20 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Save Money on Pet Care

A dog licks the entire face of its owner.
Getty Images

Our pets are priceless. Out of everything we own, they bring us the most joy.

The price of pet care, however, keeps going up. A new survey by the dog-walking and pet-sitting app Rover shows just how expensive it is to keep a pet in 2023.

Pet owners have definitely noticed the rising cost of pet-related goods and services over the last 12 months. According to a survey of 1,500 “pet parents” across the U.S., the annual cost of pet care ranges from $610 to $3,555 for dogs and $325 to $1,600 for cats, including food, supplies, medicine and veterinary care.

That’s a lot of Milk-Bones.

The cost of pet food in particular is way up. Americans paid 15% more for pet food in February 2023 than they did a year before that, according to the consumer price index. That’s more than the price hike for groceries.

However, pets are also the ultimate return on investment. According to Rover’s survey, 82% of pet owners say their pets bring them the most happiness out of everything they spend money on.

We looked at the two most popular pet-service apps — Rover and Wag — to help you decide which one is right for your next side hustle.

20 Ways to Save Money on Pet Care

Sure, pets can get expensive. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get a little creative and cut some costs here and there.

1. Adopt Instead of Buy

The breeder price for a dog can be up to five times higher than the cost of adopting a dog from a shelter. Not only that, but the adoption costs often include vaccinations and health checks. With a breeder, you’re often on your own.

Nearly a million shelter animals are euthanized in the U.S. each year. So you might save hundreds of dollars getting your dog or cat from a shelter, while you’re also saving a life.

2. Join Pet Store Loyalty Clubs

The two largest pet supply companies in the U.S. are PetSmart and Petco, and third place isn’t even close.

If you shop at PetSmart, join the Treats rewards program and earn points for every dollar you spend there. You can redeem the points for discounts on products and pet services. Get free shipping on orders above $49, too.

Petco used to have a Petco Pals rewards program, but in early 2023 it rolled Petco Pals into its Vital Care pet wellness program, which offers discounts and rewards. If you spend a lot at Petco, you can upgrade your Vital Care membership for $19.99 a month. Then you get 10% off dog food, 20% off grooming and an automatic $15 worth of rewards per month.

3. Watch for Pet Food Sales

Pet food sometimes goes on sale, so why not stock up when it costs less?

You can find weekly ads for pet supply retailers online. You can also link your email address to your customer loyalty card to get sales alerts.

4. Buy Pet Medications Online

Lots of pet medications are cheaper online.

Here are a few places you can fill prescriptions:

5. Don’t Shop at the Vet Office

Everything from cat toothbrushes to flea collars costs more at the vet’s office.

You’re better off buying anything you can at a pet supply store, including any non-prescription medications or treatments.

6. Join Your Local Buy Nothing Group

If you join your local Buy Nothing group, sooner or later you’ll see people in your area getting rid of pet gear that you might want.

Buy Nothing groups on Facebook, the Nextdoor website and app, and other online platforms exist in neighborhoods across the country, helping people get free stuff online.

Maybe your neighbors decided they don’t need that extra cat carrier anymore.

7. Have Your Pets Spayed or Neutered

You spend money upfront to spay or neuter your pets, but there are long-term savings.

For example, some of the negative behaviors associated with not spaying or neutering dogs and cats can be expensive.

Unspayed cats can damage furniture and carpet by spraying urine on them to attract males. Unneutered dogs can be more violent, leading to possible lawsuits if they attack people.

There’s also the obvious huge cost of not fixing those pets: puppies and kittens.

Pro Tip

Here’s how to make DIY flea repellent, and six other ways to save on the cost of dog care.

8. Use Discounted Gift Cards

You can buy discounted gift cards on a number of websites. Most carry cards for more than one pet supply chain.

For example, you’ll find discounted gift cards for PetSmart and Petco on sites like Gift Card Bin and Raise.

9. Stack Savings Tactics for Cheaper Food

To really reduce the cost of pet food, try deal-stacking.

For example, you could buy your usual brand of cat food at Petco using a coupon while it was on sale. Then use your credit card rebate program to increase the savings.

Or, buy discounted gift cards and use them when there’s a sale — a simple strategy that could make a good sale even better.

