Frugal Pet Ownership Starts Before You Even Get A Pet
Our sweet Frugal Hound, who is now eight years old, had her annual veterinary visit last month–her first as a “senior canine”–which reminded me of all the ways in which we care for our girl frugally. It is, without a doubt, more expensive to have a pet than to not have a pet (same goes for children… ) but it doesn’t have to cost anywhere near the astronomical sums I hear thrown around. Like every other aspect of our lives, Frugal Hound’s care is, well, frugalized. Side note: I love writing about my beloved Frugal Hound, so if you’re looking for even more on this furry topic, please enjoy:
- Our Approach To Affordable, Responsible Dog Care
- Frugal Hound’s 10 Tips For A Simpler, Happier, More Frugal Life
- Weekly Woot & Grumble: To Swap A Hound
- Frugal Hound Costs $930.35 Annually
- Weekly Woot & Grumble: Frugal Hound All Around!
- I’m Frugal, Should I Get A Pet?
Pet Frugality Starts Before You Ever Even Get A Pet
In many ways, the journey to frugal pet ownership starts before you ever even get a pet. There are a number of factors to consider in advance that helped Mr. Frugalwoods and me determine when to get a pet and what type of pet to get.
Jumping blindly into pet adoption and getting a breed “because they’re cute” is usually not an effective route to keeping your pet-related spending in check.
Bringing a pet into your family is a longterm decision and the financial ramifications are pretty profound over the lifetime of an animal. Given this, Mr. FW and I spent a number of years researching dogs and dog breeds before making the decision to adopt Frugal Hound, a retired racing greyhound, five years ago.
Here are the factors we explored before adopting our Hound:
1) Living Arrangements
One of the main reasons we waited so long (four years to be exact) before adopting Frugal Hound is that we were renters. In many cities, it is extremely difficult to find rentals that allow pets. Furthermore, if pets are allowed, often a pet deposit or other additional fee is required. The sheer lack of apartments that allow dogs quickly made us realize we’d be better off waiting to get a dog until we were homeowners.
If you’re considering a pet and you’re a renter, look into the possibility of adding a pet to your lease and do a scan of available apartments in your area to see if they generally seem to allow pets. Knowing the landscape of pet/rental relationships before adopting an animal is an easy way to avoid a potentially challenging, or untenable, housing situation.
Mr. FW and I were way too busy to get a dog for many, many years. When we were both working long hours away from home every day and then going to work events/yoga classes/etc in the evenings, we weren’t home enough to care for a dog. We decided to wait until our schedules slowed down and we were able to reliably get home after work and enjoy a leisurely walk with Frugal Hound.
There are plenty of services you can pay or hire to care for a dog during the day–dog walking and doggie daycare primarily–but these are major expenses that should be factored into a decision to get a dog in the first place. If you’re never home to spend time with an animal, is it fair to that animal to live mostly alone? And are you financially prepared to outsource their daily care?
3) Travel Schedule
Relatedly, how often you travel–for work or pleasure–has a significant impact on the cost and logistics of pet ownership. For a period of time, Mr. FW and I were both traveling for work (often at the same time). Then, I was in grad school full-time while working full-time. Plus, we traveled abroad for fun! All of this travel would’ve quickly made dog ownership a very expensive proposition. While it’s obviously possible to have a pet and travel every week or so, it’s tough on both your budget and your pet. Think through how often you’re away and what arrangements you’ll be able to work out for your pet’s care while you’re gone.
I have to say, in the interest of full disclosure, that we likely would travel even more if we didn’t have Frugal Hound. It’s one element of pet ownership that I didn’t fully appreciate before we adopted her. Anytime we leave home, Frugal Hound must be cared for. And this isn’t just for overnight trips. Mr. FW and I love to hike and, before we lived in the woods with hiking right outside our front door, we did not anticipate the challenges related to owning a pet and hiking all day long on the weekends.
Fortunately, we were often able to have friends or neighbors come over to take Frugal Hound out to enable our hiking day trips, but it added another element of planning for our day trips. To this day, I think traveling is one of the biggest challenges we encounter with pet ownership (more below on how Frugal Hound is cared for when we’re away). It’s also true that some pets can travel with you (and some will hike long distances too, though not Frugal Hound!), but for those who can’t, sourcing their care is a serious consideration.
4) Hobbies and family dynamics
What do you enjoy doing? How do you spend your free time? Different types of animals and different breeds have dramatically different personalities. Some dogs need to romp and run in a yard every day while others (ahem, Frugal Hound) are happier snoozing by the woodstove.
Additionally, some pets are more amenable to children than others. If you have kids, or if you plan on having kids, finding an animal that’s well adjusted to children is a wise investment in the future. Babywoods 1 adores Frugal Hound, who patiently tolerates all of her toddler snuggling and enthusiasm for all things dog.
5) Urban vs. Rural: What Kind of pet suits your environment?
