6 Ways To Tame The Costs Of Having A Pet

As nice as it is to have a furry, feathered or fishy companion around the house, between food, medicine, the vet and other expenses, it can sometimes add up to a lot of red ink in your checkbook.

That’s why our pet-loving partners at Consumer Reports have come up with a list of six ways you can cut down on the cost of your animal sidekick.

1. Don’t pay a premium for pet food.
“A significant part of the national pet-food bill goes for so-called premium and super-premium varieties. But ‘premium’ has no legal definition in terms of nutritional quality.” Even in cases where pets have special dietary needs, CR says you’re likely to find significant price differences among equally appropriate foods. Definitely hit up the big box stores for pet food bargains, says Consumer Reports. Their secret shoppers found that Target and Walmart often had the lowest prices compared to supermarkets and specialty retailers. Among the least expensive pet foods CR found (on a unit-price basis) were Costco’s Kirkland Signature, PetSmart’s Grreat Choice, Safeway’s store brand, and Walmart’s Ol’ Roy.

2. Consider new options for flea and tick protection.
The patent has expired on fipronil, one of the active ingredients in Frontline Plus, opening the market to competitors. CR found two that were new to the market, SentryFiproGuard Plus at Petco and PetArmor Plus at Walmart. The savings can be sizable. PetArmor Plus was the best deal CR saw: A three-month supply cost $28, compared with $50 for FiproGuard Plus and $62 for Frontline Plus at Petco.

And comparison shop online before you buy. CR found cheaper prices at 1-800-PetMeds, Drs. Foster & Smith and PetCareRx than at Petco or PetSmart. But the internet sellers didn’t sell PetArmorPlus, and only two of the three carried FiproGuard Plus when CR checked in early June.

3. Comparison shop for your pet’s veterinary care.
“Because veterinary care is an infrequent, sometimes emergency expenditure, it’s difficult for consumers to gauge what constitutes a fair price for any of the hundreds of services their pet might require. The best time to comparison shop is when your pet needs a routine checkup, not when you’re stressed out by a sick or injured animal.”

Consumer Reports suggests you call at least two or three nearby vets to ask what their physical-exam fee is. The magazine found that vets often set the rest of their fees as a percentage or multiple of the exam fee, so a doctor who charges less for the exam will likely charge you less when it comes time to repair Fluffernutter’s fractured tibia.

4. Don’t automatically get pet medicines from the vet.
About two-thirds of the pet owners CR surveyed said they buy their pet medicines from the vet who prescribes them. While that may be expedient, it’s often not cheap, as vets’ markups over wholesale start at 100 percent and frequently hit 160 percent, plus a $5 to $15 dispensing fee.

If your pet is taking a medication that’s also prescribed to humans, you might be able to have the prescription filled inexpensively at a chain drugstore, supermarket pharmacy, or big-box retailer. Walgreens allows customers to enroll their pets as family members in its Prescription Savings Club. Another option is to shop at one of the Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Eleven such sites currently exist, including 1-800-PetMeds, Drs. Foster & Smith, KV Vet Supply, and PetCareRX.

5. Think twice before you buy pet health insurance.
While a monthly payment of anywhere from $10 to $90 might seem like a sensible way to protect yourself from incurring expensive vet bills later, CR’s survey, which analyzed policies marketed by insurers representing roughly 90% of the pet-insurance market, found that “none would have reimbursed more than the premiums they charged for a basically healthy dog over a 10-year life span. Only when CR looked at extreme and uncommon situations involving two very sick cats did all the policies pay out more than a pet-owner would have paid in.”

6. Take simple steps now to prevent costly health problems.
“Brushing your dog’s teeth with chicken flavored toothpaste or your cat’s with the fish-flavored variety might seem silly, but it’s a preventive measure that can be beneficial. Tooth plaque can lead to periodontal disease in pets, which, in turn, can cause kidney and lung disease.”

Keeping your pets’ shots current (without over-vaccinating) and not overfeeding your pets will go a long way toward saving on vet and medicine bills that come later in the animals’ life.

Tame your pet costs [Consumer Reports]