The joy of owning a pet may be priceless, but the cost of caring for one isn't cheap.
And in these hard economic times, when health care and grocery bills for human family members are sky-high, some pet owners are having trouble paying for their animals' needs.
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"We're caring for more animals than ever," said Madison Carey, director of development at the Lexington Humane Society. "About 25 percent of the animals coming in now are due to the economy."
Area shelter directors and veterinarians and the American Kennel Club offer these tips for saving money on pet care.
Every pet should have a yearly vet checkup. The cost pays off, for your pet will live longer. A problem the vet finds can be treated before it turns into a serious illness and a major expense.
Many vets give discounts if you bring in all of your pets on the same day. Be sure to ask about: alternative/less expensive treatments, generic drugs, free samples, and whether the vet can meet the price of an online pharmacy.
If your pet needs regular treatment such as subcutaneous fluids, ask the vet tech to teach you how to administer the treatment at home.
Also, take advantage of pet clinics, like free rabies shots, and look for coupons at the vet's office and pet stores for flea and tick preventives.
Ask your vet which vaccinations your pet can safely skip, but remember that vaccinations costs far less than treatment of distemper and other major animal diseases, which can be fatal.
Look into health insurance for your pet, but read the policy carefully to be sure it would be a good deal, given your pet's age and health and that routine vet visits and treatments are included in the coverage.
Ask your vet for advice in selecting a plan.
This second major expense of owning a pet is also one where spending in the short time saves more money in the long term. Feed your animal quality food that your veterinarian recommends. Higher quality pet food has better ingredients to help your pet stay healthy.
Get a frequent buyers or preferred shoppers card, such as Incredipet's Club Paws or PetSmart's, which give discounts or free food. Watch for sales at pet stores.
Feed your animal the appropriate food for its age and don't overfeed. If your pet has gained weight, ask your vet about switching to another type of food.
Larger bags of pet food usually offer the best savings. Try to buy when the brand is on sale or with a coupon.
Exercise and play
Overweight animals are more likely to develop diabetes, arthritis, heart trouble, cancer, and other health problems that are expensive to treat.
Spay or neuter your pet
The Lexington Humane Society has a low-cost program. Animals who are spayed or neutered live longer, avoid certain cancers, and the pet owner doesn't have the expense of caring for a litter.
Keep your petconfined to home
Dogs who stay inside or in fenced yards and cats who stay inside are far less likely to be hit by a car or attacked by another animal, which can lead to lengthy, expensive treatment and even surgery.
Groom your pet
Mouth infections can spread and infected teeth or gum disease costs more to treat than preventive care. If your pet won't let you use a child's toothbrush, get a finger glove brush. Ask the vet tech to show you how to do this.
Also, save money by bathing your pet and trimming its nails yourself.
Make your ownpet toys and treats
Empty tubes from food wrap and no-longer-lively tennis balls are good free toys. Instead of buying two colorful balls for $4 to $5, buy a package of six ping-pong balls for $3.
You can find recipes online for baking healthy biscuits and other pet treats. Carrots, broccoli, or apple chunks also make healthy, inexpensive treats.
Shop at garage sales
Look for pet carriers, scratching posts, bowls and other items at garage sales and thrift shops.
Buy in bulk
Calculate the savings per item or per ounce in buying cat litter and other supplies in large sizes. Look online for bargains given for bulk buys. Use coupons when possible.