In pure accounting terms, money spent on pets is a “write-off” in the sense that it’s impossible to say how much dogness or kittyhood you receive in return. In general and unlike with human children, you can’t claim an income tax deduction on this expense either.
This doesn’t mean that owning a happy, healthy pet isn’t a good use of money. Kids who grow up with pets show greater emotional intelligence, animal companionship can actually lower your blood pressure, pet ownership reduces feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression (many animal shelters actually ran out of potential adoptees during lockdown), and their antics provide hours of entertainment far superior to what Netflix can serve up.
Unfortunately, all this joy doesn’t come for free: it costs about $500 a year to take care of a pet depending on species, size, and any health issues. Especially with multiple animal companions running around the house, this can put a real crimp in a tight budget. Never fear, though: there are dozens of ways how to save money on dog food, cat kibble, bunny bites, and pet rat treats. In this article, we’ll share ten of the most effective with you:
Table of Contents
- 1 Learn the Difference Between Quantity and Quality
- 2 Consider Making Your Own Pet Food (At Least Occasionally)
- 3 Definitely Make Your Own Treats and Dental Chews
- 4 Work on Your Portion Control
- 5 Consider Getting a Smaller Animal
- 6 Talk to Your Veterinarian
- 7 Track Down Good Deals and Special Offers
- 8 Start Buying Pet Food Online and in Bulk
- 9 Try to Find Free Pet Food
- 10 Ask for Help
- 11 Saving Money on Pet Food
Learn the Difference Between Quantity and Quality
One of these dogs is getting a healthy diet, the other may be malnourished. Can you tell which is which?
Just like with humans, loading up on carbs and calories can easily make your dog seem satisfied (or even a little chubby) while not providing them with all the nutrients they need. In the long run, this means that they’re far more likely to develop health problems: vet bills aren’t cheap, and you certainly don’t want them to suffer because you thought buying junk was how to save on dog food.
The pet food with the snazziest commercial isn’t necessarily the best; store-brand kibble is often on par with its more expensive competitors. However, in some cases paying more certainly gets you more in the sense of better nutrition, even with smaller portions. The best advice for telling the difference between pet food brands worth buying and those that consist mainly of flavored starch is to ask your veterinarian. You can also get an idea by seeing how many different special formulations each sells: puppies, large dogs, small dogs, older dogs, and even certain breeds all have particular requirements.
Consider Making Your Own Pet Food (At Least Occasionally)
Overall, canned, wet pet food offers much less value for money than dried pellets. Of course, some pets have become used to the finer things and will eat the cheaper (though equally nutritious) stuff only under protest. Luckily, there is a more affordable option if your pooch or kitty doesn’t do kibble:
Believe it or not, there are actual cookbooks for gourmet, home-cooked food both you and your dog will enjoy, including quiches, fishcakes, and even canine-friendly birthday cakes. Now, this may be going a step too far, and most animal trainers will discourage you from feeding your dog in the dining room, but cooking for your dog does sound like a weird kind of fun.
Certainly, there’s one major advantage to making your own pet food, like a casserole for a stylish dog dinner, pretty pet rat treats, a special salad for your bunny, or dry pellets for daily use. Quality control in the pet food industry is nothing like what’s mandated for human consumption: “meat”, for instance, is defined as “animal parts” and may include feathers, bone, and (at least according to some claims) euthanized pets. In addition, several preservatives and other additives that are illegal in human food are used freely, while copious amounts of fat and starch are added for bulk and flavor.
Homemade pet food, by contrast, is made from ingredients like whole grains, meat, and vegetables. Surprisingly, it doesn’t cost much more than either dry kibble or canned varieties (apart from the time it takes to prepare). It’s also possible to tweak the ingredients to satisfy your pet’s individual nutritional needs. You can either whip up a big batch at the start of each week and refrigerate it or dry it out and store it in an air-tight container for up to a month. If this seems like too much effort for now, you can try mixing your table scraps into your pet’s regular food instead of tossing them down the garbage disposal. Just be aware that some of the stuff we humans enjoy can be very harmful to cats, dogs, and rodents, so take care.
Definitely Make Your Own Treats and Dental Chews
Special pet delicacies are a fantastic training aid as well as a way to say “I love you” in a way that your animal is sure to understand. Spoiling your animal is also a lot of fun; in fact, their tail-wagging, tippy-tapping reaction can easily lead you to overspend on this part of your petcare budget.
As it happens, these tidbits are easy to make yourself and don’t require nearly as much work as full-fledged pet meals. Most of the recipes you’ll find online, including some of the following, are much easier if you get a food dehydrator:
- Dog biscuits and other meaty mouthfuls
- Whisker-twitching pet rat treats
- Purrilicious and nutritious cat delicacies
Work on Your Portion Control
“Miaaoowwm!” Cats are notorious for notifying you of their displeasure, if not their imminent demise from hunger, every time their food bowl is less than half full. Most other animals, including many humans, will eat whatever is put in front of them and keep eating until it’s either gone or they can’t physically absorb another bite.
Biologically, animals are programmed to act as if an abundance of food now doesn’t mean that they won’t be starving later, so they’ll stock up on calories while they’re available. Of course, this can easily lead to obese pets, higher medical bills, and spending more on pet food.
One way to save on dog food when you have multiple canines is simply to separate them at dinner time so the greediest doesn’t plunder the others’ bowls and force you to feed them again later. You’ll also need to read the nutritional label on the bag and measure out only the quantity your furry friend needs:
The above table is only a guide: some pets have a lot more opportunity for exercise than others. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on their weight over time; actually weigh them, as it’s often difficult to tell the difference between fat and floof just by looking.
Consider Getting a Smaller Animal
If you want a really smart pet, conventional wisdom goes, you should be looking at the larger breeds of dog like German Shepherds, Dobermans, Border Collies, and so on. One of the latter, at least by one standard, was in fact the smartest dog ever.
