6 Costs Pet Owners Should Consider Before Summer Vacation

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As a dog owner, I've been in a vet's office plenty of times wondering why I'm paying such a large bill for a pet that doesn't always come running to me when I call his name. And then we get home and he nuzzles against me, telling me in the best way he knows that he's thankful.

All is forgiven -- and forgotten -- until the next vet exam a year later or when a major pet expense pops up.

Pets are expensive, as any pet owner knows. But even to longtime owners, there are some costs you don't think about until they either happen suddenly -- such as an emergency trip to the vet for a paw injury on Thanksgiving Day, which we've had -- or an event or annual physical reminds you of the expenses.

Summer is one of those events. It's a time when many people leave for vacation, and taking the family pet with them is difficult. Here are six pet expenses to consider before summer arrives:

1. Pet Sitter

If you're lucky, you know a kind neighbor who will take your pet during vacation, or will swap pets with you when they go on vacation. That's the best way to go.

Without that option, you're going to pay. A kennel can work, though I'm not a fan of leaving my dog at a place where he's surrounded by barking dogs and you're unsure what happens with him after you leave. A kennel can easily cost $50 a night.

Another option is hiring a professional dog sitter to either watch your pet in your home, or take care of it at theirs. I'm a host for DogVacay.com, and I charge $45 a night to have a dog stay in our home, though I'm growing tired of the hassles that come with it.

If you are going to hire a pet sitter for a week or more during the summer, I recommend making reservations soon. There are a lot of dog sitters, but finding one that's a good fit for your dog can take some time, and you may want to try to them out before summer arrives. The popular summer vacations around Memorial Day and July Fourth fill up fast.

2. Kennel Cough Vaccination

If you are going to board your dog, getting it a kennel cough vaccination, also known as bordetella, is often recommended by veterinarians and required by boarders. It's a virus that can be caught when dogs are around other dogs, known by a cough with a honking sound.

I recently had my dog vaccinated for it during his annual physical, and the shot cost $25. The vaccine lasts a year and is given with a small squirt of liquid into the nose. Dogs should be vaccinated at least three weeks before going to a kennel because some of it takes three weeks to be effective.

3. Heartworm

Mosquitos can transmit heartworm when they bite pets, so a heartworm test should be done whenever mosquito season starts in your area.

I live in California, and after the very short rainy season, mosquitos started coming out in our yard, so I got our dog tested at the vet recently for $42.50. Heartworm can lead to a lot of problems, including death, so expect your vet to give you the scare story.

The test was done with some bloodwork, and we learned within 24 hours that he didn't have it. Once you know your pet doesn't have heartworm, you can then give it heartworm medicine to prevent it. I paid $52 for six monthly pills. If my dog did have heartworm, then he wouldn't have needed that medicine, but other, more expensive care would be needed, my vet told me.

4. Flea/Tick Prevention

Fleas and other biting insects can be more likely to get to your pet if it's outdoors more during the summer, so it's worthwhile to use the approaching summer as a reminder to deal with this.

We used to use Frontline on our dogs, but I would often forget to give the monthly application. I'm not sure if I ever put it on the dog correctly. It's a small tube of liquid that's supposed to be squeezed onto the dog's neck, and I have no idea if it ever worked.

Our vet recommended Nexgard, a chewable tablet that's taken once a month and costs $24.50 at his office. I found a pet store online that sells them for $21 each, so a three-month supply equates to $10 in savings. However, that requires a written prescription from the vet, which I'm getting and will send to the online store soon.

5. Pet Insurance

I haven't bought this yet, but the paw injury my dog had in November cost hundreds of dollars -- and most of that would have been covered if we had pet insurance.

Costs vary, depending on the dog's age, if it's spayed or neutered, and if it has had any serious illnesses. I found an online quote for $35 a month for my healthy, neutered, 3-year-old male dog. It includes an 80 percent reimbursement level and a $250 annual deductible.

Pet insurance is a smart buy any time of the year, but can be especially helpful during summer vacation if you're away from home and want your pet to be covered for any major emergency without having to go into major debt for it.

It can be the best way to cover unexpected vet bills. The site Pet Insurance Quotes lists enough possible health problems for a dog and the range of costs that you may want to spend the summer hiding indoors with your dog. Cancer can cost up to $20,000 to treat, an ear infection can cost $2,500 to $4,500, and a condition that disturbs a dog's heartbeat can cost $15,000 for surgery.

6. Dog Walker

If you're not going to hire a dog sitter or take your pet to a kennel, and plan on leaving your dog in the backyard for a week or more, at least hire a dog walker. Again, this may not come to mind until a few weeks before you leave on vacation, but it's smart to get this lined up sooner rather than later.

The cost can range from free if you can find a neighbor to do you this favor, to $10 to $20 a day for someone to come to your house and walk, feed and water your dog.

As a dog owner, this would be one of the last alternatives I'd recommend if you're gone for more than a few days. Your dog will be lonely and unsupervised. And a lonely dog in a backyard can be a destructive one.
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