I haven’t been sleeping very well lately. Not because I have a lot on my mind when I go to bed; rather, I literally have a lot on my head…like a 19-pound Tuxedo cat.
Caesar will be 15 years old next month and like certain other aging members of my family, he’s gotten quite ornery. He wants his litter box cleaned immediately after he uses it. When even the slightest bit of the bottom of his bowl shows through, he has to have a refill. And now he insists on having the bathroom closet door open at all times. By insists, I mean, he screams at the door until someone opens it. His latest obsession – jumping on my head 5-6 times per night and meowing in my ear. One minute, I’m dreaming of sunsets on an island somewhere. The next, I’m startled back to reality by a very large, very loud presence on my pillow. (Angie avoids this drama by sleeping with her head covered.) It is all very disconcerting.
Since 68% of Americans own a pet, I’m sure many of you can relate to this story. Pets are a big deal, not just for their sleepy owners, but economically speaking as well. Americans spend almost $70 BILLION a year on their pets…according to this interesting article. That’s kind of crazy if you think about this – during the same period of time, Americans spent $52.5 billion on groceries and $12 billion on clothing (both of which are considered necessities).
Caesar is our only furry child at the moment. Missy, our beloved Australian Shepherd, passed away a few years ago. Despite the fact that Caesar jumps on my head every night, I love him greatly and want to make sure he lives a long happy life…but we also don’t want to go broke in the process! So here are a few of the ways that we save money on pet care.
Food – The best advice that I have is to feed your pets the best food that you can afford. I’m not talking about the best brand name. I’m talking about the best ingredients. Feeding your pet is like feeding yourself. If you eat burgers and hot dogs every day, at the very least you’ll have an upset tummy but eventually, major health problems will set in. The same goes for your pet. Dogs are omnivores – they can eat meat and veggies, but the first ingredient in the food you select should always be a meat protein (chicken, turkey, lamb, etc.). Cats are carnivores and must have a nutrient called Taurine in their diet; so again, a meat protein should be the first ingredient.
DogFoodAdvisor.com is a good place to start your research, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the types of ingredients that should or shouldn’t be in dog food. You’ll find that there are some very good 3 and 4 star pet foods sold at the low-price box stores (like Walmart). A similar site for cat food is in the works but until that time, I would simply advise staying away from foods that contain dyes. These often upset your cat’s stomach and leave nasty stains on the carpet when he pukes. Caesar will only eat Purina Cat Naturals. He almost never has hairballs and is also in great health.
Treats – Caesar has to have 2 cat treats before bed so we usually get some type of natural treat (whatever is on sale) at the grocery store. A 3 ounce bag will last for a couple of months. When Missy was alive, we made her dog treats using whole wheat flour and peanut butter. A 3-4 month supply costs about $4 (and 3 hours of our time) to make. There are plenty of recipes available online so you’re sure to find something your dog will like.
Potty bags – We recycle almost everything, so our potty bags for scooping litter (or picking up after Missy) are usually newspaper bags. You can also use grocery bags (you know you have a few from those times when you forgot to take your cloth bags into the store), or produce bags. We’ve even used newspaper. But if none of these appeals to you, Dollar Tree has a great potty bag holder shaped like a bone for $1 and 3 refill rolls are also just $1.
Shot Clinics – Annual rabies shots are extremely important and in some places, mandatory. We are fortunate to live in a state that still offers drive-up shot clinics. Several local vets host shot clinics during the year, where rabies, Bordetella, and distemper vaccinations are just $10 each. We also recently discovered ValueVet, where pets can receive their annual shots at a discounted package rate. In some areas, Tractor Supply, Pet Supermarket, Banfield, and Walgreens also offer vaccinations on select weekends throughout the year.
Pet Sitting – Assuming you don’t live near relatives or have friends who are willing to care for your pets when you travel, you may occasionally need a pet sitter. When we lived in Florida, we had the most wonderful pet sitter. Gina would come to our home twice a day to care for both Missy and Caesar. She charged $29 per day. While that may seem steep, the peace of mind that we got was well worth it. Gina is registered with Pet Sitters International and licensed and bonded with the state. We’ve also used other sitters through Rover.com which sometimes offers coupons or deal codes for discounts. Since moving to Tennessee, we’ve had no luck with in-home pet sitters so we have to board Caesar at a “pet retreat” that charges $15/day. The upside of the retreat is that he is allowed to roam free in the cat room several times a day and has access to “speak” with other cats.
Vet Care – No one wants their pets to pass away and we’ve seen many of our friends go broke trying to keep their beloved pet around for just another day. It’s an emotionally devastating situation, made even sadder when you realize that your savings is gone or you have charged $5,000 on your credit card. (Why do you think almost all vets have Care Credit applications right there at the register?). As awful as it would be to say goodbye to Caesar, we also have to be realistic so we have always had end of life plans for our pets and a set budget for vet care.
Flea/Tick Treatment – The last time we boarded Caesar at a regular kennel they used a chemical flea treatment on him (because another cat had come in with fleas). The treatment, which we would never have approved, caused his hair to fall out and for a long time, he had a bald spot on his shoulder blade. Since then, we have tested all sorts of homemade flea and tick treatments and have found apple cider vinegar is by far the most cheap and effective. We spray it on him and comb him regularly and we also use it around the house as an everyday cleaner. So far, we’ve never had a problem with fleas (or any bugs) on Caesar or in our home.
How much do you contribute to the national pet debt each year? At last count, we were averaging around $350 per year for Ceasar’s care (most of which is in boarding fees!). That’s still significantly less than half of the US average of $815 per household per year so I suppose there’s a little wiggle room for other pet-related expenditures…like maybe some catnip to help us both sleep better at night.