We did really well on this one right out of the gate and then aren’t doing quite as well now… Mr. FW and I adopted Frugal Hound back when we lived in ultra-urban Cambridge, MA and she was THE PERFECT city dog. Seriously, if you live in a city, you should get a greyhound. Why? Let me tell you. Greyhounds are quiet, snoozy animals who lounge around the house dozing for roughly 23.4 hours per day. They don’t bark, howl, run around clacking their nails, or destroy the house, which makes them perfectly suited to apartment/townhouse living.
They are basically giant house cats. Greyhounds also must be leashed for walks as their prey drive is insanely strong (that’s what hundreds of years of breeding will do) and they’re liable to bolt after a squirrel, rabbit, or passing paper bag. Hence, a leash is necessary to ensure they don’t bolt into traffic or run away (by the way, greyhounds can top out at 43 miles per hour, so you’re not going to catch them). Walking with a leash is divine in the city–and we went on many wonderful strolls together.
However, we now live in the rural wilds and I must say that, for all her wonderful attributes, poor Frugal Hound is not a country dog. She doesn’t like walking on uneven terrain, she’s not a fan of the woods, she’s afraid of the noises that come from the woods (generated by the squirrels, deer, and turkeys of the world), and she can’t be trusted off leash. Although we do just fine out here with our hound, it’s a wonderful illustration to us of how important it is to match a pet to your lifestyle. Different animals have different needs and capabilities and it’s unfair to expect, for example, a very hyper, active breed that requires a lot of exercise to acclimate to sedate apartment life.
Non-traditional Pet Considerations
Over the course of our years-long wait for our lifestyle to come into alignment with our ability to adopt a dog, Mr. FW and I branched out from the traditional set of pet criteria and started to consider a few less frequently considered elements of dog breeds. I’m talking mostly about doggies here since that’s my experience, but I think you can apply much of this to just about any pet out there.
1) Grooming considerations
Some dogs (and cats too!) require extensive grooming regimens, which means you need to be prepared to either: 1) learn how to groom them yourself; or 2) shell out the cash to pay a groomer on a regular basis. Complicated hair cutting/grooming needs shouldn’t put you off a dog breed, but merely be a factor in your selection process. One of the reasons we were drawn to greyhounds is their remarkably minimal grooming requirements. They’re short hair dogs, so no need to brush, comb, or trim them. Additionally, they’re not stinky dogs, so they don’t require frequent baths.
Our main grooming tasks with Frugal Hound are:
- Clipping her nails: we’ve used both a Dremel (the cheapest one sold by Harbor Freight) as well as these clippers over the years, and our preference is for the clippers since the process is faster, it makes less of a mess, and is easier overall. I think you need to clip pretty much every dog and cat’s claws, so be prepared to learn this task or, again, pay a professional.
- Brushing her teeth: using a human toothbrush (we once bought a dog toothbrush that I didn’t think worked very well), doggie toothpaste, and latex gloves. We both wear these gloves to avoid getting dog spit and toothpaste all over our hands, and Mr. FW holds her mouth open while I brush. It’s not as bad as it sounds, I promise!
- Bathing her occassionally: I like this doggie shampoo after learning the hard way not to use human shampoo… it gave her terrible dandruff!
- Vet wrap: for the occasional scrape or small cut, our vet told us to clean the wound thoroughly, put a cotton ball over it, and wrap some of this vet wrap around the affected area. Vet wrap is magical as it sticks to the dog without sticking to their fur and saves a trip to the doctor for what amounts to a doggie skinned knee. I highly recommend having a small stash on hand!
2) Consider an adult dog
Another factor in our decision to adopt a greyhound is the fact that they’re adult dogs. We knew that with our work schedules and other commitments we didn’t have the time to devote to training a puppy, which, from what I gather, is an epic undertaking. We wanted a dog who was already house-trained, not hyper, and not likely to rip our couch apart. Puppies are–without a doubt–absolutely adorable, but they are a prodigious amount of work. It’s also true that we needed a dog who’d be content to hang out at home alone during the day while we were at work and an adult dog is much more likely to adapt to this routine than a wee pup. Here again, it’s entirely possible to outsource the behavioral training required for a puppy, but it’s another expense that should be carefully calculated.
3) Consider a shelter dog
There are many pets living in animal shelters/rescue organizations in desperate need of homes. Adopting from a shelter is equal parts humanitarian and frugal. It’s massively cheaper to adopt from a shelter versus paying a breeder, which means it’s a way to start your pet journey out on a financially smart paw.
Greyhounds are rescue animals from the racetrack and we adopted Frugal Hound through a greyhound adoption group that takes dogs off the track and rehabilitates them. There are many other breeds with similar breed-specific rescue organizations as well as your local humane society or animal shelter.
Ongoing Pet Care
After the initial start-up costs of adopting a pet, which include paying the shelter/breeder, spaying or neutering, and a vet check-up, there are ongoing, routine expenses related to having a pet as part of your family. While it’s possible to frugalize many elements of pet care, there’s some stuff you just have to pay for and should be prepared to expend money on year after year.
