Thanks to a combination of Brexit, the tail-end of the COVID-19 pandemic and the terrible conflict in Ukraine, among other complicated factors, the cost of living is getting more expensive. This includes everything related to pets too, from food and toys to veterinary care and grooming. While many of us would sell an arm or a leg to keep our pets in comfort, many of you are probably thinking of ways to save on pet care. So, we’ve compiled some advice that might help save a pound or two on your pets.
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It’s well known that prevention is often better than cure. This stands true with many aspects of pet healthcare too. With a little time (and yes, some financial) input, you can often make a considerable saving in the long run. It can be difficult to justify the upfront cost of some of these preventative measures. So if you are unsure, ask your vet what the local risks are, and what the cost of managing the diseases may be. You will likely be surprised.
The most well-known preventatives are parasite prevention medicine. Parasites like fleas, ticks and worms cause a number of health issues, ranging from itchy skin and redness, to diarrhoea, anaemia and sickness, or even the spread of other diseases like Lyme disease, Babesia and dangerous tapeworms. Treating infestations of parasites can be difficult, especially if they reside in the house too. If there are associated symptoms it may require more than just a single drug to treat. However, regular (usually every 1-3 months) prevention will almost entirely prevent infections in your pets; stopping these symptoms and saving you a lot in the long run. Many vet practices will have deals to keep these medicines cheaper too (more on these later).
Every vet recommends that young pets have a course of vaccines to protect them from diseases when they are most vulnerable. The diseases we vaccinate against are some of the more severe pets can encounter, such as Leptospirosis, infectious hepatitis and parvovirus in dogs, feline leukaemia and calicivirus in cats, and myxomatosis and haemorrhagic diarrhoea viruses in rabbits. Many will result in pets becoming significantly ill, needing extensive hospital stays. Some can have long-term effects in later life too, such as the damage calicivirus does to cats’ teeth. Many can be fatal. For the relatively low cost of a vaccine course, potentially hundreds of pounds and a broken heart can be saved.
Because no vaccine is 100% effective, and immunity wanes over time, we recommend animals have regular booster vaccines to continue to protect them in later life. Titre tests to see if your dog is still immune are an option for some diseases; but usually cost as much as a vaccine dose.
Neutering, the surgical procedure to remove a pet’s reproductive organs, is another procedure that has an apparent high upfront cost. But it can significantly reduce your pet’s risk of serious (and costly) diseases; as well as unwanted pregnancies that also cost a lot to manage. Unneutered pets are at greater risk of certain cancers, uterine infections, prostatic disease and more. We also know that unneutered pets are more likely to fight with other animals, roam and go missing, get hit by cars, and pick up diseases like feline immunodeficiency virus (feline HIV). All of these can cost a lot to manage. I think that neutering will almost always be a net benefit in most animals.
Many of the UK pet population are overweight or obese. Just like in humans this is associated with a higher incidence of diseases such as arthritis and other joint issues, heart disease, liver disease, certain cancers, pancreatitis and more. Many of these cannot ever be cured if they occur. And they require long-term and costly management to prevent your pet suffering. For example, a pet with arthritis may need daily medication and regular blood testing; while a dog with heart disease might have three or more tablets a day and need to have their heart scanned every year.
By reducing the risk of your pet having these diseases via weight management you can save a lot in the long-run. It will likely be cheaper as you’ll be using less food (more on this later). Exercise is often free too, and good for our health; so we encourage as much as is reasonable to keep your pet fit.
Dental issues are one of the most common problems identified in adult pets, and far from just discolouration and bad breath, dental disease causes a range of serious conditions. A build-up of plaque damages teeth, causing pain, inflammation and tooth damage. While the bacteria can be inhaled and spread to the lungs or other organs. Chronic kidney disease can be associated with dental disease. When the teeth are this bad, correction can require a costly (and often risky due to age) general anaesthetic and surgery. It is far better to prevent dental disease by brushing your pet’s teeth every 1-3 days, or use enzymatic toothpaste if you struggle.
Pet insurance is another cost-saving method that can be seen as increasing the cost of pet care, until it is needed and the benefits are clear. In the same way that claiming on your car insurance after an accident is often cheaper than buying a new car; claiming on pet insurance may mean you can cover the costs for accidents or illnesses in your pets. In some cases, it may mean options are open to you that you couldn’t afford alone, such as referral or specialist level healthcare, what is sometimes termed ‘gold standard’ care.
