9 tricks to save money as a dog owner

Spoiling your pet doesn't have to chew into your budget.

Woman talking selfie with dog in park Credit: Getty Images / RyanJLane

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There’s a lot to love about owning a dog—including a host of health and social benefits—but the price tag? Not so great.

Dog owners typically spend $2,000 on their pet within the first year alone and more than $1,150 a year beyond that point. But there are plenty of ways to reduce those costs while still giving your pooch everything he deserves. Here are several strategies for keeping your dog costs low.

1. Adopt a dog instead of buying from a breeder

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Adoption centers often waive fees, plus vaccinate, spray or neuter, and sometimes microchip animals.

While you can buy a dog from a breeder or a store, it’s the more expensive route. Pet store puppies typically cost upward of $1,000 or more, and a breeder will likely double that price tag.

On the other hand, adopting from a shelter typically costs $118 to $667—and many organizations periodically waive the fee throughout the year. Plus, “the animal has typically been examined by a veterinarian, vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and may be microchipped, which all save on costs for the new owner,” says Kelly DiCicco, manager of promotions at the national American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Adoption Center.

2. Use preventive care

Preventive health care may cost a little upfront, but problems diagnosed in the early stages will cost much less to treat than a full-blown case. “For example, monthly flea and tick preventives cost around $10 a month,” says Dr. Katy Nelson, senior veterinarian at Chewy, an online store for pet products. “Whereas treatment for a flea infestation or tick-related illnesses can cost well over a couple of hundred dollars, along with months of treatment.”

These low-cost habits can keep your dog healthy and help prevent costly treatments:

  • Consider getting pet health insurance. If an expensive emergency vet bill would strain your budget, invest in pet health insurance while your dog is healthy. The average cost for a policy is $44 per month—and some employers even offer plans through benefit packages.
  • Practice good dental care. Dental disease and plaque buildup can cause all kinds of problems for your dog, from heart and kidney disease to gingivitis, receding gums, and tooth loss. Avoid potentially expensive procedures by buying a dog-friendly toothpaste and toothbrush kit (most are around $15) and brushing your dog’s teeth at least a few times a week.
  • Prevent ticks and fleas. Depending on what you give your dog, preventive meds may cost $10 to $25 a month. But they’re well worth the cost. Fleas and ticks can transmit diseases and cause expensive health problems, so talk with your vet about solutions for keeping these pests at bay.
  • Schedule wellness exams. Younger dogs typically need checkups and vaccinations annually, while older dogs might need more frequent care. The cost of an exam varies by vet, but they can help you spot problems early.
  • Make sure your pet gets enough exercise. Exercise can help your pet maintain a healthy weight and ward off age-related diseases—for free. Whether your dog enjoys playing catch inside or taking an outdoor walk, they should get around 30 minutes to two hours of exercise every day, depending on the dog’s size.

3. Shop around for a veterinarian

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Dog owners will want to do their research when choosing a veterinarian—and that includes their rates.

The most critical factor in finding a good veterinarian is choosing someone you trust—and the second is affordability.

Every vet sets their own prices, which means you could find the best deals by shopping around. Vets in smaller nearby towns may charge lower fees, while veterinary schools might offer reduced prices. To find someone who’s reputable, ask friends and family for recommendations, check online reviews, and run a Google search to uncover potential issues. Once you’ve narrowed your options, make a list and call around to ask about routine costs and potential discounts.

If you’re in a financial pinch and your dog needs medical care, check out the Human Society’s list of national organizations that provide financial assistance to pet owners in need.

4. Ask your vet about lower-priced dog food brands

Dog food typically runs about $259 a year, and this is one area where DIY won’t save you much. High-quality packaged pet food is often more cost-effective than a homemade diet, DiCicco says.

You can keep costs low by talking with your vet about inexpensive dog food. They’ll help you find a low-cost option that still meets your dog’s health needs at their particular life stage. Some companies help you save further with monthly food subscriptions. For example, Chewy offers a decent discount on your first automated shipment and 5% off future deliveries.

You can also treat your dog on the cheap. Search for DIY recipes for dog treats that are vet-approved and use pantry ingredients such as flour, peanut butter, and broth.

5. Invest in high-quality toys

Toy 2
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If your dog is an aggressive chewer, you may want to toy with investing in durable options.

If your dog goes through toys in mere hours, it probably costs you a ton to keep them entertained. Save on this cost by making sure every toy you buy is high-quality. Read through customer reviews, check how the toy is constructed, and consider what type of player your pet is.

“If your pet is gentle and prefers ‘nose work,’ then a hide-and-seek toy or treat dispenser may be a good option,” Nelson says. “If they’re an aggressive chewer, a KONG or something more durable might be the best quality toy for them.”

You can also make your own dog toys, but keep safety in mind. Regularly inspect the toys for damage and get rid of anything that’s falling apart.

6. Do a dog-sitting swap

Pet sitters charge anywhere from $30 to $85 a night for their services, but you might be able to get around this cost by trading services with a friend. Set expectations by discussing how often you typically go out of town and what your dog will need while you’re gone.

7. Do your own grooming

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Dog owners can trim costs by tackling grooming at home.

Dogs with long hair might need to visit the groomer every few months, which can add up to around $300 a year. But a good clipper set costs about $100 and lasts a few years if you’re willing to give dog grooming a try yourself.

“Bathing, ear cleaning, and nail trimming are all things that can easily be done at home,” Nelson says. “Leave things like dematting and anal glands to the pros, though, as injuries can occur due to inexperienced, but well-meaning, pet parents.”

For pets with longer coats, check out online tutorials to learn proper grooming techniques. You’ll need good equipment such as clippers, mat brushes, and possibly a Dremel tool for long nails. Keep styptic powder on hand in case you cut a nail too short. Ear cleaner, cotton balls, eye wipes, and waterless shampoo are always good to stock up on, too.

8. Look for deals

Pet supplies, pet prescriptions, food, and toys can add up to $60 a month or more, but doing some legwork can help you find the best deals. Here are a few ways to save on these expenses:

  • Buy your pet supplies in bulk.
  • Sign up for auto-ship deals, which usually come with a 5% to 10% discount.
  • Follow your favorite brands on social media or sign up for newsletters. They’ll often share discounts and sales.
  • Use a browser plug-in, such as Capital One Shopping, to help you automatically find deals online.
  • Buy your pet medicine online if it's cheaper than what your vet charges.

9. Spay or neuter your dog

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Veterinarians generally recommend spaying or neutering your dog within their first six to nine months, but ask your own vet for guidance. Older dogs can undergo this treatment as well. This procedure can cost anywhere from $60 to $200, but it can prevent serious health problems such as uterine, ovarian, and testicular cancers. It’s also more cost-effective than raising a litter of puppies.

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