10. Store Pet Food Properly

Some pets turn their nose up at food if it’s too old — and then you have to throw it away.

Even if you just overfill their dishes and the remainder sits there overnight, they probably won’t eat it.

Check the expiration date for your pet food, dole it out a little at a time, and store it properly to keep it fresh.

11. Call the Vet Before You Need One

The worst time to find an affordable vet is when you have a medical emergency. If you love your pets, you’ll pay whatever it costs at the moment. To lower the cost of routine and emergency pet care, choose an affordable vet before you need one.

Use websites like VetRatingz.com to avoid bad vets. Call the acceptable ones and ask what they charge for a basic checkup, vaccinations, teeth cleaning and other procedures.

If you have an idea of what services your pet might need, ask about those.

In any case, ask about a few different services so you get an idea of the general price level of each veterinary office.

12. Make Sure Your Pets Get Exercise

Pets benefit from exercise just like humans. It helps keep them healthy and avoid obesity, which means fewer vet bills for you.

13. Make Your Own Pet Furniture

If you’re a DIY type of person, why not build your pet’s furniture? Why buy when you can make it for a lot less?

Here are some examples:

14. Make Pet Toys

Have you ever bought the “perfect toy” for your furry friend and they just ignored it? All it really takes to entertain a cat is a ball of yarn.

Moral of the story: Don’t spend a fortune on unwanted pet toys when you can make better ones.

Pro Tip

Treat your cat or dog with these 30 pet freebies.

15. Feed Your Pets Some Human Food

What do baked carrots, steamed broccoli and boiled eggs have in common?

They all cost less than cat food (at least the good stuff) and they’re all safe and healthy for cats to eat.

WebMD has a list of people foods your dog can eat, but watch out for whether that actually saves you money vs. buying your regular dog food.

16. Groom Your Own Pets

Professional pet grooming prices run between $20 and $100, depending on the size of the animal (cats are in the middle of that range).

But there’s no reason you can’t comb and wash your pets and clip their nails yourself. Not only will you save most of the cost (you’ll still spend a little for tools and shampoo), but grooming is another opportunity to bond with your beloved pet.

17. Find Cheaper Pet Sitting

Pet-sitting prices run from as little as $15 for a stop-in visit to as much as $100 for overnight stays.

Fortunately, there are alternatives.

Find a broke friend you trust who’ll work for cheap. Leave a few beers in the fridge and you might get a deal. Trade pet-sitting duties with friends and family to get your cost down to zero.

18. Train Your Own Pet

Basic puppy training at PetSmart costs $139, and it’s just one of many classes it offers.

Instead, read one of many books that help you train your pets yourself.

Free online resources can show you how to train your pets and teach them tricks — even how to train your cat to use a toilet.

19. Pet-Proof Your Home

Has the cat chewed through your lamp cords? Has the pup taken down about half your shoe collection?

The American Humane Association has a list of ways to pet-proof your home.

Preventing damage to your things and avoiding vet trips with simple pet-proofing will save you money and possibly your pet’s life.

20. Think Twice About Pet Insurance

Pet health insurance can save you from unexpected and large vet bills, but most pet medical procedures aren’t nearly as expensive as their human equivalents. Try saving money for your pet’s eventual medical needs instead.

When Consumer Reports did an analysis of pet insurance, the magazine found it overpriced for a relatively healthy pet. Consumer Reports decided most pet owners without chronically ill dogs or cats are better off simply saving money for emergencies.

On the other hand: If you’re not a saver, it might be worth paying a pet insurance premium to protect yourself from massive vet bills. Like property insurance (car, home, etc.), you won’t necessarily “save” or “make” money in an average scenario. But in the event of a catastrophe, you may find pet insurance is worth the investment.

When Timothy Moore, a contributor to The Penny Hoarder, adopted a retired greyhound racing dog with various medical issues, he found that a $35-a-month insurance policy from the ASPCA saved him a lot of money.

One more thing: Pet insurance premiums are lower for young pets and higher for older pets.

If you’re interested in pet insurance, here’s our list of the best pet insurance companies.

Weighing whether pet insurance is worth it? Here’s a closer look at the pros and cons.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder, and Steve Gillman is a former contributor. Senior writer Robert Bruce contributed reporting.