Pet ownership can be rewarding and therapeutic; I highly recommend it. But pet ownership can also get expensive. Some pet owners spend more at the veterinarian than for their own medical care.
With today's advances in veterinary science, many injuries and illnesses are now treatable, when in the past, euthanasia was the only option. Pet insurance can help, but it, too, is expensive, and it usually doesn't cover the basics.
I can't offer advice on life-or-death decisions for an animal who has become your best friend or even a full-fledged member of your family. But here are a few general suggestions to keep pet ownership more affordable:
Adopt your pet from your local shelter or an animal rescue group, rather than buying from a breeder or a pet store. Some pet stores acquire their animals from puppy mills where conditions are often unsanitary and inhumane, resulting in health and behavior problems down the road. For a modest adoption fee, many rescue groups will provide you with a healthy animal that has been spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and micro-chipped, and they will often take the animal back or exchange it for another if it turns out not to be a good fit (usually minus the adoption fee). But you want a pure-bred, not a mutt? Did you know that approximately 25% of dogs in shelters are pure-bred? And if you can't find the breed you want in your local shelter, check out breed-specific rescue groups.
Research the breed you want before adopting your pet. The reason so many pure-bred dogs end up in shelters is because pet owners did not know what behaviors and traits to expect, and fell in love with a breed that was not a good fit for their situation. If you buy a dog from a breeder and then have to surrender it later, you stand to lose a sizable investment, not to mention the emotional loss.
Get your pet spayed or neutered, or soon you will have many more mouths to feed. Cat and dog overpopulation is rampant. Contrary to popular belief, cats and dogs can have their first litter at four months of age—when they are still kittens or puppies themselves! Millions of healthy, adoptable cats and dogs are put to death in shelters every year, simply because there are not enough homes. Don't be a part of the problem by assuming you'll be able to give away your pet's offspring. If you balk at the price of surgery at a full-service veterinarian, check out a low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter clinic or mobile vet. Spaying/neutering helps your pet live a longer, healthier life, because it reduces the risk of cancer and eliminates much unwanted behavior associated with mating, such as roaming and fighting, which can result in expensive-to-treat injuries.
Keep your pet's vaccinations up to date. This is especially important if you have your pet groomed or need to board it, thus exposing it to other animals. Preventive care—including flea treatment and de-worming—can help avoid expensive vet bills later. Some veterinarians are now offering "wellness plans" that encourage pet owners to bring their pets in for regular check-ups. This is the same concept now being applied to humans; many insurance companies cover annual physicals and certain screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, at 100% to encourage people to get preventive care.
Feed your pet a high-quality diet. Tempting though it may be, most animals should not eat table scraps. Watch for sales and use coupons to buy the type of pet food recommended by your veterinarian. Some brands can also be purchased online for a discount.
As with any product recommended to you by a financial planner, contractor, or doctor, question major, costly treatment plans that your veterinarian may suggest. Certainly, you want the very best for your furry friend. But what is the return on investment? What are the consequences of doing nothing? Are there less expensive alternatives that might work as well, and/or provide a good quality of life? Don't let guilt force you to throw money at a problem that might not be fixable.
What are your thoughts on the costs of pet ownership? I would love to hear your comments.