People who don’t have dogs have no idea how expensive they can be. In fact, the “cost of pet maintenance” is number four of the top 10 reasons someone gives up their dog, according to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy.
And that maintenance will cost you approximately $153 a month, or more than $1,800 a year, according to Rover.com, a pet-sitting and walking company. That’s for the basics like food, toys, heartworm prevention and routine vet care. If something happens like an injury or an illness, it can really add up.
Us dog parents strive to be the best we can be, but that doesn’t mean we have to go broke. There are ways you can give your dogs everything they need without breaking the bank.
Here are 10 ways to save money.
1. Adopt, Don’t Shop
Buying a dog from a breeder can often cost over a $1,000. For example, English bulldog puppies sold out of Lancaster, Pa. (Lancaster has some of the worst puppy mill records) run as high as $3000. And that eye-watering fee applies to pet store puppies, too (who get their puppies from puppy mills).
With a cursory search, I found an adoptable English bulldog puppy on adoption site Petfinder.com where adoption fees can range from nothing to a few hundred. That fee includes an initial veterinarian visit, vaccinations, neutering or spaying and other often expensive services. And by the way, the puppy I found? Already housetrained.
2. Vet Shop
The most important factor in finding a veterinarian is choosing someone you would trust with your dog’s life. The second is affordability. Don’t just go to the vet closest to your home; shop around. Vet fees may vary significantly from office to office, even if they’re on the same street.
If your dog gets sick and will need an expensive procedure, or even for annual dental care, there are often low-cost options available. For instance, in New York City, the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals has a list of affordable options. In your own town, search Google for low-cost veterinary care. Be aware that there’s usually a long waiting list, so if you know your dog will eventually need, let’s say, a dental cleaning, get yourself on the list asap.
3. Regular Dental Cleaning
Just like humans, canine dental care can be very expensive. And while your dog will need a professional cleaning when you notice plaque and tarter, or annually depending on the individual dog and the breed, brushing your dog’s teeth regularly will cut down on the need for a professional, under-anesthesia cleaning.
4. Wellness Veterinarian Visits
Dr. Natalie Waggener of the South Boston Animal Hospital writes that “how often you should take your dog in for a wellness exam depends on his age.” An adult dog (1 year to 7 or 10 years depending on breed) should have an annual wellness exam. Puppies and seniors need more frequent wellness exams.
Now, this tip may sound counterintuitive. Wellness exams cost money, right? That’s true, but any disease, condition or injury diagnosed in the early stages will cost much less money to treat than a full-blown case. A cold may require a course of antibiotics at a cost of around $20 to $30 plus the office visit fee (from $50 to $125 in NYC). For pneumonia? Trupanion pet insurance lists the fee can be as high as $8,294. Don’t skip vet visits!
5. Cook for Your Dog
Dog food can get expensive, especially when you feed them high-quality food (which goes a long way to keeping your dog healthy and cutting down on vet bills). On DogFoodAdvisor’s list of the top 10 best dry dog food, their top pick, Arcana Regionals Dry Dog Food, costs from around $42 to $50 for a 13-pound bag. High-quality wet dog food can cost as much as $2.50 per 5.5 oz can. It adds up, particularly if you have a large breed.
Generally, cooking a stew for your dog that’s nutritionally balanced averages out to half the cost of commercial food for a month. Plus, you know exactly what’s in your dog’s food. You can cook a large batch in a slow cooker and freeze it in portions (about three to a container), which you defrost in the refrigerator the night before. You do have to be careful, though. For a balanced recipe check out Balance It. You could add some supplements to the food or give your pup a daily multivitamin to be sure.
6. Buy in Bulk and Use Auto-Ship
Usually, buying dog supplies in bulk is less money than buying single items or packs. Auto-ship is usually 5-10 percent less than one-time orders. Comparison shop online.
If you have a small dog, and you use puppy pads, they can cost as much as $35 for a package of 50 pads in major metropolitan areas. Online, a bulk order of 200 pads costs $49. On the Doctors Foster and Smith site, the best pads in the universe that will last all day cost $60 for 120 pads; if you order auto-delivery, they cost $53.99. Amazon has also auto-delivery options on a ton of dog products.
7. Buy Medication Online
Medication bought at your vet’s office is almost always more money than the same brand and amount purchased online — and most vets will tell you this. But for medication that your dog needs to start immediately, you’ll have to pay the higher rate.
However, you can shop online for medication that your dog takes regularly, like heartworm prevention, flea treatment, or a pain reliever. You can also comparison shop and look for sales.
8. Try DIY
You can become your dog’s chemist by making essentials at home — usually with ingredients you already have in your pantry. On the list is homemade flea remedies, skin problems, shampoo, dental treats, yummy treats, and even doggie toothpaste.
If your dog loves chicken jerky, invest in a food dehydrator. The Excalibur is one of the best at $299.34; the L’EQUIP is more affordable at $99. After that, making chicken or beef jerky will run as much as the meat you buy. High-quality commercial chicken jerky can cost as much as $29 for a 16 oz. bag.
9. Skip the High Fashion
Dog clothes don’t just look cute; they keep our dogs warm in cold weather. Boots protect their paws from cold and hot surfaces. Life jackets prevent drowning.
Beyond that, your dog doesn’t actually need that spiked collar, studded t-shirt or motorcycle jacket. But if you (not your dog) can’t live without it, get products that last. Focus on high-quality items that will make it past a few months.
10. Grooming at Home
Professional grooming can be very expensive. In New York City, two small dogs can run as high as $200. There are some alternatives. Clip your dogs’ nails. Clean their ears and their eyes. Give them a bath as often as they need it in your own sink or bathtub.
If you’re adventurous, buy some dog clippers and try learning the art of doggie hairstyling. You’ll find lots of video tutorials on YouTube. And don’t worry — your dog won’t care if he looks less than perfect (usually; some dogs are very vain!).
Remember, although there are ways you can save money as a dog parent, you will need to pay for veterinary care. Before you adopt a dog, make sure you will be able to do that.