middle of that range.

But there’s no reason you can’t comb, wash and clip nails yourself. Not only will you save most of the cost (you’ll still spend a little for tools and shampoo), but grooming is another opportunity to bond with your pet.

19. Shop Around for Pet Sitters

Pet sitting prices run from as little as $15 for a stop-in visit to as much as $100 for overnight stays.

We’ve paid $50-$60 per night for cat-sitters over the years.

Fortunately, there are alternatives.

Find a broke friend you trust who’ll work for cheap. My friend would stay with our guys for $20 per night if I left a few beers in the fridge.

Trade pet-sitting duties with friends and family to get your cost down to zero.

20. Train Your Own Pet

Basic puppy training at PetSmart costs $119, and it’s just one of many classes they offer.

Instead, read one of many books that help you train your pets yourself.

Free online resources can show you how to train your dogs and teach them tricks — even how to train your cat to use a toilet.

21. Pet-Proof Your House

Looking at all of the tooth marks on our lamp cords, I’m not sure how Opie survived his first years with us.

Luckily, we learned a few tricks to break this bad habit, like hiding the cords as much as possible and putting two-sided tape on them to scare him away.

The American Humane Association even has a list of ways to pet-proof your home.

Preventing damage to your things and avoiding vet trips with simple pet-proofing will save you money and possibly your pet’s life.

Steve Gillman is the author of “101 Weird Ways to Make Money” and creator of EveryWayToMakeMoney.com. He’s been a repo-man, walking stick carver, search engine evaluator, house flipper, tram driver, process server, mock juror, and roulette croupier, but of more than 100 ways he has made money, writing is his favorite (so far).

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