The SPCA is often asked for advice on how to save money on pet care. Keeping pets in their original homes -- and out of animal shelters -- is a priority for the SPCA. To help pet owners, the following is a resource of practical advice gathered from years of experience here in the Triangle community. Please try every available alternative before giving your pet up to an animal shelter. Use the money-saving tips below and remember the best place for your pet is with you!
Are You Thinking About Acquiring a Pet?
First and foremost have realistic expectations about what owning a pet costs. Food and vet care alone can add up to $1,000 a year or even more. Because this commitment is for the lifetime of the pet, make sure you are ready financially.
1. Don’t buy your pet. Adopting a pet from an animal shelter is much less expensive than buying a pet at a pet store or through other sources. Not only are purebred animals expensive, they can be prone to genetic conditions and over-breeding. Adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue group will save you a significant amount in basic vet bills. Like the SPCA of Wake County, many local rescue groups and animal shelters offer a veterinary medical package of services prior to adoption which include spay/neuter surgery, vaccines and deworming. The SPCA adoption fees are $95.00 for dogs and $45 for cats. (Vet care services worth over $300.)
2. If you are purchasing your pet from a reputable breeder, check your contract to see if there is a health guarantee that covers your pet’s ailment. If the breeder is resistant, rethink your decision to get the animal from that source.
3. Be cautious of the “free to good home” ads in the newspaper and Craig’s List. You will need to invest in the vet care of these free pets. (See low-cost spay / neuter resources below.)
You Currently Own a Pet:
1. Commit to preventative care -- yes, this will save you money on vet bills. Have your pet spayed / neutered (it prevents certain types of cancer and curbs wandering) and make sure they are vaccinated and protected from diseases and parasites.
- The Saving Lives Spay/Neuter Animal Clinic *Note: Many of the clinics will provide a low-cost round of vaccines and disease testing.*
- Preventative care also means preventing accidents and hazards by making sure your pet is safe and well cared for. This may seem like a no-brainer but the treatments for three common veterinary fixes that can run into the thousands of dollars are preventable: 1. Heat stroke (keep your pet out of the heat); 2. Pet hit in the road (keep your pet safely confined); 3. Accidental poisoning. Click here to familiarize yourself with common household dangers that can be toxic to pets.
2. Don’t try to save money by switching to a low quality, cheap pet food. This may seem counter-intuitive but stick with the higher quality brands. The low quality brands have more fillers and your pet will have to eat more and will produce more waste. In the long run, the higher quality food is the more economical purchase. Buy a bigger bag of the high quality stuff and store it in an airtight container.
3. Work with your veterinarian on money saving options. Check with your veterinarian to see if they offer a wellness package which includes discounted prices on routine services such as vaccinations and spaying/neutering. Some also offer geriatric health checkup packages, which is important for preventative maintenance in senior pets.
4. Ask your vet for a group discount. Do you have more than one pet? Many vets will offer a 10%-15% discount for multiple pets or simply charge one office visit fee for multiple animals.
5. Ask your vet to match online drug retailer prices. There are several online companies http://www.1800petmeds.com/ ; http://www.petrx.com/ ; http://www.drsfostersmith.com/ and http://www.discountpetmedicines.com/ that sell prescription flea and tick control products and routine medications. Get a price quote from these outside companies, then ask your veterinarian whether he or she will match the price. Many vets will price match and even if they don’t as a general practice, there’s no harm in asking.
6. Ask your vet about new guidelines for booster vaccines. New veterinary guidelines suggest a vaccination for some diseases every three years instead of every year. These vaccinations can be just as effective and less expensive (except for puppies and kittens who still need regular boosters). Although your pet should still see a vet yearly, you can save considerable cash with vaccine boosters every three years instead of every year. Read more about this here: dog vaccine guidelines and cat vaccine guidelines.
7. Can I give my own pets vaccines to save money? The SPCA of Wake County strongly recommends you do not do this yourself, mainly because if your pet has an adverse reaction, you will not be as equipped as your vet to handle the emergency. Since this is a very popular question we receive on the subject of saving money on pet care, we will address it here. Except for rabies shots, all other core vaccines can be bought at online pet pharmacies and administered at home. You can vaccinate your own pet but be careful about using your new found skills on any pet other than your own. You can be charged for practicing veterinary medicine without a license and get in all sorts of trouble. Again, we strongly caution against doing this yourself and recommend going to a veterinarian. If you are going to vaccinate your pets, read this informative resource from Doctors Foster and Smith: Vaccinating Cats; Vaccinating Dogs.
Some vets will administer the vaccine for free if you bring it with you during a routine check-up. Explain to the vet that money is tight and you don’t want to stop seeking vet care altogether.
