The Cost of Dog Care is Extreme. Here’s How to Make it More Affordable

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When I first rescued my 8 ½-year-old Greyhound-Weimaraner mix, Greyson, he managed to bring fleas into my home. Getting rid of them was a nightmare.

If you were my neighbor at the time, you might have even spotted me stripping down to nothing in my backyard at 3 a.m. to shake the fleas out of my sweatpants — but that’s another story.

As the proud parent to two dogs, together weighing 250 lbs., I’ll be the first to admit that pet ownership can be expensive. With vet bills, preventative care, quality food, grooming, toys and cleaning, the costs can make a huge dent in your budget.

To keep costs low, my partner, Nick, and I have gotten creative. Below are some of the ways we have saved money on pet care. While these all apply to raising dogs, I also have included some unique ideas I have found for parents of cats and birds.

DIY Flea Repellent

To keep our home flea free and our dogs safe from the threat of Lyme disease and other flea afflictions, we keep Greyson and our Great Dane, Clyde, on flea meds during the warmer months.

During the flea off-season, it is still important to keep our pooches safe. Rather than spend $30 per month to treat both of them, however, Nick and I create a milder flea repellent that does the trick during low-risk months.

The recipe we use includes water, lemons, lavender and witch hazel. And it makes the dogs smell amazing.

The author of this recipe uses it on her cat in the summer, but after battling fleas in my birthday suit, I still shell out the money for the strong stuff in peak season.

Homemade Dog Treats

Dog treats are great for training your dog, rewarding good behavior and feeding your pooch something extra just to see him get excited. But these treats, especially high-quality dog treats, can be expensive.

Nick and I invested in a food dehydrator for about $35 that has more than paid for itself with the amount of treats we make. The favorite in our house is dehydrated sweet potatoes, but you can find plenty of recipes online for other snacks ranging from chicken jerky to salmon jerky.

Don’t want to invest in a food dehydrator? Try one of these three recipes featured in The Penny Hoarder.

Cheaper Pet Food

For the longest time, Greyson was on Taste of the Wild, while Clyde went through giant bags of Blue Buffalo twice as fast. They are both big dogs with food allergies and sensitive stomachs, so finding the right food for them was a challenge — and a major expense.

But then we got our Costco membership. Costco’s Kirkland brand offers its own Nature’s Domain dog food at a much better price, and the ingredients were comparable to Clyde’s food and the same as Greyson’s.

A 30-lb. bag of Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream (salmon and sweet potato) cost us $50, but the bag of Nature’s Domain Salmon Meal and Sweet Potato ran us just $35. Even if we weren’t using our Costco membership for our groceries and paper products, the membership would more than pay for itself with the amount of food our dogs eat.

I swear by Costco’s dog food. Since switching, Clyde’s digestive problems have improved,  and Greyson’s coat is much brighter and more colorful than it ever had been before. The fact that we save roughly $540 a year on dog food is an added benefit.

Bathing at Home

Grooming can be costly, especially for long-haired dogs. Even if your dog doesn’t need special grooming, regular baths are still important, (though the frequency will vary), to keep allergies at bay and skin healthy.

Unfortunately, Clyde is too big for a regular tub. If you own a large dog and can’t fathom how you will bathe him, Nick and I have a few ideas. The first is the more obvious: Buy a kiddie pool. If you have a backyard and a garden hose, fill up the pool, put on your swimsuit and hop in with your dog for bath time. We spent $15 on ours, and it has made baths much more manageable and saved us from having to seek professional grooming.

Our second solution is untested for now. Nick and I just bought our first home together. On our list of renovations in our unfinished, concrete basement is our very own dog-wash station. For the price of a small floor barrier, some piping and a detachable shower head, we will soon have a walk-in “bathroom” in which to wash both dogs without dirtying our shower or trying to find the warmest winter day for a backyard bath.

(A note: The second purchase will run about $75; if you do not intend to regularly bathe your dog and also to continue owning dogs your whole life, the investment may not be as financially sound.)

Durable Toys

Our dogs destroy most of the toys we find at the store within minutes. If your dog is particularly aggressive with toys, consider investing in high-quality, durable toys that may cost more but will last much longer.

The toys that hold up the best with our dogs have historically been Kongs, Nylabones and rope toys, which are great for tug-of-war. Rover.com includes a list of durable toys that are well worth the investment.

Nick and I also get creative with DIY toys at home, particularly when it comes to feeding and separation anxiety. Dogs can bloat from eating fast, so we often make a game out of mealtime using a muffin tin that forces Clyde to slow down.

To help with Greyson’s separation anxiety, we like to line a small bowl with a layer of peanut butter, mash in pieces of his food and then stick it in the freezer. When we leave, we put out this “busy bowl,” which takes a lot of time (and licking) to unfreeze and makes it a challenge for him to find the food.

Here are some more DIY dog toy ideas from The Penny Hoarder.

Boarding Costs

Nick and I love to travel, but it isn’t always easy when you have dogs at home. Even so, we have never paid for boarding — and never plan to.

Instead, we have developed strong relationships with several other dog parents. Some are friends, some are family and some are people we have met at the dog park.

Our rule for leaving our dog with caretakers for an extended time: We have to have had several opportunities to get to know the people and see how they take care of their own animals at home and how our dogs behave with them and their pets. We typically do a trial sleepover as well.

The relationships are mutually beneficial. When we leave our dogs with sitters (or invite the sitters to stay at our place with the dogs), we know that we will, in turn, be asked to watch their dogs — and we love to do it. It saves everyone money on boarding, it is much less stressful for the dogs and it is fun to get to play with extra dogs for a couple weeks each year.

Cleaning

Accidents happen. Whether it’s a muddy dog barreling past you at the back door or a dog on medication that makes it difficult to control bodily functions, there is a strong chance you will need to do some cleaning. Pet hair alone will transform the color of your carpet into something unsightly.

Because I have rented a fair share of apartments and houses — and lost an equally fair share of pet deposits due to stains that I didn’t properly treat right away — I have now invested in a carpet cleaner and a good vacuum.

The Spruce has identified top carpet cleaners for pet owners; Nick and I chose this BISSELL carpet cleaner. As a result, we got our last deposit back in full and intend to get the deposit back at the house we just vacated. A $180 investment has already helped us save more than $1,000 that we likely would have forfeited otherwise. But more importantly, our house feels fresher and cleaner, despite having two dirty dogs roaming freely.

Preventative measures — flea meds, high-quality food and regular exercise — will pay off long-term in vet bills you avoid. They also will ensure a better quality of life for your companion.

Greyson and Clyde have proved to be expensive (yet incredibly rewarding) additions to our family. We use the tips above, and pet insurance to help with vet bills, to keep costs manageable for our family — and it has made a world of difference.

Timothy Moore is an editor and freelance writer based in Ohio. He and his partner love to take their two dogs, Clyde and Greyson, for long hikes and swims in the lake. Clyde and Greyson mostly love to eat, sleep and sniff gross stuff.

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