How to care for your pet without breaking the bank

Chicago TribuneJuly 16, 2014 

It's a shame furry friends can't pay for themselves. Though wagging tails after a long day at work may make pet ownership seem worthwhile, a happy pup won't stop those bills from rolling in at the end of the month. Thankfully, quick and easy ways exist for dog owners to cut down on costs.

Log on for discounts. Sites like Groupon feature daily deals for new toys, treats, day care, dog walkers and even grooming services for the pampered pup. Sites like doggyloot.com or coupaw.com also offer online deals and printable coupons. They feature treats and toys as well as products like brushes and first aid kits.

Dog duds for the sporty or posh pup also are available on sites like dealwagger.com or dog.com. Following a company's social media account, website, membership club or email list will bring deals even closer. Need a good deal in a hurry? Try a thrift shop, or ask your vet if he or she knows of any local deals.

Do it yourself. As the sun gets brighter and days get hotter, dogs can burn through a lot of energy and bags of food. But with each bowlful of chow comes an ever-increasing price tag. Combat those costs by spending a bit of time in the kitchen. Some owners make their own dog food, including dishes ranging from diced liver to peanut butter biscuits. There are all sorts of free recipes online and books in stores. Home-cooked meals can also make for a happy, healthy and longer-living pet. Just ask Your Pet Chef founder and cookbook author Lisa Hennessy. "It really is so much better for people to make their own dog food for a better diet," Hennessy said. "You save so much more money in the long run."

Obedience. With the need to explore, it's impossible to keep your family friend safe from harm or unforeseen accidents. Getting the care your injured dog needs could mean bills reaching thousands of dollars.

Thankfully, there are ways to prepare for or even prevent the worst from happening without breaking the bank. However, this requires not only the dog, but the owner, to follow the rules.

The best way to avoid trauma is to be consistent and vigilant, following through with instructions from trainers or veterinarians. A well-behaved and trained dog is great for a number of reasons. It's less likely to get in fights or destroy that favorite couch. A leash-trained dog is even better when paired with an observant owner. Electric fences also can be effective but can be a lot of work.

Prevention. No doubt, health care is the most expensive part of owning any pet, especially dogs. But, Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of New York's ASPCA Animal Hospital, said getting that shot before your dog gets sick is worth it in the long run.

"The truth is the best way to save is to be really good about preventive care," Murray said.

Getting preventive vaccines or medications help your dog avoid serious illnesses that could cost thousands of dollars to treat. The same is true for spaying and neutering your dog. Taking preventive action is also a good practice for doggy dental care. Ask your vet for the best way to brush your dog's teeth. Doing it effectively once a day or even three times a week can stop bad mouth diseases like gingivitis or worse health effects like kidney damage.

Owners need to take care of themselves too, as dogs and other animals can be affected by bad habits, like smoking.

Still, emergencies and illnesses are inevitable. Companies like CareCredit offer credit to cover clinic expenses. To avoid those vet bills all together, pet insurance is an option. Some plans help cut the cost of big surgeries, treatment plans or even common medications.

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