8. Price shop. Wake County area veterinarians can vary dramatically in the pricing structure that they charge clients. Veterinarians are also small business owners and have overhead costs that are factored into your pet’s health care pricing. There is nothing wrong with calling around and price shopping for pet care if it means your pet stays healthy and in your home.
*One of the main economic advantages to staying with the same veterinarian (besides the relationship that your vet will have with your pet) is a vet that you have a client history with will be more likely to be receptive to any special requests, group discounts, or request to pay off bills in installment plans.
Your pet has a medical emergency
Your pet has a medical emergency, and you find yourself faced with expensive vet bills that you cannot afford to pay, consider these helpful suggestions from the Humane Society of the United States:
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) recommends that, in addition to preparing for routine pet-care costs, you regularly set aside money to cover unexpected veterinary bills or consider pet health insurance. For example, create a special "pet savings account" and contribute money to it on a regular basis.
Another great option is to purchase a pet health insurance policy. The HSUS has partnered with Petplan USA, to offer great savings to their members. Petplan USA is affiliated with Petplan UK—the world's largest and most trusted pet insurance company and recommended by more pet owners and veterinarians than any other. Use whichever option works best for you. The important thing is to have a plan and stick to it.
If, despite your planning, your pet incurs major veterinary expenses that you have trouble affording, consider these suggestions:
1. Ask your veterinarian if he or she will let you work out a payment plan. Many veterinarians are willing to work out a weekly or monthly payment plan so that you do not have to pay the entire cost of veterinary care up front.
2. If you have a specific breed of dog, contact the National Club for that breed. (The American Kennel Club (AKC), http://www.akc.org/, has a list of the national dog clubs.) In some cases, these clubs offer a veterinary financial assistance fund. In addition, The HSUS has a list of breed-specific assistance groups.
3. Ask your veterinarian to submit an assistance request to the American Animal Hospital Association's (AAHA) "Helping Pets Fund." In order to qualify, your animal hospital must be AAHA accredited. To learn more about the program visit the AAHA web site. To find an AAHA accredited hospital in your area, search online at http://www.pets911.com/. 4. Ashley's Angel Fund is a 501(c)3 non-proffit charity designed to provide residents of North Carolina with financial assistance for critical vet care. Contact them at http://www.ashleyfund.org/ or Ashley's Angel Fund, PO Box 99457, Raleigh, NC 27624-9457. 5. Use your credit card. Ask for a higher credit limit or a cash advance.
6. Contact Care Credit at http://www.carecredit.com/
7. The following is a list of organizations that provide financial assistance to pet owners in need. Please keep in mind that each organization is independent and has their own set of rules and guidelines. Therefore you will have to investigate each one separately to determine if you qualify for assistance:
IMOM Inc., http://www.imom.org/
The Pet Fund, http://www.thepetfund.com/
Good Sam Fund, http://www.goodsamfund.org/
Angels for Animals, http://www.angels4animals.org/
Brown Dog Foundation, http://www.browndogfoundation.org/home
Feline Veterinary Emergency Assistance Program, http://www.fveap.org/
Feline Outreach, http://www.felineoutreach.org/
Cats In Crisis http://www.catsincrisis.org/
The Perseus Foundation (Cancer specific), http://www.perseusfoundation.org/
Orthodogs' Silver Lining Foundation (Orthopedic Cases and Service Dogs), http://www.oslf.org/
Canine Cancer Awareness, http://www.caninecancerawareness.org/
Cody's Club (Radiation treatments) http://codysclub.bravehost.com/
Diabetic Pets Fund http://www.petdiabetes.net/fund/
Please remember that, depending on the severity of your pet's illness or injury, you may still lose your pet even after great expense. Discuss the prognosis and treatment options thoroughly with your veterinarian, including whether surgery or treatment would just cause your animal discomfort without preserving a life of good quality.
Also Remember That a Little Preventive Care Can Go a Long Way
Having your pet spayed or neutered, keeping her shots up to date, and keeping your pet safely confined can prevent serious and costly health problems. If you have trouble affording the cost to spay or neuter your pet, contact your local animal shelter. Located right next to the SPCA's Pet Adoption Center is the Saving Lives Spay/Neuter Animal Clinic. They offer affordable spay/neuter options and preventable care at the time of surgery.
Breed Specific Assistance Programs The Boston Terrier Rescue Net, http://www.bostonrescue.net/
Special Needs Dobermans, http://www.doberman911.org/
Disabled Dachshund Society, http://www.ourdds.org/
Dougal’s Helping Paw (Scottish Terriers, West Highland White Terriers and other small, short legged terriers), http://www.welcome.to/dougalsfund
Labrador Harbor, http://www.labradorharbor.org/
Labrador Lifeline, http://www.labradorlifeline.org/
Westimed (West Highland White Terriers), http://www.westiemed.org/