Per my Integrity Policy, I want to let you know that there are referral links on this page. If you click one of them and purchase supplies for your pets, I may receive a commission. I have only accepted referral partners which also provide the reader with some savings.
Owning an animal at all is admittedly not the most frugal choice. But then again, neither is having a child, and plenty of people do that for a lot of the same reasons. We’re seeking happiness, not the shortest possible path to early retirement. Our pets bring us more comfort and joy than we can ever repay, and for us and other pet owners like us, it’s an investment in our happiness that is worth it many times over.
When it comes to our dogs (we’re not cat owners, but almost all of this advice is applicable), only the best will do. In so many areas, saving on pets is possible without making one bit of difference to their health or happiness.
Pet toys are some of the most drastically marked up goods on the planet. Toys which are literally made from garbage can cost tens of dollars. You can make toys which are just as good at home!
This is one area where I won’t try to reinvent the wheel. The internet is full of amazing sites that show you how to quickly and easily use household items such as rope, or worn out clothing, to fabricate an amazing toy for your pet. Here are some great sites with instructions.
To give you a taste, a few ideas for homemade pet toys I like a lot are:
Bottle in Sock – If your dog or cat isn’t skittish around plastic drinking bottles, shove one in an old and sturdy sock, knot the end, and watch fun and hilarity ensue! Would you believe an equivalent toy at the local mega-pet-store is $7? Insane!
Braided Denim – Take an old pair of jeans and cut it into wide strips. Now cut each strip into three sections lengthwise, leaving it connected at the top by about an inch or two. Braid the three segments, then tie at both ends. Voila! You have a perfect and sturdy tug rope!
Self-Serve Treat – Cats and dogs both get hours of enjoyment our of a plastic water bottle stuffed with treats. They enjoy the mental stimulation of trying to get the treats out, and you save a fortune versus the big red rubber toy.
One of the things that prompted this blog post was a letter in the mail from the local animal licensing authority reminding me that the license fee was due for one of my dogs, and that an updated rabies certificate would be required. It got me thinking about whether there were alternatives to an expensive vet consultation in addition to a marked-up vaccine cost. It turns out for most common vaccinations, there are dozens of options in almost any city to get them done for a fraction of the cost your vet would charge.
Look at local pet stores and shelters for low-cost vaccine clinics. I found that I could get my dog’s rabies shot for $6 at the local shelter. Other vaccines start at as little as $15! What’s more, these prices include a small markup to fund the cost of care for animals at the shelter who have not yet been adopted! Literally everyone wins!
One thing I have seen suggested for the extremely frugal is purchasing parvo or distemper vaccines at a feed store and giving them to your pet. While giving the injection itself is not that complicated, please don’t do this. There are a couple of extremely good reasons not to– first, you may not get the dosage right. Second, and far more importantly, you don’t know the provenance of the vaccine. It may have been stored at incorrect temperatures, have been mishandled, or it may simply be a less effective formulation of the vaccine. I don’t know about you, but I’m not willing to risk my pet’s life to save a few bucks. Remember, we’re only looking to save where it won’t affect our pet’s happiness or health!
We love our vets, but veterinary care is a for-profit industry. It’s okay to ask questions of your veterinarian about the necessity of tests and treatments. It is common to have a test suggested when the outcome will be the same regardless of the diagnosis.
In non-emergency situations, be willing to seek a second or third estimate. Veterinarians in smaller cities and towns are often less expensive than in large cities. If the procedure or test is routine, you may find some saving by comparison shopping.
If you are truly desperate, most cities and towns have charities which exist to help cover the cost of care for low or no-income pet owners. The Humane Society has a list of organizations willing to help you. Please only use these resources if you don’t have other options as their resources are limited.
For medicines, including basic flea and tick medications, we save a lot by ordering online and setting up a subscription. This is a critical cost saving measure because it avoids having to go back to the vet for a renewal in most cases. If your pet is on meds (or you just want a cheaper way to get flea, tick, and heartworm meds), we use PetPlus (referral link, will save you $20 on your first order).
While the value of training in-person cannot be overestimated, there is tons and tons of great information about training your pet on the internet. The most important thing to remember when taking on the burden of training by yourself is to remain patient, and remain positive. Training takes time, and animals do not respond well to negative conditioning. Make lots of high-value treats (see below) and repeat your training every single day until it is rock solid.
If you do decide to seek real world training, call your local shelter or rescue. Many of them put on discounted training programs to prevent animals being turned in by inexperienced pet owners.
Our dogs are pretty sturdy, but we want them to have the best and most personalized care possible given how much we travel right now. We might be able to stomach a night or two in a kennel, but any more than that and we start to get very concerned about our dog’s wellbeing.
If you’re looking for pet care, Rover is a fantastic service in a couple of ways for the frugal. First off, you can find boarding services for a fraction of the cost of kenneling a dog or cat at a full petcare facility. Second off, and what was critical to us, your pet is cared for in an home, which is a way less stressful environment on them than your average kennel. Good news, Rover offers cat care as well.
If you want to make a little extra money by doing some pet care yourself, you can also sign up as a caregiver (Disclosure: pet caregiver referral link). You get to set your own rates and availability, decide which pets you want to accept or deny, and otherwise have as much flexibility as you want. If, like us, you’ve already got multiple four-legged family members underfoot, it may be possible to add another temporarily, with minimal to no disruption to you, and make some money doing it.
