Here’s your guide for budget-friendly approaches to pet ownership.
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grooming dog at home; one way to save on pet expenses
Credit: Sally Anscombe / Getty

Just like two-legged children, fur babies are important and beloved members of our family. They also impact the household budget—just as humans do. The lifetime cost of owning a dog averages $35,600, and owning a cat costs approximately $17,800. Granted, there are numerous variables involved in those estimates, but it still makes good sense to consider how to save money on pet expenses. 

Don't stress; there are ways you can balance your pet's lifestyle with your bank account. Just consult your veterinarian first regarding anything related to your pet's diet and health—they might have some additional economic suggestions that align more with their continued care plan.

1. Shop for Toys and Supplies at Discount Stores

The cost of purchasing pet supplies like beds, bowls, and toys quickly adds up. But that doesn't have to be the case, according to Stephanie Mantilla, a former zookeeper who's now an enrichment specialist and positive reinforcement-based animal trainer for Curiosity Trained. Mantilla suggests shopping at discount department store chains to score a bargain on basic pet necessities.

"Stores like HomeGoods and Marshalls carry pet items," she says. "You can get everything you need for a new pet, including leashes and crates, at significant savings. These stores get brand-new products when there's overstock and sell them for up to 60 percent off."

2. Make Pet Furniture and Enclosures

There are so many nifty DIY ideas that, with a little ingenuity and a great plan, will save you money. Here are just a few items our Daily Paws staff have tested and found to be pet-approved. 

3. Try Other Types of Pet Food

Depending on what your vet recommends, you don't have to pay top dollar to feed your furry friends well. "Many of the expensive food companies offer a generic brand of food as well that's just as healthy but less expensive," Mantilla explains. "For example, the brand Merrick also makes Whole Earth Farms, which costs a lot less."

When shopping for slightly less expensive food, be sure to take the time to read the ingredient list. Ideally, meat is the first ingredient. Matilla advises avoiding meat by-products and corn. "Both are low-quality filler ingredients that are used to bulk up food cheaply. Corn passes through your pets' digestive system without providing any real nutrition," she says. 

For cats, it's a good idea to avoid foods that only include seafood, such as fish, as the main protein source. "Fish can cause lower levels of thiamine, which is an essential nutrient for your cat's health. Many cats become allergic to fish, and fish tends to have higher levels of toxins in it than other proteins," Mantilla adds.

4. Learn to Socialize and Train Your Pet

How can you save money on pet expenses and make pawsitive choices for their wellbeing? Be both their guardian and their trainer. Socialization of puppies and kittens includes conditioning them to different sights, sounds, smells, and people. If you can't afford to work with a certified trainer or behavior expert right now, do it at home!

Your furry friend is smart and eager to learn every day, so take advantage of different opportunities to expand their skill set. From fun dog tricks (cats can learn tricks, too!) to training essentials such as walking on a leash and learning to "drop it!", there are numerous free resources for you to access that will help your pet live up to their potential.

5. Groom Pets at Home

Professional grooming costs can be pricey depending on where you live and the type of pet you have. To economize a bit, consider at-home grooming.

Sarah Wooten, DVM, CVJ, says acclimating your pet to home nail trims and ear cleanings will pay off in the long run. "If you're able to provide basic grooming services for your pet, it will be less stressful for them as well as your pocketbook," she says. "Grooming dogs and cats on your own can be easy, or it can be difficult. It all depends on the person and the pet, but it really helps to start when they're young to get them used to it and to invest in good tools, like professional grooming clippers."

Keep in mind that certain pets, such as Cairn terriers and the Persian cat, have special grooming need. But if you need to space out time between visits, a professional should be able to provide grooming tips for easy daily care.

6. Cook Homemade Pet Treats

Show your favorite fluffball some extra love by whipping up a batch of nibbles that store well and feature healthy ingredients you can buy inexpensively, always being mindful that treats shouldn't make up more than 10 percent of your pet's daily diet.

Try these snackies from the Daily Paws Test Kitchen, such as peanut butter blackberry dog popsicles, chicken bacon dog biscuits, and tuna and catnip cat bites.

7. Create a Pet-Sitting Club

Have you ever paid someone to watch over your dog while you're away on vacation? The steep daily cost of quality services can be an eye-opener. So if you need other alternatives, form a rotating collective of other animal lovers as pet sitters and dog walkers. This way, everyone can rely on other members of the club to have a vested interest in providing the best (free!) care.

8. Join Pet Store Loyalty Programs

When you're part of a loyalty program, you're always first to know about promotions, coupons, and other discounts. Here are the top choices:

9. Consider Pet Insurance

Just like insurance for humans, pet insurance provides coverage in the event of catastrophic events such as expensive surgeries or disease management. You have to be diligent when comparing policies based on your pet and budget, as certain breeds might have conditions not always covered.

On average, pet insurance costs between $30–$50 per month, with some plans as little as $10 per month and others with more premium coverage as high as $100 per month. Talk with your vet as you evaluate different plans to determine if pet insurance is worth it.

10. Ask for a Veterinary Wellness Payment Plan

Another option to maintain your fuzzy pal's best health while saving money on pet expenses is to ask your vet about wellness payment plans. These help cover routine care and services, and sometimes discounts on medications. One of the most well-known is PetAssure, a pet insurance alternative that provides members with a 25-percent discount on veterinary bills in exchange for paying monthly dues of as little as $7.95. However, not all veterinary practices accept discount payment plans.

11. Keep Up With Vaccinations and Preventative Care

Preventative care may seem like an unnecessary expense to some, but it can save you money over the course of a pet's lifetime. 

"Treatments for things like heartworm or fleas and ticks are key to stay on top of [through preventative veterinary visits] to avoid expensive, unexpected vet bills associated with parasites," Wooten says. "These issues are more common than one would think."

Also stay up-to-date with annual exams and services, such as cat dental care and vaccinations, dog dental care and vaccinations, and other health maintenance measures that can reduce costs over the long run.

Wooten says it's important to bring a pet to the vet without delay when you notice issues developing. "Diseases, especially infections, can progress quickly and get expensive just as fast," she explains. "Early intervention is best for your furbaby and should minimize the duration and intensity of treatment."

Also work with your vet on a diet and exercise plan that helps your four-legged buddy avoid conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

12. Comparison Shop for Medication

The cost of prescription medication for a pet can often be as pricey as prescriptions for human family members. But you might have a little financial leeway here and there:

  • Ask your vet if there are generic options for prescription medication. 
  • Call different pharmacies for price quotes on the prescription, and ask if they sponsor pet programs to help offset medication costs. Some initiatives, such as WellRx and GoodRx, offer coupons and discounts for both human and pet prescriptions. 

You can also find medication discounts online. Try: 

Additional reporting by Mia Taylor.