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Can You Afford That Doggie in the Window?

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If you stood in front of a room filled with pet owners and asked everyone to raise their hands if they felt they overspend on their pets, we bet every hand would go up. Some folks may raise both hands. During an unsteady and even downright bad economic climate, consumers find creative ways to spend less and save more. It seems there’s an exception to the savings rules when it comes to one sector of consumer spending: pet care. For the majority of owners, their pet-related expenses have risen, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA). So far, for 2013, APPA estimates $55.53 billion will be spent on pets in the U.S. alone. And owners aren’t just indulging their pooches and kitties with high-end treats or pet clothing. The cost towards keeping pets healthy is responsible for much of the overall rise in expenditures. Is affordable pet care just a dream?

Winking dog with piggy bank

Don’t despair! Even though the sharp rise in pet care costs mirrors that of humans, there are still ways to save without cutting the quality of care your animals receive. Here are a number of options to consider if you are wanting to save money while still being able to spoil Sparky and Whiskers because, come on, they expect it of us.

Watch Their Waistlines

Just like with humans, many health problems in our pets can be avoided with preventive care, so keep your animals fit. Extra pounds can lead to costly health problems, like high blood pressure and diabetes. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, over 53% of our pets are overweight. “Lassie used to be running around saving people, but now she’s collapsed in front of the TV watching Animal Planet,” quips veterinarian and Vetstreet.com columnist Marty Becker.
The solution to this problem is quite simple and best of all, FREE: exercise pets more (and it’s good for you too). With portion control, some extra walking and playtime, your animals will be healthier and your wallet fatter from not needing to visit the vet as often. And if you’re already walking & playing with your pets, make a little extra money by offering to take care of the neighbor’s animals as well. Dog walkers easily make $10-$25 per day, per dog, while doggie and kitty day care can run between $15-$35, according to Care. It’s a win-win all around because you’re keeping yourself and your pets fit which will hopefully result in less healthcare visits. This extra cash your earning could also be put toward animal expenditures which would free you from having to dip into a paycheck for such costs. You may even have enough leftover to put into savings in case for an emergency vet visit, medication, travel expense, etc.

Healthcare

Vet visits are generally once per year for young, healthy pets while older animals may need to go twice. No matter the frequency, we want excellent healthcare for our pets and often shell out a lot for it, maybe even more than we would pay for ourselves. How many of you are nodding in agreement right now?
So, do we cut corners on healthcare costs or are there better options and more financial assistance than ever before? Yes to all of that. It’s not that you want to risk good veterinarian care, but you can “cut corners” in a sense. If you feel your vet is suggesting a treatment that is beyond reasonable and necessary, make sure to ask flat out if that treatment is in fact necessary. Never be shy about getting a second or third opinion for your pet, we do it for ourselves. Find out if there are alternative treatments, shop around at different vets and do your research. Also find out the cost of follow-up care since it can add up to as much as the in-office treatment (or more) in the long run. A little extra footwork and research may save you hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars. Always ask your veterinarian if the medication they’re prescribing can be obtained at a pharmacy instead. Medication costs at a pharmacy will almost always be cheaper than the vet’s office and many pharmacies offer antibiotics for free.
What about obtaining pet health insurance? That’s a tricky one to answer because it is both an economic and an emotional decision. A pet owner needs to base the decision on their personal financial situation and what they are willing to pay for peace of mind. Some folks pay $300 a year or more for pet insurance and over the life of a dog or cat that may come to $5,000 or more. Such an expense may not have been worth it because their pet was generally healthy for most of it’s life. Unfortunately, some may face an emergency and will be unable to afford the vet care costs to save their animal’s life. If they had acquired pet insurance before the emergency occurred, they might have been able to move forward with life-saving treatment. It’s a gamble. Your best bet is to consider cost vs. payout of different pet policies, then call and visit the websites of a few reputable insurance companies like VPI or Trupanion. One factor remains pretty consistent, preexisting conditions are generally not covered, and genetic problems are often excluded as well, although some plans offer coverage via a higher premium. If your pet falls into this category, Pet Assure is an alternative to insurance and can help you cover out-of-pocket vet expenses.

Rewards Cards

We are so good to our pets that we’re getting rewarded for it! All of the major pet store chains have special clubs/reward cards providing us with discounts on everyday, regular pet care items. Joining these programs is free although you will need to surrender personal data like an email address and telephone number.
PetSmart PetPerks card offers discounts and will also send out emails that can be customized to alert you when a favorite item or brand goes on sale. You’ll also receive members-only coupons as a PetPerks card benefit, and your pet gets a treat on his or her birthday. Pet Supermarket has a VIP discount card program that also helps you earn free cat or dog food. To earn a free bag of food, buyers must purchase ten bags or cases of the same brand of food within a twelve-month period (trial bags don’t count ). A Petco Pals card allows you to earn 5% cash back every time you make a purchase at a Petco store. There are also items in the stores with specially discounted prices for card holders. You can also check your account online to see what you have saved. Petland pet stores don’t require customers to carry a discount card. You enroll for their Pet Club online and then provide your name or telephone number at the checkout counter to get your discounts. Club Pet also allows you to specify the number and types of pets you have upon enrollment and then sends you monthly coupons geared toward your pets.
And the next time your at the grocery store check to see if they have their own pet club program that provides discounts and coupons. For example, Publix has a Publix Paws program that emails coupons to shoppers who subscribe online.

Pets are wonderful companions and owning one is a big responsibility that includes a financial commitment. But with proper planning, a little research and asking the right questions, owning a pet will turn out to be one of the most rewarding gifts we can give to ourselves. For a further breakdown of what to expect with your new arrival, see this comprehensive chart provided by the ASPCA.

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