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10 Tips: Don't let pet ownership chew up money

Sharing your life with a pet can be expensive - especially if an emergency strikes. These tips can help you be a savvy consumer without compromising the quality of your pet's care:

By Laura T. Coffey, Times Correspondent
Published November 18, 2007


Sharing your life with a pet can be expensive - especially if an emergency strikes. These tips can help you be a savvy consumer without compromising the quality of your pet's care:

1 Pound pets are penny-wise. Save money right out of the gate by adopting a pet from the pound. They cost less than purebred animals, and they usually have been spayed or neutered and have their shots.

2 Research breeds. If you want a purebred, do some homework so you can know whether to expect specific health conditions or issues. Also, it can cost $40 to $100 every six weeks or so to keep some high-maintenance breeds groomed.

3 Spay or neuter your pet for less. If your pet hasn't been spayed or neutered, look into cost-effective programs run by your local Humane Society or branch of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

4 Shop before choosing a vet. Call three or four vets and ask about the price of annual exams and vaccinations. Find out how often and under what circumstances "exam fees" get charged. Will you face that fee every time a veterinarian, rather than a nurse, sees your animal, even if only for a couple of minutes?

5 Seek discounts. Veterinarians sometimes offer discounts to senior citizens and people with multiple pets, and Humane Society and SPCA offices may provide free or reduced-price services to low-income pet owners and seniors. Find out whether your vet can submit an assistance request to the American Animal Hospital Association's AAHA Helping Pets Fund (www.aahahelpingpets.org. The national clubs for some breeds may have veterinary assistance funds.

6 Don't get stuck when it comes to shots. Contact your county's animal control office and ask about free or low-cost rabies shots and other vaccines. Ask your vet about the feasibility of giving your pet booster shots every three years instead of once a year.

7 Know when to go on high alert. If your vet recommends an extremely expensive procedure, get a second opinion. If you must go to an expensive emergency veterinary hospital in the middle of the night, arrange for followup visits to be handled by your vet during normal business hours.

8 Strike mutually beneficial pet-sitting deals. Skip the high expense of boarding your pet or hiring a pet sitter by trading pet care with a friend when you go out of town. If you must board your animal for more than two weeks, ask about long-term discounts.

9 Steer clear of avoidable problems. Be sure your pet gets enough exercise and eats the right kind of food. Ask your vet for dietary recommendations, and don't get carried away with too many treats or human-food handouts.

10 Should you buy pet insurance? More people are buying pet policies, which can cost $500 or more per year. If you're convinced you need such coverage because of your pet's breed or health history, try opting for a catastrophic policy only so you don't pay too much. Or you could start an interest-bearing pet emergency fund. By the time your pet is 10, you could have more than $4,000 to $5,000 set aside.

Laura T. Coffey (laura@tentips.org)

Sources: Money magazine (http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/); Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org); Financial Planning Association (www.fpanet.org)