There are various types of insurance with different levels of cover. Accident only is more limiting, while comprehensive will cover for more conditions. The level of cover will also depend on your premiums. Do your research, but as a rule try and get the most comprehensive cover you can afford. Speaking to your vet first to get an idea of how much care could cost may give you an idea of how much you need. Consider that specialist care can run into the tens of thousands; while chronic conditions may cost hundreds or more per month. Insurance will help you pay for this care. This means you can focus your concerns on getting your pet feeling better again.
While insurance is important for accidents, emergencies and disease, health clubs are designed to save on routine healthcare. These are often offered directly by a practice as a way to keep the costs of regular parasite treatment, vaccines, health checks, nail clips, and so on down. And as we discussed above, keeping on top of these can have big savings in the long-run. The schemes will vary practice to practice, and may also include: bonuses such as discounted or free consults with a vet; pet food; discounts on neutering, blood testing, dental procedures and others; even freebies throughout the year. Speak to your local practice to see if they offer a health club.
Diet is another area where many pet owners can make a saving. We will discuss some specifics in a moment, but it tends to be cheaper to buy food in bulk. So once your pet has a diet they like, if you can, buy a large amount to store (just check the use by dates!).
Reduction in Quantity
Many of the UK’s pets are overweight, leading to a high incidence of associated diseases such as mobility issues and arthritis, heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, pancreatitis and many others. Many are incurable and can only be managed long-term with medication. In fact, one study found dogs that were a lean weight lived 15% longer than average weight dogs, and developed chronic disease later in life than those who were average or overweight. The reduction in illness means a direct saving to you.
For overweight pets, reducing their intake via portion control and a reduction of treats will mean less food you need to buy. However, we want to emphasise that weight reduction should only be started after guidance by a vet, as uncontrolled dietary restriction can lead to deficiencies. Some prescription weight loss diets are also more expensive than regular food. But again consider the long-term savings once they are a healthier weight. Remember, too, that many vets offer free nurse clinics to help you keep your dog a healthy weight.
Change in Quality
This aspect of diet is a little more contentious. It has been proven that diet has a huge effect on an animal’s health and life expectancy. And many of the more expensive branded diets have scientifically backed studies proving they do what they say on the packet. This may mean that pets on these diets are less likely to become unwell, are more likely to be a lower weight and thus may live longer, healthier lives. Excluding the increased costs for a longer life (which we are sure no pet owner will mind). This may mean a more expensive diet could reduce the cost of their healthcare.
However, there is also an argument to be made that a cheaper brand of food is a more direct saving. Unfortunately, it will be very difficult to assess the overall costs of cheap vs expensive food in a single pet, so we will leave this judgement up to you. At the end of the day, feeding a safe but cheaper food for a while is very unlikely to have a long-term impact on health, as long as you stick to a manufacturer who is a member of the PFMA.
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
As well as helping protect the planet, becoming a little more environmentally friendly will also help your wallet too. There’s many ways you can save on pets in this way. You might try and repair old worn out toys, or make your own. Cardboard tubes filled with treats is a good example to replace broken plastic feeders. Some people even make their own edible pet treats!
Look online to see if there are cheap or free second-hand pet items going, or even swap with friends. Charity shops are also a great way to save cash, support local animal charities and protect the environment. Consider if your pet needs another new physical treat, or could a treat be a visit to a park or the beach instead? If they are within walking distance, a trip is free and may provide much more entertainment than a new plastic toy can.
DIY can also extend to pet care as well. Could you learn to groom your dog or even just clip their nails more frequently, saving the costs of groomers? Instead of a dog sitter or walker, can you make time to give your dog an extra walk once a week? Is there a friend or family member who may be able to help? Perhaps your work will even allow pets on site?
All of the above advice may be of use, but for some people who may still be struggling with pet care, there are organisations that can help. Many food banks also supply pet food, so they may be worth a visit (and to those who can, please remember to donate a can or two of pet food to your local bank). Local organisations may provide similar assistance to those in need – social media is a good starting point to look for them. If you are struggling with veterinary care, the PDSA will provide low-cost care to those who are eligible, and StreetVet will help those who have become homeless with their pets.
The RSPCA may also be able to assist with some level of care. In the worst case scenarios, where you feel you cannot look after your pet anymore, we urge you to speak to a local charity or the RSPCA for assistance in rehoming – too many pets have been abandoned as of late, so ensuring you do the right thing and find them a place to stay is critical. Again, for those who can, we encourage you to support these charities so owners and pets in need can benefit.
Life is hard at the moment for many of us
And we know not everyone will be able to afford the up-front costs of everything on this list. However, the biggest cost savings can come from weight and diet changes, and very cheap preventative healthcare such as regular tooth-brushing. Even really small changes here can add up over time!