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Pet care costs
5 Tips: Putting your pet care costs on a leash
July 14, 2004: 3:04 PM EDT
By Gerri Willis, CNN/Money contributing columnist

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Between massages, yoga classes, daycare, hotels and gourmet meals...pets (yes pets!) are more pampered than ever.

But, even if your pet isn't living in the lap of luxury, caring for a four-legged friend can be an expensive undertaking.

Here's how you can keep a leash on your costs.

1. Can you afford it? Make an informed decision.

One of the main reasons animals are returned to shelters is that owners underestimate the costs of pet upkeep.

According to ASPCA, first year expenses for a large dog, such as a golden retriever or a Dalmatian, can reach $1,500. And that's a conservative estimate that doesn't include the cost of buying the pet or any additional pet care, be it training, daycare or boarding costs.

It's a good idea to take your pet to the vet even before it gets sick, says Stephen Zawistowski, ASPCA senior vice president. This allows the vet to make recommendations about care.

By doing some research beforehand, you'll get a better idea of what disorders certain breeds are predisposed to. Larger breed dogs, for example, are prone to orthopedic problems. Small dogs with shortened muzzles often have breathing problems.

Breed rescue groups can provide you with breed specific information. To search for groups in your area visit www.pets911.com.

It also makes sense consider your own healthcare. Do you have allergies? If you're allergic to your pet, you could incur additional costs for your own healthcare.

Another cost to consider is damage deposits and repair costs. A landlord may ask you to put down a damage deposit to cover the cost of repairs should your pet damage property. For more information about renting with pets call the Humane Society of the United States at 202-452-1100 or visit www.RentWithPets.org. For a look at what different pets can cost, visit www.ASPCA.org.

2. The lowdown on pet insurance.

It's your choice: Shell out hundreds or thousands in unexpected medical tabs for Fido or get some insurance.

Stephanie Shane, director of outreach at the Humane Society of the United States, says pet insurance can be a wonderful thing, especially for someone who can't afford to be hit with big vet bills all at once.

"Just like shopping for your own care, you need to examine different plans and deductibles. Only you know what you can afford and what you want covered," ASPCA's Zawistowski said.

Not all policies cover "wellness visits," or check-ups and vaccinations, to the vet. Other policies may only cover basic care and not emergency treatment or maintenance prescriptions (like ones for diabetes treatments). So, choose your policy and provider carefully.

It also can't hurt to check for any consumer complaints against the company you're considering. You can get the scoop on insurers operating in your area by contacting your state's Department of Insurance. (Many states' insurance departments have good Web sites that can help.)

You'll shell out about $25 a month for insurance, says Curtis Steinhoff, a spokesperson for Veterinary Pet Insurance, the nation's largest provider. Premiums can vary with the age and the health of the pet.

Check out your insurance options at work, too. More and more, employers are beginning to offer pet insurance. Taking care of a pet can rival care for humans in term of the costs. For that reason, you'll want to stay organized. Keep a file devoted to your pet where you can store microchip numbers, medical and prescription information and vaccinations records.

3. Investments that make all the difference.

Zawistowski says if you decide on a dog, one of the best gifts you can give your pooch is obedience training. Training usually costs $75 to $150, depending on where you live, for 6 to 8 weeks of group classes. It can also help you save money on your home and furniture as well as fines and compensation for angry neighbors.

Proper diet is also important for your pet's long-term health. Zawistowski recommends premium brand foods because store-brand foods can be inconsistent in terms of quality and may only meet minimum standards. "Lifespan feeding" is a good idea too. That means buying foods formulated specifically for puppies, middle-aged and elderly dogs.

He says this variety of foods available represents one of the most tremendous advances in pet care. If you're on a budget and are worried about what premium food might mean to your pocketbook, your skills as a bargain hunter could pay off. Consumers have the option of buying food and supplies online, in bulk, or on sale. If you're a good shopper, you'll find deals.

Zawistowski says big box stores may give you a better price on better products. One site, www.discountpetmedicines.com, allows consumers to compare prices on pet medicines and food online. It's not a bad idea to get product recommendations from your vet. Some things you find in stores or online could be harmful.

4. Preventive measures pay off.

Vaccinations are extremely important as they protect your pet from harmful, or even fatal, diseases. If you're worried about the costs, there are options. Local shelters and animal centers often offer low-cost vaccinations against rabies and other communicable diseases. Call your local town hall for more information.

Dogs require regular dental cleanings and check-ups for gum disease just like humans. Dental procedures like extractions and fake teeth can be costly, so make sure to take care of your pet's teeth.

Chubby pets tend to develop bone and joint trouble, so keeping your pet at its proper weight is important.

Zawistowski advises pet owners to keep their furry friends away from high sugar treats and not going overboard feeding them table food. Calories from table scraps should only represent 7 to 10 percent of your dog's daily diet. For more pet care information visit www.HSUS.org, www.ASPCA.org, or www.avma.org.

5. Set realistic priorities.

Does little Fido really need that Burberry sweater from Saks? Zawistowski warns that spending on toys and treats can add up over the course of a year, but many of these costs are discretionary.

He says it pays to get an idea of how much services like grooming and dog walking will cost. People looking to buy a new house will often ask what the electric bills are. Why not apply that kind of forethought to pet costs?

Some animals require more sophisticated grooming but most don't and you can do a lot of the work (like tooth and hair brushing) yourself. Also, know what level of care you're going to use. Are you going to use a salon or a regular groomer? There are people who dye pet hair and groomers who make house calls. If that's what you're going for-- you're going to pay more.

Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News. Willis also is co-host of CNNfn's The FlipSide, weekdays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (ET). E-mail comments to 5tips@cnnfn.com.  Top of page

 
 
 
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