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Your Dog Doesn’t Need that Sweater (and other Money-saving Tips for Pets)

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My husband and I have always had pets. Even before we got married, we adopted a wonderful ball of black Lab fur from the local shelter. Our love-child, Hank, was a handful, but we adored him. 

I also had a spaniel mix from my high school/college years, so we began our life with 2 dogs. And they ruled the house. 

We installed a dog door so they could enter the backyard at will—like in the middle of the night for a romp in the mud before jumping on our bed. 

Or like once during our absence when Hank decided to drag a sleeping bag into the yard and make it snow. That was festive. 

Like so many families, once we had children the dogs began to have boundaries. We locked them in a kennel when we were gone. They no longer slept on the bed. They became well-beloved pets instead of children substitutes. 

Today, more and more people are opting to have pets instead of, or at least before, children. Especially in cities, such as Seattle and San Francisco, cats and dogs outnumber children by a large number. 

Of course, there are many reasons for this—young people aren’t marrying as soon, singles living alone want companionship—and I get it. Pets are wonderful. However, they are also expensive. 

The Price of Pet Ownership

In 2019, Americans spent $95.7 billion dollars on their pets. And the amount keeps rising every year. In 1996, Americans only spent $21 billion on their pets, so this isn’t a small change. 

So why has the cost gotten so high? Of course, some of the expense can be attributed to inflation, but the costs have outstripped it. Here’s a breakdown of 2019 from the American Pet Products Association:

  • Pet Food and Treats: $36.9 billion
  • Supplies, Live Animals, and OTC Meds: $19.2 billion
  • Vet Care and Product Sales: $29.3 billion
  • Boarding, Grooming, Insurance, Training, Pet-sitting/walking: $10.7 billion

With 67% of U.S. households owning a pet, or 84.9 millions homes, a huge portion of Americans are lavishing their furry (or otherwise) friends with amenities unheard of 20 years ago. 

So what can you, as a pet owner or potential pet owner, do to save money while still showing your fur babies some love? Well, I’m going to give you some practical advice, one dedicated pet owner to another. (I’m going to focus on dogs, the most-owned and expensive pet, but the principles can apply to any animal.)

Your Dog Does Not Need that Sweater (and other Money-saving Tips for Pets)

  1. Choosing a dog: I know that finding a puppy is a long process and for many people, it’s like adopting a child. You get very attached to the idea of your “dream.” 

Yet designer breeding has become big money, and it’s not uncommon to spend over $1000 for a dog. My advice? Stop trying to follow the trends of dog ownership and go for the lovely mutts with no pedigree and no hefty price tag. 

Where to find such a thing? Animal shelters and ads on Craigslist (yes, avoid puppy mills), especially in rural areas, can be a great source of the average nondescript pup. We have found all of our animals this way, and they have been the best-behaved, healthiest, and well-tempered animals.

  1. Pet Toys, Pet Clothing, Pet Accessories: The manufacturers of these products are laughing themselves to the bank. Billions of dollars are spent every year on very non-essential items. 

Take for instance the sweater. If you haven’t noticed, your pet came equipped with a built-in coat. They don’t need another one. 

Or the litany of chews, toys, and plastic playthings that rival a child’s toy-box. Dogs are color blind and pretty happy to chew or fetch anything. Go to the thrift store and buy old stuffed animals. Get cheap rawhide bones. Our essential: cheap tennis balls and a ball-thrower. 

Finally, animal beds can be a ripoff. Get something washable that lasts. Our dog loves an elevated sling bed that we can simply vacuum and hose off. 

Growing up, I don’t remember my dog even having toys. We threw sticks and cheap balls and took him for walks. We had one raggedly stuffed animal for him, undoubtedly one of my old ones. And he was happy. 

Don’t fall in the consumer trap of flashy pet stores. Avoid them at all costs. 

  1. Pet Food: This one is tricky. Pet food is pricey, no doubt. So do your research, study the ingredients, and find a generic or inexpensive brand that suits your needs. We’ve always done middle-of-the-road Iams and our dogs are super healthy and live long lives. 

One caution I have learned over the years: Beware of the serving sizes on the bags. Pet food companies want you to feed your pet more so they sell more product. Go for the low number in the range, and unless your pet loses too much weight, it is enough. 

  1. Boarding and Pet-sitting services: I may ruffle some feathers here, but before even purchasing a pet, especially a high-care animal like a dog, consider how much time you really have for it. 

If you are working all day so that you must spend money daily for pet-sitting or walking services, maybe you should rethink your decision. Not only is this very expensive over time, but it is hard on a dog to spend so much time alone. 

So, like guilty parents, you buy him more toys. And treats. And wonder why he chewed your favorite shoes. 

If you aren’t home much, maybe you really shouldn’t have an animal, or you should opt for an easier care cat—cats barely care whether you are home, and they don’t require walks.

A part of the Family

We still have a dog and a cat, and they are a special part of our family. Our cat in fact may be my husband’s favorite. 

So I fully support responsible and financially feasible pet ownership. But I beg you, do think about the costs and commitment before taking the plunge, and do not get swept up into the billion-dollar pet consumer industry. 

Pets 20 years ago were happy with their families without being such a burden to their owner’s pocketbook, and they can be today, too.

Contributor’s opinions are their own. Always do your own due diligence before investing.

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