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52 Ways to Live Richly Reasonable: Pets

I once read a report that said petting a dog or cat can reduce blood pressure. I read another report that said children growing up with pets are more responsible and have less allergies. I read a third report that said pet owners live longer than non-pet owners. Now, I don’t know if any of this is true or not but it all sounds pretty good. Mainly because it advocates something extremely important to me—having a pet.

As a child, I was not allowed to have any pets besides fish. We did watch my first grade class’s hamster over Christmas break and we dogsat once but other than that, my dad was adamantly opposed to having pets in our house. As I got older and become more and more enamored with animals, I decided I was going to have a pet. Now I have 3 ½ (the ½ is a stray cat who sometimes swings by our house to share in our cat’s food. We have an outdoor cat).

I do not mind any of the almost $100 per month (or more!) I spend on my animals. They are living, breathing, feeling creatures that deserve to be taken care of. But I’m not going to lie. Pets can be expensive. For instance, one of our dogs has arthritis and a heart murmur; right now, the effects are minimal but as he gets older, there’s going to be a lot more money spent. Both of our dogs are high maintenance as far as grooming (to the tune of $110 every 8-10 weeks). There’s food, vet bills, toys…all of it adds up if you’re not careful.

Fortunately, there are ways to manage the cost of having a dog or cat:

  • Food. This is actually the one area where I advocate spending more but spending smarter. Higher quality food means less health problems so I suggest you do your research before you select a brand of food. Once you have the food selected, you can save in a few ways. One, buy larger quantities and store the food properly (so it doesn’t spoil). Two, take advantage of any sales or frequent buyer programs your pet store may have (ex., our pet store has a program where every 10th bag of our dog’s food is free and every so often, canned cat food will go on sale 24 cans for $10). Three, feed your pet the correct portion size; by feeding the correct portion size, the food will last longer.
  • Accessories and toys. Like babies, pets don’t know or care how much you spend on their beds, coats, leashes, toys, etc. Why not do it in the most economical way possible? For a dog or cat bed, an old blanket or pillow is just as good as a fancy bed. For toys, limit how much you buy. Most dogs (and maybe cats) will gravitate towards just one or two toys (at least mine do) and leave the rest alone. There’s no sense in spending money on toys the dog won’t touch. For leashes and coats, spend the money upfront for good quality products that won’t need to be replaced for a few years. And only by one of each. A dog does not need to be dressed up for every occasion or holiday.
  • Exercise. Doggie daycare is a thriving business. I know because I used to be a customer. I loved it because my dog wouldn’t be alone during the day, he got exercise and worked on his socialization. But then we got a second dog and started paying off debt and couldn’t afford even the one day a week we were sending Barkley.  So we found free ways: local dog parks, bringing him with us to friends’ houses (or inviting them to ours), taking long walks around the neighborhood. They still interact with other dogs and are getting exercise but we’re not shelling out $100 a week for the privilege.

There are ways to save on grooming and vet care but I feel that it is irresponsible of me to administer advice about those. Every dog or cat has different needs and each owner has to manage those costs based on breed and the individual needs.  However, I do suggest that you administer flea treatments once a month because the cost of getting rid of fleas greatly exceeds the cost of the medication.

If you still don’t feel that you can afford a dog or a cat, there are other ways to introduce a pet into your life. For instance, guinea pigs are really low maintenance and make great pets (I had 2 at one point). You can offer to dog or cat sit or start a side business as a dog walker. You can also volunteer at a local animal shelter. Not only will the staff appreciate the help, you’ll get to enjoy the company and enjoyment of the animals for free!

Pets can enrich our lives in so many ways. And they can do it without draining our wallets.

How do you manage the cost of your pets?

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