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We all love our pets, but let’s be honest:  they can be expensive.  The average cost of dog ownership over a lifetime varies in estimates from $13,000 up to $23,000 in a recent study at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.  Think kitties are cheaper?  Well, they are by a little bit, but you’re still looking at an average of over $11,000 over the lifespan of the average feline. 

The best way to defray some of these costs is to invest in your pet’s health up front.  Pet insurance comes in many different forms these days, with plans to fit every budget.  There are plans that help cover the cost of every day medications and preventive care and procedures, or ones to be used only in emergency situations.  Do your research to help find the one that’s right for you.

It may also be wise to establish a Care Credit account when you first bring your pet home.  This is like a credit card that can only be used for medical care (and it works for humans, too).  It’s much less stressful to have this card in place (no annual fees) when you need it, rather than having to apply in a moment of need.  You can also establish a savings account with automatic deposits that is solely dedicated to the health care costs of your pets.

It’s fairly intuitive that the best way to keep your pet’s healthcare costs to a minimum is to keep them healthy.  But what are the best ways to do that?  An ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure when it comes to your pet’s health. 

  • Keep them current on their heartworm, flea and tick preventives year round. 
  • Have them spayed or neutered. 
  • Have regular checkups done by a veterinarian (minimum yearly)
  • Keep kitties inside, and dogs on a leash when out and about. 
  • Protect paws in the wintertime from ice and toxins. 
  • Groom them regularly to prevent serious skin and ear issues. 
  • And finally, keep their weight down – obesity is a metabolic disease that leads to a myriad of issues in pets over a lifetime. 

Now, let’s say that you’ve done all of this, but an emergency occurs and you can’t afford to treat it.  What then?  Some local shelters have emergency medical funds designed to help keep pets in their forever homes.  Other organizations, like Harley’s Hope Foundation out of Denver, help pay veterinary bills for people who qualify through their application process. 

Many areas have low-cost veterinary care available.   The Washington Animal Rescue League in Washington DC, Emancipet in Texas (and soon Philadelphia), Helping Hands Vet Surgery in Richmond, VA, and the newly opened Value Vet in the Bronx offer services to people at a fraction of the cost of regular hospitals through donations and corporate sponsorships.  Still others have free/low cost spay/neuter/vaccine clinics to help decrease the costs of preventive medicine. 

If it comes to the point where you feel that you have exhausted all other options, speak with your local shelter or breed rescue to see what else can be done.  All shelters want to keep pets in loving homes, so they may be able to help you with a previously undiscovered option.  Or, worst case scenario, they may ask you to surrender your pet so they can absorb the costs themselves and find your pet a home after they are healed.

Always remember that pet ownership is for the lifetime of a pet.  It is NEVER appropriate to leave a pet outside a shelter, or to abandon them on a street corner or in the woods.  There is no shame in bringing your pet to a shelter or rescue when you are doing it for the health, wellbeing or safety of your pet.

Finally, if you aren’t prepared emotionally or financially for pet ownership, but you still are interested in having animals as a part of your life, consider becoming a foster parent for a shelter or rescue organization.  This is a fabulous way to get your “fur fix” without assuming the lifetime responsibility of a pet, or the associated costs that go with them, all the while providing socialization and a loving temporary home for a pet in need.  

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