Our experience using Rover for 11 days earlier this year was pretty uniformly positive. We found a sitter that gave us a good vibe, and who had great rates (we paid about $20 a day). We messaged back and forth and decided to have our dogs meet in person to make sure everything would be comfortable since it was the first time we were leaving one of our dogs alone. The dogs and the sitter’s children did fine around each other, so we both confirmed the booking. We dropped our dog off the morning we left, and received pictures through the Rover site daily until we got back. It’s something we would definitely do again.
Of course, even better than cheap pet care is free pet care. We regularly provide care for our friends who own pets, and have in turn had our friends care for our pets while we were out of town. Make sure your friends know that you are willing to help them, and they will be happy to help you in return!
This is another area where we don’t cut as many corners as we probably could, but still manage to find savings. If you want or need to save money on pet food, there are more options that simply downgrading the quality of their food.
Loyalty programs have been an effective way to save serious money. Both our local pet store and our preferred food brand have a loyalty program. The pet shop rewards us with 10% off ever $200 we spend. The food we purchase offers us a free large bag of food for every ten we buy. This all adds up to significant savings.
Coupons are also really helpful when purchasing pet food. Follow your brand on Twitter and Facebook (or if you and your pet’s stomach are flexible, follow many of them) and you are likely to find discount codes and coupons.
Buy the largest container of food. This is almost always the best deal, but check the per-pound price just to be sure.
Buy online when possible (this goes for more than just food). Better prices are usually available online and free shipping is easy to come by at most sites.
One other option that may save you some money is scheduling your pet food delivery to occur regularly. You can get 5-10% off by being a reliable customer.
Small amounts of relatively simple pet treats cost a fortune. You can save a ton by making them yourself. The gourmet pet-treat chef needs only one tool: A food dehydrator. I know, I know, food dehydrators are expensive. But how about a box fan? Check out this video from frugal paragon Alton Brown.
Now, dehydrate all the things! Banana slices and inexpensive meats are nice choices.
Another option is to head on down to your nearest asian market, buy some pig ears, trim off any bone or cartilage, cut into strips, brush with olive oil, then bake on a cooling rack in the oven for about four hours at 300F.
There are so many reasons to adopt your best friend. The most obvious is that purebred dogs are generally prohibitively expensive, but there are many others. The world is filled with homeless, wonderful dogs, and your adoption fee generally goes towards further operations for the shelter or rescue. Without you, an unwanted pet may end up euthanized.
A well-debated concept between pure-breed and mixed-breed owners is the concept of hybrid vigor, which basically suggests that mixed-breed dogs are more hardy and resistant to injury, illness, and genetic anomalies. Whether you are completely certain one way or another, you can at least assume that an adopted pet will be as healthy as any purebred dog, if not more so. Better health leads to lower vet bills!
Our experience was also that veterinarians may offer a free first consult and free immunizations the first time you visit with your rescued pet.
Yes, there are even tax savings to be found in owning a pet. When your towels and blankets get old and worn out, please drop them by a shelter. If your pet has toys or treats they don’t care about, take those to the shelter too! And of course, there’s always good old-fashioned money donations. All of these are tax-deductible (assuming the shelter or rescue is a 501(c)(3) organization).
If you are looking for a friend to play with your own pet, but not ready to take on the burden of another pet long-term, consider fostering for a rescue or shelter. Your costs when fostering are also tax-deductible.
If you or someone you love is physically disabled, and you use a service animal, all of your costs for the animal are tax-deductible as a medical expense.
As always, none of the above is tax advice. If you have any uncertainty it’s always a good idea to seek an opinion from a tax professional.
Taking on a pet is a commitment to care for them for their entire lifetime. I am not among the frugal people who think that rehoming a pet to allow you to save more is acceptable. My dogs have already given me more than I can repay in love, loyalty, and inspiration to be a better person. This is one debt I carry with pride. This means that someday, the bill will come due, and we will all have to say goodbye.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that when we lost one of our dogs last year, he was euthanized at an expensive specialty clinic. That said, we were already there seeking a second opinion about his sudden and fatal condition, and we have a number of close friends working there, so we felt that we wouldn’t be paying a severe markup.
If you know that the time is near for one of your pets, consider going to a local shelter when the time comes to put them to sleep. Yes, you will save a lot of money, but even more importantly, you will be funding services for homeless animals at the inevitably cash-strapped shelter. It’s one way for a heartbreaking and terrible time to produce something positive, and that may help give you some peace of mind.
A more sensitive topic is the disposition of your pet’s remains. You will generally have the option to cremate your pet amongst many others (a portion of the mixed ashes are returned to you), individually (cremated with other pets, but in a sectioned portion of the chamber, ashes which mostly belong to your pet are returned to you), or completely private (your pet is cremated in the chamber alone). These are, of course, in increasing order of cost. You also have options on how and whether the ashes are returned to you. I will refrain from making any endorsement of a particular level of service, but I will say that we opted for one of the higher end options for our dog, and have his ashes and his collar in our home. Some day, we’ll plant a tree with his ashes, but seeing him and doing the little I can to care for what remains gives me a little bit of solace.
Saving on Pets – You Don’t Love Them Less
It’s important to uncouple cost from quality of care. I will admit- when our dog became suddenly very ill, and the slim hope of a wildly expensive surgery was the only option offered, I jumped at it. What is money for, if not to preserve what we love? That said, there is no difference in my affection for my pet if I pay $6 for a vaccination instead of $60 for the very same product. My dog doesn’t really care if his toy is made with a sock instead of a sock-like-material.
What do you think? What other ways can you find to make your pet happy and healthy without breaking the bank?