Ways to Save on Your Pet's Costs

Even pets are feeling the fallout of the economy's downturn. It has been so bad that shelters have coined a new phrase, "foreclosure pets," to describe animals' owners giving them away because they can no longer afford their care.

Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker has tips on how to economize your pet care without cheapening it. Check out his advice below.

*Note: The pets featured on "Good Morning America" today are available for adoption from www.humanesocietyny.org.

Save on Food

The key to saving here is not to go cheap, but going big. Buy quality food, as recommended by your vet, in bulk.

For example, we found that an eight-pound bag of dog food costs about $15, while a 40-pound bag of the same food costs about $50. Buying the bigger bag saves you $25.

The same is true for cat food. The average price for a four-pound bag of food is $12, and for 20-pounds, it's $37. That's a savings of $23 when you buy in bulk.

If you're concerned about keeping the food fresh, remember to keep it in an airtight container. You can split the portion with a friend who's a pet owner and share the savings. Also, pets tend to eat less of high-quality foods as opposed to cheap brands, which often don't have the nutrients they need.

Save on Your Pet's Health Care

The best way to keep health costs down is -- just as with humans -- prevention. That means the proper food and exercise and the basic care all animals need, including vaccinations, annual checkups, etc.

Brushing your pet's teeth can save on professional cleaning. Bathing and nail trims done at home can save money, too.

When your pet needs to see a vet, there are options. For example, the most common procedure for cats and dogs is spaying and neutering. If your pet comes from a shelter, this procedure is usually done free. If your pet comes from a different source, you might be able to cut costs by contacting your local animal shelter. People will often donate money, earmarked to provide spaying and neutering services. They will either underwrite the costs or work out a payment plan. Not all offer the same quality of care, so you must educate yourself on how and where the services will be done.

If your pet is facing other kinds of surgery -- for example, hip surgery for an older dog -- talk to your vet about your choices. Is there a non-surgical treatment? Would moderate exercise alleviate the problem, pain medication? Maybe surgery isn't the only solution.

You also can shop around, comparing costs at different vets and animal hospitals. One thing you must consider is what is included in care. Make sure you're actually getting a good deal with complete care.

Discounts for Your Pet

According to Consumer Reports, more than 60 percent of veterinarians will discount services if you bring in multiple pets during one visit, while 50 percent will give discounts if the pet owner is a senior citizen. Also ask about military and law enforcement discounts.

For a new puppy or kitten, your vet may offer discount packages that cover all vaccinations, spay or neuter, microchip identification, etc. Your veterinarian and other pet businesses may have specials during pet awareness periods: February is national pet dental month; the second week of May is national pet week; and October is national pet wellness month.

Also, ask your veterinarian if he or she can prescribe generic equivalents of name brand medications so you can take advantage of $4 prescriptions at the big box-chain stores.

For example, amoxicillin, a commonly used antibiotic, costs $12.25 from a vet hospital for 20, 250-mg capsules. At a big-box drugstore, you can get the 30 generic capsules of the same strength for $4. Not all pet prescriptions are cheaper at human pharmacies, but it's worth checking out.

You also can ask your vet if he or she has any samples of the medication they are prescribing. If you find a medication (including flea and tick products) cheaper from an Internet site, ask your veterinarian to match the price. Many will and you'll save shipping costs and can take the products home with you.

Pet Insurance

Pet health insurance merits serious consideration. For a small, worthwhile, monthly fee, health insurance for your pet can cover the cost of preventive medicine and the treatment of illness and injury. Higher deductibles reduce premiums and make insurance a more viable option for many budgets.

For example, the American Animal Hospital Association believes that most pet owners need coverage for catastrophic expenses. Studies have shown that the majority of pet owners can manage expenses between $500 and $1,000, but would have difficulty with expenses beyond that level. One company we checked with charges $10 a month for a 2-year-old cat, and partially covers accidents, severe illnesses, hospitalizations, etc. Some breeds need more care than others. So, pet insurance would be a good idea for their owners.

Petinsurance.com can be a good on-line resource for pet insurance information.


Local Resources:

You can often find low-cost options for common procedures, such as spaying or neutering, through local humane societies, shelters, the ASPCA, etc. Some shelters operate or know of local subsidized veterinary clinics or veterinary assistance programs. You can go to www.Pets911.com and enter your zip code to find a list of animal shelters, animal control agencies, and other animal care organizations in your community.

National Resources:

If you have a specific breed of dog, locate the National Club for that breed as some offer a veterinary assistance fund. A list of clubs is available at www.akc.org.

The Humane Society of the United States, www.hsus.org, has a list of breed-specific assistance groups and organizations that provide assistance to senior, disables or ill pet owners. Ask your veterinarian to submit an assistance request to the American Animal Hospital Association's (AAHA) "Helping Pets Fund." In order to assure quality, your animal hospital must be AAHA accredited.

To learn more about the program visit www.aahanet.org.