You Lucky Dog: 28 Ways to Save on Pet Supplies
By Donna Freedman
How much could that doggie (or kitty) in the window cost? Anywhere from $580 to $875 per year just for the basics, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That's in addition to "capital costs" such as purchase or adoption fees, spaying/neutering, collar, leash, crate, carrier bag, training and microchip implantation.
Obviously, the estimates are merely that. Prices vary by region, and vet bills may be low for a while, then rise as your furry friend gets older. You may already own some of the equipment (e.g., your former cat's carrier), or choose to borrow dog-training books from the library instead of attending formal classes.
Too, different owners have different habits: Some lavish their dogs with toys and treats and keep them in doggy day care, while others crate-train their pooches and throw sticks during daily walks. A doting cat owner might buy a new catnip mouse every week, whereas others will never buy a single toy.
Even the most frugal pet owner is going to have to spend some money. The question is whether you're using that money wisely. The following tactics will help you stretch available funds to provide the best life you can afford for your animal companion.
Get It Online
- Forget brick-and-mortar. Sites such as Wag.com, PetSmart and Petco regularly run sales, hand out coupons and offer free shipping for food, medication and supplies. And yes, free shipping may apply even toward heavy stuff, such as giant sacks of kibble or large boxes of cat-box filler.
- Snag rebates. Access those online merchants through a cash-back shopping site, and you'll get rebates of up to 15 percent.
- Go generic. Kendal Perez, who blogs at Hassle-Free Savings, always buys generic heartworm meds online for her two dogs. Recently she was about to reorder with a $5 coupon when her husband found a much better price through a different merchant. "It pays to shop around," she says. Use a price comparison website such as PriceGrabber.com or FatWallet.com to make sure you're getting the best deal.
- Subscribe to save. You can set up a recurring order for products you use regularly, such as food or litter. This may mean a product discount (Amazon.com gives one), but at the very least it saves you time, gasoline and the premium you'll pay if you find you're out of cat food some Sunday evening.
- Buy in bulk. Perez gets rawhides by the 15-pack at Sam's Club, paying less than $1 apiece –- less than half the price at pet stores. My daughter purchases cat litter by the pound from a giant bin at Petco.
- Use coupons. Recently I saw coupons for 50 cents and $1 off Iams, a brand many people trust. Sites such as The Coupon Mom, Favado and A Full Cup will provide links to downloadable coupons and also match them to the best pet food prices in your area.
- Buy secondhand. Yard sales and thrift stores may yield the dog dish or kitty condo of your dreams. "If it looks clean and doesn't have an odor and it's the right price, then I would have no problem [with it]," Los Angeles veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber says. A spray such as Lysol will take care of bacteria and fungi.
- Get a built-in discount. Pay with discounted gift cards bought on the secondary market, and you'll save every time you shop. For example, Petco and PetSmart cards are currently available for up to 25 percent off.
- Pay with free gift cards. Sites such as MyPoints and Swagbucks let you earn plastic or e-gift cards to Amazon, Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe's and other merchants that sell pet supplies. Or cash in rewards credit card points to get cards to those retailers.
- The Freecycle Network. There's no guarantee that pet items will be there when you need them, but you never know. I've seen food, litter, crates and other pet items being given away.
- Craigslist. You may luck out in the "free" section. (Patience helps.) Or put up an ad in the "wanted" section, specifying that you're willing to come pick up that crate or skijoring equipment.
- Gratis grub. Do a daily Internet search for "free pet food." Companies regularly offer free samples or even full-sized products on their Facebook pages or through freebie bloggers.
- Embrace hand-me-downs. Once you've posted a few Facebook pictures of your lovely rescued greyhound, a friend or family member might offer a late hound's leash and collar or a barely used pet bed.
- Trade ya! Propose a pet-gear swap among friends, at your place of worship or among people you meet at your favorite bark park.
- Substitutions rule. Maybe a soup dish or stainless steel bowl will stand in for store-bought food/water dishes. Get the baby gate out of storage: It works just as well as a commercial pet gate to keep the puppy out of the living room, according to Rachel Phelps of a dog blog called Preston Speaks. Build your own dog bed (a friend did this with scrap lumber) and fill it with old towels or sweatshirts. In other words, improvise.
- Do it yourself. When possible, bathe and/or groom your pet at home. My sister clips her golden retriever's fast-growing nails; she bought a fairly pricey tool, but it quickly paid for itself. You can also learn to clean your pet's ears and do breed-specific haircuts, says Dr. Jules Benson of the Petplan insurance company.
- Measure that kibble. Benson says those back-of-the-bag recommendations are usually "far too much," especially if your pet is sedentary. Talk to your vet about caloric needs and then use a measuring cup to dole out the daily ration. "You'll be surprised how much further a bag of food goes," he says.
- Make your own treats. The Internet bristles with pet snack recipes. If your animal companion has digestive issues, ask the vet which ingredients should be avoided. To get you started, check out the why and how by the writer of the blog, theBark.com.
- Make your own toys.Professional dog trainer Amy Robinson, who's been in the business for 24 years, says the lowly tennis ball is the most popular toy ever. Get the "dead" tennis balls cheaply or free at tennis clubs. Robinson likes to bury one in a cardboard box filled with paper, crumpled cardboard and toilet paper rolls to provide "physical and mental stimulation." She also suggests putting a tennis ball in an old tube sock: "Your dog will have a big time trying to get the ball out, or holding the sock in his teeth and [whipping] it around." Note: Throw the ball away once it develops holes.
- Make your own cat litter. Not a tactic for everyone, true, but it's certainly cheap. Do an online search for "homemade cat litter." This recipe from the Lifehacker blog uses shredded newspaper and baking soda.
Pet owners who've been laid off or suffered some other economic downturn often don't want to give up their companion animals. Some pet owners have always lived close to the bone, so to speak, but are willing to forgo certain creature comforts to make sure the creatures in their lives are comfortable. These tips can help.
- A humane solution. On its website, the Humane Society of the United States has a section called "Having trouble affording your pet?" It's a tremendous resource of local and national groups that offer free food, vet care, supplies and grooming. Note: This is not a completely comprehensive list, so don't give up if you don't see anything in your area.
- Pet food banks.The Petco chain has a food bank donation program, and its website links to the names of regional groups that receive and distribute that food. Look for programs in your area.
- Pet Food Stamps. This is a nonprofit organization, not a government agency. It's open to those in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps) or who receive welfare or Social Security as their only forms of income. Note: It can take many weeks to be approved because of the number of applications.
- Pets without homes. Couch-surfing while you save up enough money for a place of your own? A national group called Pets of the Homeless makes supplies available to shelters, food pantries, soup kitchens, humane societies and social service organizations.
- Human food banks. Some of them also collect pet food and supplies.
- Cast a wider net. Call 211 or visit 211.org to inquire about local pet-related programs (and a wide variety of health and social services) nationwide.
- Talk to your veterinarian. Ask if he or she knows about local rescue or advocacy groups that donate supplies. Bonus: If the vet knows the reality of your situation, you may be allowed to pay for needed care in installments.
- Get those shots. If you simply cannot afford a vet visit this year and none of the above resources can help, at least make sure your pet gets vaccinated. Look online for regional shot clinics run by government agencies or animal charities. The price may surprise you; the Michigan Humane Society charges just $5 for rabies, distemper and parvovirus shots.
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