Owning a pet can get expensive, but there are some ways you can save money, too. Here is a list of Do’s and Don’ts to help you make smart choices and keep your pet healthy.
DO: Ask your veterinarian if they offer a multi-pet discount. Most vets will charge less if you bring in more than one pet (scheduling back to back appointment slots saves them time, and those savings get passed on to you).
DO: Schedule preventive care: Regular checkups at the vet ensure your pets are healthy and happy. Do not skip visits to save money; it will just cost you more in the long run. And, if you ever notice increased thirst, loss of appetite, changes in behavior, or weight loss, that is a sign to head to the vet right away. When caught early, kidney disease, diabetes, and thyroid disorders (to name a few) are more easily treated and not very costly compared to treating advanced disease. Lyme disease vaccinations, heartworm preventative, and regular stool testing of pets allowed outdoors will prevent expensive health problems down the road. Even looking into a pet’s mouth can show a vet a lot about your pet’s health (and catching gum infections or tooth decay early can also save pets from needing costly dental surgery). Low-cost vaccinations are available at many animal shelters and sometimes by appointment in pet stores (search for vaccination clinics in your area).
If you are concerned about over-vaccinating your pet, there is a blood test that will show if your pet has already developed an immunity to the disease and may not require additional vaccinations (check local vaccination laws, of course!). If you have an indoor-only cat and no plans to bring in another pet, ask the vet which vaccinations are truly necessary and skip the rest.
DON’T: Do not seek medical advice online from friends, or from shared memes on social media. Many of these suggestions are flat out wrong (and harmful!) but they continue to be shared so often that people will mistake it for fact!
- A lost cat cannot smell its litter box from a mile away, and most pets cover their “business” to hide their scent from predators! A lost cat is usually too frightened to even come when called, even if lured with food, and can be hiding very closeby. Your pet isn’t going to just “find” its way home if you put out a litter box.
- Treating fleas “naturally” by rubbing vinegar (acid!) and baking soda (salt!) on your dog will really hurt their already-irritated skin, and it won’t kill fleas or break the flea egg cycle either.
- Bathing a newborn kitten in Dawn dish soap or flea soap (or giving any bath for any reason) can be harmful; young kittens cannot regulate their body temperature so getting these babies wet and not following specific protocol can be very dangerous to their health. Also, flea meds can be especially toxic to kittens under 8 weeks of age. Don’t go the DIY route here!
- Using baking soda in litter boxes or buying litter formulas with baking soda in them: Wet baking soda becomes paste-like, and the sodium level in baking soda is off the charts! Cats will lick their paws and ingest too much sodium — which can cause all sorts of health problems. And, it tastes yucky and can make a cat not want to use the litter box at all! The best way to avoid litter box odor is to scoop litter once or twice a day! And clean the box regularly. That’s it!
DON’T: Do not bring in another animal before it’s been tested for disease; you do not want to jeopardize the health of your other pets. Quarantining them in another room is fine, as long as you take extra steps such as washing hands and putting on a shirt or smock before entering the room (and removing it when you leave the room).
DON’T: Retractable leashes are popular but come with risks. They allow your pet to get farther ahead of you on walks and there’s no way to reel them in quickly if they encounter any dangers (a loose dog, a wild animal, or a car). They also can malfunction and break – which presents additional dangers. Stay old-school and don’t risk it with the fancy expensive leashes.
DON’T: Don’t teach children responsibility by putting them in charge of pet care! A young child won’t notice if there are more (or fewer) clumps in the litter box than usual, or if there are tinges of blood in the urine. A child will often just pour fresh litter on top and smooth it over and say they scooped! A child can forget to feed a pet or give fresh water, and it’s just not fair to make a pet endure sub-par care. If you insist that the child help care for a pet, be sure to double-check all of their chores, every time!
