What you can do to cut costs for pet care during inflation

A groomer trims the fur of a Bichon Frise dog at the pet grooming salon "Happy Puppy" in Brussels, Belgium, on Dec. 2, 2017. From regular grooming to food to medical care to the spoiled stylings of pajamas and jackets and special collars, the dollars for pet care add up quickly.

A groomer trims the fur of a Bichon Frise dog at the pet grooming salon "Happy Puppy" in Brussels, Belgium, on Dec. 2, 2017. From regular grooming to food to medical care to the spoiled stylings of pajamas and jackets and special collars, the dollars for pet care add up quickly. (Francois Lenoir, Reuters)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

NEW YORK — When Pamela Keniston sits down to do her monthly budget, she has a new element to account for these days.

Hint: Short blonde fur, barks fiercely at bunnies and goes by the name of Zuzu.

The lovable "supermutt" — a mix of Yorkie, Maltese, Chihuahua and Dachshund — came into Keniston's life in May 2020, early in the pandemic. But Keniston was not prepared for the cost.

From regular grooming, to food, to the spoiled stylings of pajamas and jackets and special collars, the dollars added up quickly. Throw in some medical needs — little Zuzu's knees needed pricey procedures – and the financial realities of pandemic pets can sometimes take new owners aback.

"Having a pet is a big financial commitment," says Keniston, a digital marketing consultant in Chapin, South Carolina. "All those things really add up."

Indeed, the costs of four-legged companionship are staggering: Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, one in five American households, or 23 million, brought a dog or cat into the house, according to the ASPCA.

And a new survey finds they are forking out some $4,500 for yearly care. That is more than pet parents expected in 61% of cases, according to findings from OnePoll, done in partnership with insurer MetLife.

In fact, two in five respondents said that our furry friends are as expensive, or even more so, than dependents of the human variety. No wonder 60% said they tuck away $200 from every paycheck, specifically for their pet's necessities.

So how can pet parents be smart about their spending without completely draining their financial accounts? Here are four tips.

Insurance

For some reason the notion of finding insurance stresses pet parents out: 32% find it overwhelming, according to the MetLife survey.

But you should definitely look into coverage because if you do not have it, you could be forced into some very difficult choices (and huge out-of-pocket bills). You will find the best prices when your pet is still young and has not yet encountered any health conditions.

Comparison shop just like you would for your own policy, weighing monthly cost against issues like deductibles and the percentage covered after that. In 2020, the average annual premium was $594.15 for dogs, $341.81 for cats.

While the upfront costs of insurance are never fun, the return can be well worth it. Little Zuzu's knee problems — "luxating patellas" to be specific — ended up costing around $3,000 to fix, Keniston says. Thankfully, pet insurance just kicked in — and covered 90% of that bill.

Preventative care

If you are looking to save money, it might be very tempting to put off those annual checkups. But you should think long-term.

"Don't skip annual wellness visits, because this is when your veterinarian can potentially catch problems that can be managed or reversed," says Kristen Levine, publisher of the Pet Living blog and co-author of the book "Pampered Pets on a Budget." "This will be less expensive than treating a health condition, possibly a chronic one, that was not prevented earlier."

Food

Pet food has definitely gone "premium" in recent years, but that does not mean you have to pay five-star prices.

Some ways to save up to 30% on that kibble bill, according to Levine: Buy in bulk, but store in airtight containers to preserve freshness. Comparison shop for best prices at Chewy or Amazon, or warehouse outlets like Costco and Sam's Club.

And be sure to maximize the use of promotional savings and coupons. In addition, take advantage of the "subscribe and save" option for regular online purchases.

Medication

One cost you cannot really avoid is medication — either for specific conditions or for ongoing preventative care such as for fleas or heartworm. But you do have some flexibility in where you get those medications from, and how much you pay.

"There are several websites that offer discounts on over-the-counter and prescription medicines, like Chewy.com and 1800petmeds.com," says Brandi Hunter Munden, vice president of communications for the American Kennel Club. "There are also companies that have coupons, like GoodRx."

Of course, as any pet parent will tell you, the love and companionship are worth any costs a hundred times over. Just be aware that it will probably set you back more than you expect.

"It's important to have the budget, and the resources, and the bandwidth in your life. And if you do — then you just can't beat the love of a dog," Keniston says.

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Chris Taylor

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