Simple ways to lower your pet care costs

Don't Waste Your Money

If you have a cat, dog or other pets you know that health care costs are rising. Just the first year alone with a new dog can cost you a $1,000 or more in food, checkups and medicine.

And an older pet can cost thousands of dollars if it needs additional medical care. But there are ways to bring those costs down.

Pet lovers hit with high bills

Chris Smallwood can't imagine taking walks at Voice of America Park without her English bulldog Leo.

But she knows the cute pup will be pricey. The bulldog she had before Leo cost her more than $2,000 in care before he died.

"He had pneumonia, his airways were blocked, he had ear infections, things like that," Smallwood said.

Mike Bork says even routine health care for his German shepherd is soaring. 

"It's like everything else," he said. "Everything is going pretty pricey these days."

$500 a year just for meds

Basic heartworm, flea and tick medicine can cost $500 a year for some breeds and larger dogs. But smart pet owners are now finding ways to bring down those costs though generics and combination medicines.

Veterinarian Elizabeth Gigas says many people have sticker shock when they learn the cost of saving their beloved cat or dog.

Dr. Liz, as she's called, says the good news is cancer and heart disease is now treatable in pets.

"Many people don't realize there are cardiologists, anesthesiologists, a lot of specialists for pets," she said.
The bad news:  All this life-saving care can drain your savings account.

"Going to a veterinary specialist to keep an ill cat or dog alive can cost $5,000 or more," Dr. Liz said. 

In the past, many people would have no choice but to put the pet down. But now they have many options, some of them very expensive.

Set up a pet savings account

Dr. Liz suggests owners either set up a separate savings account for unexpected pet costs or buy pet health insurance.

However, she advises that people check an insurance plan carefully before they buy.

"Most will not cover pre-existing conditions," she warned. "So if you have a German shepherd with hip dysplasia, that will not be covered."

For that reason, a savings account with $3,000 in it may turn out to be a much better value.

Buy pet food at Discount Store

A n August 2011 article in Consumer Reports maga zine found that grocery stores are often one of the more expensive places to buy pet food, second only to your vet's office.

Walmart and Target often had a much lower price, according to the article. Their larger bags tend to be the best value.

How to save on routine medicines

Tired of the high cost of heartworm, flea and tick medicine?

Dr. Liz suggests buying medicines in bulk, such as six months of flea and tick medicine at a time.

And she says consider "combination" drugs such as Sentinel, which combines heartworm medicine with flea and tick medicine with one monthly tablet.

Ask About Generics

If your vet's prices are still too high,  ask your vet for the prescription.  Then shop at stores like Target, Walmart or Sam's Club where a $50 antibiotic can cost as little as $4.

Many pet antibiotics are the same ones used for humans.

And always ask about generics. Frontline Plus, which can cost $20 a month, went off patent last year, and is now available in generic form.  However, the more advanced Frontine is not yet generic, so be sure to ask your vet if your dog will get the same coverage.

Shelter Dog v. Purebreds

Finally, be careful what type of pet you decide to purchase. Purebreds are much more expensive to care for than a mixed breed, according to Dr. Liz, because of years of breeding recessive genes.

Want an inexpensive dog? Dr. Liz suggests you get a mixed breed one from a shelter, not a breeder.

"If you want to see your vet every week, get an English Bulldog," she said.

Plus, many shelters will cover the cost of spaying or neutering. If you buy a dog privately, you will have to absorb all those costs.

Don't let the fear of high prices keep you from getting your next pet. But think hard when choosing a pet you want, because of the rising price of care.

As always, don't waste your money.


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Special reports in May