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Medically Reviewed by Veterinarian Angela Dwyer, DVM on February 25, 2018
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One of the things that dog owners must consider from the very moment they decide they want a dog is to budget for their dog’s needs. Food, medicines, vaccinations, identification, and things like toys and beds are frequently considered by new dog owners. But what about things such as fences to keep your dog indoors, or saving for long-term emergency care if your dog is in an accident? There are so many ways that a pet can be very expensive. For those on a budget, how can they make pet ownership more attainable? What can you do to ensure that you’ll be able to care for your pet in an emergency?
I understand all these concerns. I have made choices in my life in order to afford the finer things in life for my dogs. But I’ve been pretty lucky – I don’t have kids, and I haven’t had to move to a more expensive area due to my job. But there have been times when money got tight, and I needed to find some budget-conscious ways to keep Janice and Leroy healthy. If you’ve ever needed to find more affordable ways to care for your dog, this post is for you.
Learn Basic DIY Care
One of the best things you can do to keep your budget in check is to do as much care for your dog at home as you can. Now, it’s not a good idea to skip medical care from the vet; but you can learn things such as trimming your dog’s nails, giving them baths, checking their ears and teeth for healthiness, and even giving them basic haircuts. All you really need to do is to get a few decent tools, such as a good pair of nail clippers, and you’ll save money within just a few visits to the groomer.
Be sure to brush your dog’s teeth regularly. This can help them avoid more serious health problems like heart disease and certain cancers. This is something that dogs can be trained to tolerate if you work with them, and it’s very affordable to buy the tools you need. It took me a while to get Janice and Leroy to let me brush their teeth, but now they sit and allow me to check their teeth and gums without too much whining.
You can also do some basic first aid for your dog. If they break a nail, you can stop the bleeding with a styptic powder. If they have a very mild burn, you can clean it with water and carefully wrap the area till it heals. You can even learn pet CPR for real emergencies. Just be sure that you are careful to go to the vet when your dog doesn’t show signs of healing or getting better within a day or two.
It’s tempting to save money by purchasing a lower quality dog food. However, dogs need great nutrition in order to stay healthy. By trying to save money on cheap, unhealthy dog food, you’ll be spending more on fixing issues later like arthritis and diabetes. You don’t have to choose the most expensive food out there, but do consider either cooking your dog’s food yourself or choosing food that you can afford that still has animal protein as the first ingredient.
At the end of the day, it’s best to choose to save money on other areas of your dog’s care rather than trying to save money on cheaper quality food. Poor nutrition can become a more expensive issue in the first place. Consider buying food in bulk to save money – you can frequently save up to 50% off the price per pound of food when buying a larger amount of food at once.
Play More Often
One of the best ways to keep your dog healthy is to keep them active. This is something that you can do for free if you just give them more play time. Take longer walks, go for a run at the dog park, or just play a fun game of tag in your backyard. If you have a couple of dollars, you can grab some dog-friendly chew toys that can be tossed around for a game of fetch. Don’t use balls made for tennis – these can be bad for a dog if they accidentally eat some of the outer lining. Don’t forget that a stick is just as good for fetch as an expensive fetch ball for your dog.
Some dogs don’t need as much activity as other dogs. However, all dogs need at least a walk every day. And for most dogs, the more activity you can give them, the happier and healthier they will be. If you can’t add more activity in your daily life, it is likely more affordable to hire a dog walker than it is to risk poor health.
If you can’t afford wellness checkups at the vet, at least get your dog vaccinated at a pet store or vaccination events. Vaccinations are very important for the health of your pet and other pets, as well as people who may come into contact with your pet. Vaccinations may also be legally required where you live, and the fines for having a pet without them could be much more expensive than simply prioritizing the vaccines.
If you can prioritize another healthcare need, definitely choose spaying or neutering. Puppies are very expensive, as Janice, Leroy, and I well know. It’s much better to avoid this problem altogether than just to hope that they don’t end up having puppies.
Be Smart About Adopting a Dog
If you want to adopt a dog, there are ways that you can make the experience more affordable. Definitely go with a shelter rather than a breeder, and consider a mixed breed rather than a purebred. Not only are mixed breed dogs usually more affordable to adopt, but they tend to be healthier in the long run, which means less money you’ll spend on healthcare. Also, choose an adult dog who is right in the middle of puppy and senior dog. Puppies and senior dogs tend to be more expensive to raise due to health and nutrition needs.