Don’t give poodles, Jack Russels, cats, and rabbits short shrift, though. All of these will, given time, learn what is and isn’t acceptable behavior, can be taught tricks, recognize their names, and come when called. As the table in the previous section shows, they also eat a lot less – one way how to save on dog food is just to get less dog. Unlike fish and (most) birds, they’re also fuzzy and love to give and receive physical affection. Nothing, maybe, beats the sensation of hugging a gigantic hound, but having a pint-sized pouch curl up in your lap is just as relaxing.
Also don’t forget about rodents, especially rats and ferrets. Don’t expect the main character of Ratatouille, but you’ll be amazed at how smart they are. These animals are almost human in their ability to solve puzzles, each has their own personality, and most love to cuddle and interact with their humans. Unlike hamsters and mice, they can and indeed have to spend plenty of time outside their cage, or they’ll get bored. They’re also great for keeping in apartments, though you’ll want to review the building rules to see whether they’re allowed.
What do pet rats eat? Pretty much everything, as it turns out, but for best health you only need only supply them with dry rat food, some fresh fruit and vegetables, and protein-rich pet rat treats on occasion. Their minimal diet makes rats some of the cheapest pets to keep.
Talk to Your Veterinarian
Did you know that getting into vet school and passing the required board exams is nearly as difficult as becoming a doctor? There are more lucrative careers for smart people: most veterinarians truly have a passion for helping animals.
If you find one of these – it’s a good sign if they remember your pet’s name but not yours – stick with them. There are plenty of good ways for pet owners to save money, but being stingy with medical care isn’t one of those.
One reason for this is the quality advice they’ll happily provide you with. Some dog breeds, for instance, are especially prone to joint or kidney problems; your vet may be able to tell how to save money on dog food by feeding them cheap, natural supplements instead of buying costly, specially formulated food.
Pet supply companies also like to use veterinarians as marketing channels. This means they get a ton of coupons each month to hand out to anyone who asks. This brings us to another way how to save on dog food:
Track Down Good Deals and Special Offers
When it comes to anything you buy frequently or that carries a high price tag, you should always do a little more than compare prices at different stores. Very often, and especially when you look online, you’ll find one or more coupons that will let you save on dog food, toys, cat litter, beds, and even some medicines. These are sometimes printed right on the packaging; all you need to do is point this out to the cashier.
Other great sources of coupons are to join store rewards programs and follow pet food brands on social media. Compared to other couponing categories, like software and restaurant meals, the savings aren’t huge, but they do add up to a substantial sum over the course of a year.
Start Buying Pet Food Online and in Bulk
Not many people outside the investing community remember this, but one of the first would-be internet business giants was Pets.com. They ultimately failed, as the idea of ordering anything online for delivery to your door was still in its infancy, but successors like PetSmart, Chewy, and Petco have picked up the slack. You can often find petcare staples here for far less than at your local pet supply store and without the temptation to impulse-buy yet another pretty toy.
Since you won’t have to wrestle with those heavy bags yourself, you can get a supply of several months’ worth at once and take advantage of bulk discounts and free delivery. Dry pet food typically lasts for at least a year unless the bag is opened, cans for even longer. Most online retailers also allow and encourage you to set up regular, periodic deliveries at a discount of around 10%.
Try to Find Free Pet Food
The concept of “pet food” is only about a century old. In the days of yore, cats and dogs were fed what was left over after the hairless members of their family had eaten, scraps not suitable for human consumption, and even whatever they could catch around the house or in the wild.
Yes, pets can indeed eat stuff that isn’t sold in supermarkets; in fact, they enjoy some of it tremendously. Organ meat, for instance, is extremely nutritious even though most people turn up their noses at the stuff. If you live near a slaughterhouse, you should try to brave the smell one day and ask if they can supply you with scraps. Your neighborhood butcher may also be willing to save some of their waste for you or sell them at next to nothing: bones, fat, turkey necks, pig trotters, and animal heads aren’t going to make it onto most restaurant menus, but many pets simply love them raw or as part of a homemade concoction.
Some companies will also send you free samples of their wares on request. The quantities they provide, of course, are not huge, but there are many pet food vendors competing for market share and new products come out all the time.
Ask for Help
Some months, your finances may be so strained that you have to choose between properly feeding either yourself or your pet. Hey, it happens: the good news is that there are some sources of assistance you can contact. You won’t have to deprive your furry friend of proper nutrition or perhaps even consider giving him up for adoption.
The Pongo Fund runs an animal food bank in Oregon; similar initiatives exist in several other states. Some of these organizations can even set you up with free spaying and emergency veterinarian services. Remember to give back once you’re back on your feet: no animal should suffer just because the human who loves them most has fallen on hard times.
Saving Money on Pet Food
Bringing an animal into your life is not a decision to make lightly. It’s essential to do your research before you commit to caring for a living being over the next several years. Don’t be one of those guys who abandons a pet just because it’s become inconvenient; doing this should disqualify you from ever being a parent to a human child.
How much exercise and stimulation do different kinds of dogs need? What can rats eat? Which breeds of cats are best for allergies? If you have small children, what pets are tough enough to safely tolerate affectionate but clumsy handling?
Another question you should ask yourself during this process is: “how much does it cost to feed this kind of pet?” This will probably be followed closely by “how to save money on dog food?”, as pet ownership, at least if you’re a responsible owner, is bound to cost a pretty hefty amount each month. Don’t give up on your dream of having your own all-in-one security system, couch warmer, therapist, and personal trainer just yet, though. It is indeed possible to save on dog food and other essentials. If you have any additional tips, please share them with our other readers; nobody should be forced to go without a pet just because they’re broke.