5 Ways to Save on Pet Costs

How to cut costs without sacrificing the health of your beloved companion.

Summer can be risky for your cats and dogs. Here’s how to protect them

Instead of sending a monthly check to an insurance provider, you could self-insure by depositing funds into a money market or other savings account earmarked for pet care. If you decide to buy pet insurance, keep in mind that premiums are generally cheapest if you start insuring a younger pet.

[See 11 Ways to Spring-Clean Your Finances.]

4. Feed your pet the right food. Pet-food labels carry some of the same hyped marketing terms as human foods, so finding the right food can be confusing. Terms like "all natural" or "wild" can be misleading, according to Nicholas, so he suggests looking for an AAFCO (The Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement on the label, because that shows that the food meets the organization's standards. "Watch to see how your pet does on the food," he adds. "If the coat is nice and healthy and they're not vomiting, it's probably a good food for them."

However, over-feeding your pet could lead to health problems like food bloat and obesity, which will cost you more for the extra food and vet bills. Buying food in bulk could save you money if you have the space, but Nicholas suggests storing food in an air-tight, pet-proof container so your pet can't get into it. The air-tight container will also keep food fresh. Barnes recommends using a measuring spoon instead of eye-balling portions to avoid over-feeding.

5. Focus on attention over fancy toys. Several daily deal sites, including Coupaw.com, DoggyLoot.com, Furryboo.com, and Petching.com, cater to pet owners. But switching vets or dog groomers or even the type of food in pursuit of a bargain could do more harm than good, because of the inconsistency. (When changing your pet's diet, do it gradually, not all at once, urges Nicholas.) Kristen M. Levine, coauthor of Pampered Pets on a Budget, waits until she sees a deal on her dog Chilly's favorite treats or toys rather than trying new products through deal sites.

When it comes down to it, though, "you don't have to spend money on fancy toys or collars," says Levine. "You should be bonding with them, grooming them. That's what they really want. They'd rather play with us than a toy."

Corrected on 4/10/2012: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Ginko, Roxanne Hawn’s dog.