DON’T: Feeding an exclusive diet of dry pet food or buying the cheapest brands can make pets more vulnerable to bladder, kidney, and other diseases. It’s a myth that dry food is better for their teeth. And, read labels to make sure your pet’s food has real meat as one of the first ingredients. For canned or wet food, stay away from chunky or sliced formulas that mostly consist of wheat gluten (there are some exceptions but pate’ varieties are usually better). Also, be sure your pet likes the food! “If they are hungry enough, they’ll eat it” is not a phrase that should be thought or spoken. If you hate broccoli, would you want that to be the only food offered to you for your entire life? As a pet owner, you have to make judgment calls based on your pet and what is important to you: We had an elderly cat being treated for kidney and thyroid disease, but she hated the new prescription food. We decided that doing 3 of the 4 treatments would be good enough; she deserved to enjoy her regular food in her golden years, and keeping her weight up was more important than trying to force a change in her diet and having her skipping meals. Another pet really loved dry food so we kept trying wet food brands and flavors until we found one he would eat (he still eats about 50% of his food in dry form but we were happy he now has more real meat in his diet too).
DO: Take advantage of auto-ship discounts on pet food and supplies you use regularly. The savings (usually around 20%) can really add up over time!
DO: Have a back-up plan if there is an emergency and you need someone to check on your pet (or if you live alone to check on you as well). Instead of handing keys out to neighbors you can always hide or bury a key and only tell someone where it is located if absolutely necessary. There are also deadbolt locks that can be easily changed to make any keys out there no longer work (much cheaper than buying new locks!).
DON’T: There are many spot-on flea treatments that are harmful to pets, especially cats. The same goes for flea powders and shampoos. Most of the safer brands are only available from a vet. They may cost more, but many vets offer discounts, such as buy three, get one free. Some also offer samples. “Natural” flea remedies can be harmful. Diatomaceous earth (food-grade) is very drying to skin and the dust can irritate your pet’s eyes and lungs. Essential oils can be extremely toxic (whether applied topically or via diffuser). And never use a dog flea treatment on a cat!
DO: Research what plants, flowers, over-the-counter mediations and food additives are toxic to pets. The same goes for people food and scraps. See Doc Frugal’s free Thanksgiving e-book for more information on these household dangers.
DO: Spay and neuter! Besides having health benefits, spay and neuter ensures your pets won’t try to escape to mate and will not contribute to the homeless pet population by producing more litters. Many shelters and animal rescue groups offer free and low-cost spay and neuter services.
DO: Consider fostering a pet! If you foster in an official capacity through a shelter or rescue group — the supplies, food, and vet care are often provided by the organization! Taking one pet off the streets and providing shelter and love can allow more pets to be rescued, and keep one more pet from being in a shelter. Fostering also allows you to make sure the pet fits into your home and lifestyle, and gets along with any children or other pets. And, yes, sometimes you get attached and end up keeping the foster pet, despite your best efforts. That’s okay! It happens to the best of us!
DO: Keep cats in carriers in the car and at the vet and keep dogs on a leash. Besides the escape factor, you will also want to keep your pet on the vet exam table and not let them wander all over the exam room. The table is disinfected between visits, but your pet could still pick up other germs or parasites on the floor (which is not cleaned between patients), so be aware of this risk.
DO: Ask for help if you cannot afford to feed your pet or get the medical care. Food banks and animal shelters usually offer donated pet food to those in need. And, many private citizens will also pitch in and help if asked. For expensive and emergency vet appointments or surgeries, websites like YouCaring allow you to raise money to help cover these costs. You may also want to look into health insurance for pets. Some are better than others so do your homework, and figure out if the benefits outweigh the costs and if the companies are good about coverage, or if it’s a lot of red tape and fine print that doesn’t really yield much help. Most vets will allow you to sign up on the spot for CareCredit (a credit card used for vets, and also for your own doctors, dentists, optometrists, etc.). CareCredit is interest-free for the first 6 months, but after that the interest rates can get pretty high, so be sure to pay it off as quickly as possible.
DO: Be aware of dangers in cleaning products and in lawn sprays; these can be hazards to your pets. Do some research first (and natural doesn’t guarantee it isn’t harmful).
DO: Examine toys before allowing your pet to play with them, and take away any toys that become worn or begin falling apart. The holiday cat toy pictured had very fine threads wrapped around it, and if it came loose, it could easily be ingested and cause great harm (cats cannot “spit” out the string, and it’s too tough for them to break). Toys with eyes and decorations glued on can also be a hazard; you may want to remove these extra features first (they are just there for cute factor to make us humans buy them).
A favorite toy:
DO: Try preparing your own healthy pet treats at home!
DO: Enjoy the entertainment and love that pets provide! Look at our guy being all silly with his Yeowww! catnip banana. Priceless!