If you do adopt a dog for free, consider that you’ll need to vaccinate, spay or neuter, and give the dog a health check-up to ensure that they are in good health. Often when you adopt from a shelter, these things are included in the adoption fee, so you don’t have to worry about shopping around for affordable vet care.
Consider Pet Insurance
One more thing you can do to save money in emergencies is to consider buying pet insurance. This is just like health insurance for people, but it covers your pets when they are injured or get sick. This usually doesn’t cover routine care like vaccines and check-ups, but it can be a way to ensure that your budget isn’t totally blown in the case of an accident.
You should also be sure to shop around for affordable vet care. Not all veterinarians charge the same, and you can likely find more affordable care if you take the time to get some quotes on care before taking your dog in for an appointment. There are also ways to get more affordable vet care, such as going to pet stores for vaccinations or heading to organizations that help cover the costs of vet care, such as your local humane society.
Just How Expensive Are Pets Anyway?
If you’re reading these tips and wondering why you’d need to think carefully about your pet budget, it’s a good idea to look at the numbers. Here are some facts from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association that can help you understand the costs of raising a pet:
There are nearly 45 million households with dogs in the United States.
It costs anywhere between $140 and $400 per month to take care of a dog over a period of 10 years.
In a five-year period, the cost of pet care services rose by more than five percent.
Other Free and Low-Cost Things You Can Do
Wondering how else you can keep your dog money for little or no money? Here are some ideas:
Be a little more adamant about keeping your dog supervised and safe. This will ensure that you avoid accidents that can involve costly vet care.
Be very consistent with training. If you teach your dog to stay by your side at all times, you won’t have to worry as much about needing a fence.
Keep your dog well hydrated. Dehydration can make your dog’s skin, coat, and gums unhealthy.
Keep their fur free of burs and other debris. This can make them more prone to skin issues and can be a good place for ticks and lice to hide.
Try giving your dog a soak in Dawn dish soap to help get rid of fleas. Flea and tick medication isn’t something to skip if you can, but Dawn can help you get rid of fleas in an emergency.
Put your sunscreen on your dog. Dogs can get sunburnt and heat stroke just as much as people, and sunscreen works for them as much as us. Just put a light coating over your dog’s head and back and then be sure to feed your dog right after so they aren’t tempted to lick at themselves.
Use Epsom Salt to deal with itchy spots. Simply dissolve the salt in a bath and let your dog soak in the bathtub. Be sure they don’t drink the bath water because Epsom Salt can be a laxative.
Try using massage to alleviate the pain of arthritis or tension from exercise. There are many videos on the Internet that you can follow to massage your dog.
While I would never suggest that you avoid veterinary care when needed, you may need to consider not rushing to the vet for every minor ailment. Dogs will typically get better quickly from something as simple as a runny nose. Just keep an eye on them so that you can head to the vet if the sickness doesn’t seem to be going away.
Keep your dog away from the house when you are spraying for bugs. Chemical insecticides can be very bad for a dog’s health if they lick up any of the residue.
Give your dog an old t-shirt or blanket to define their space instead of buying an expensive dog bed. Yes, it’s nice to give them a comfy place to sleep. But at the end of the day, they are dogs, and they don’t mind sleeping on the floor – the bed is primarily to help them define where their space is. Do this with something you already own to save money.
Many of these things are common sense, but they can really help you save money on dog care if you combine them all. As long as you are careful to check ingredients on products for things that can be toxic to dogs, many of the things you use for yourself can be just as good for your dog.
Overall, the most important things to spend money on for your dog are:
High-quality pet food
Spaying or neutering
Other things, such as toys, beds, and grooming, you can definitely save money on. It is possible to be a frugal dog owner, just be sure to always keep in mind that some things should not be skimped on. If you just cannot afford to feed your dog a high-quality food, or to get them their vaccinations, consider whether you are truly able to afford a dog. They do need to be given a good life, and the love and loyalty they give in return is worth caring for their health.
These tips can help you realize that you are more capable of fitting a dog into your budget than you realized.