Food: Obviously, they’ve gotta eat. This is another thing to research before adopting a pet as some breeds have more specific/complex food requirements. Frugal Hound does best with a grain-free diet and the cheapest option we’ve found–by a long shot–is the Costco generic “Nature’s Domain” salmon and sweet potato grain-free kibble. It has the same ingredients as the pricier “Taste Of The Wild” brand and a Frugalwoods reader tipped me off to Costco’s knock-off version several years ago. We’ve searched for a corollary of this food in literally every single store in our area and everywhere online and the best deal we’ve found is at Costco.
Vet visits: All pets, even healthy ones, typically need to visit the vet annually, which is likely to run you anywhere from $60-$200 or more if additional tests or treatments are needed. Frugal Hound’s most recent senior canine visit, with blood work, was $184.
Prescription Medications: Dogs need medicine too! Frugal Hound takes two preventative medications: one to prevent fleas and ticks and the other to prevent heartworm. This costs us in the neighborhood of $125 annually. I’ve filled her prescriptions at different venues over the years and the cheapest option I’ve found is the online pet pharmacy, Allivet. Costco also fills dog prescriptions, which was a lot cheaper than the vet’s office, but online seems to be the least expensive. My vet actually doesn’t carry her medications and recommended I fill them online.
Vaccinations: Just like people, pets need vaccinations in order to keep them healthy. Rabies, distemper, and a whole bunch of other things that I can’t remember the names of are all required and all have a price tag.
Registrations: Most municipalities require that you register your dog annually, which in my experience of doing this in two different towns, entails providing a proof of their rabies vaccine, paying a small fee, and attaching the tag to their collar.
Tags: Identification tags are a must for pets who go outside. We bought Frugal Hound’s from this super duper cheap website.
Doggie Paraphernalia: Dogs do need a few material possessions to call their own, although they certainly don’t need a pricey Bark Box of toys and treats delivered to them every month. Frugal Hound has two beds, two blankets, a few toys, a collar and leash, a rain coat, a fleecey coat, and this ultra-warm coat for hounds who live in the tundra (aka Vermont). Given our aforementioned residence in a tundra, Frugal Hound also has this fabulous pet heating pad in her bed, which keeps her old bones cozy and warm. I like this heating pad because it’s weight activated, so it only heats up when she’s laying on it.
Pet Sitter/Boarding Kennel: If you ever travel, or go on a long day trip, you’ll need someone to watch your critter while you’re away. Paying for boarding or kennel facilities can tack an extra several hundred–or even thousand–bucks onto your trips, so be sure you’re accounting for this expense anytime you plan a vacation. We’ve actually never paid to board Frugal Hound as we’re part of what I like to call the “informal pet swapping club.” Available in both urban and rural areas, you too can start your own “informal pet swapping club.”
Back when we lived in Cambridge, our “club” comprised a bunch of other greyhound owners–whom I met through our adoption group’s Facebook page–as well as all of our friends who owned dogs. When we needed to go out of town, I’d ask one of these friends to keep Frugal Hound at their home and then they’d request the same of us when they traveled. Now that we live rurally, I don’t know any other greyhound owners, but I do know a lot of pet owners!
We’ve been tremendously fortunate to work out a similar swap system with our neighbors, who have chickens and cats, and are delighted to keep Frugal Hound at their home while we travel. In turn, we pop over to their place to tend the chickens and cats when they’re out of town. It’s a wonderful community system and I highly recommend it! No money changes hands, we don’t keep track of who owes whom, the animals are happy and comfortable, and it gives us a chance to connect with our neighbors and build relationships.
In addition to the monetary and community-building advantages, this type of arrangement is almost a requirement for Frugal Hound. Before she was rescued, she lived in a cage on the racetrack and we fear that being boarded in a kennel would traumatize her as she gets very nervous in noisy, bright, loud situations. She’s much happier snoozing in someone’s living room and our minds are at ease knowing she’s well looked after by friends while we travel.
The Unforeseen: Health Problems
While there are a plethora of pet-related expenses you can judiciously plan for, frugalize, and otherwise save up in anticipation of, it’s also true that pets are living creatures and, as such, there’s always the potential for serious health problems. And there’s the possibility that these health problems will be remarkably expensive.
While we can’t always prevent or avoid health crises (either in our pets or ourselves), this is where frugality is, once again, a useful bulwark. Through frugality, you can ensure that you have plenty of money saved up to manage any health issues that befall your pet. With sufficient funds on hand, you’ll be able to pay for them without going into debt or feeling forced to make a very difficult decision. For everything in life we can’t control, a robust savings account can help us navigate challenging situations without worry over money.
I think my final take away on frugal pet care is that adopting an animal is a major undertaking. It’s a massive financial consideration and it’s also a relationship likely to last many years, and possibly even decades. Pets add joy and fulfillment to our lives, but they also represent a profound responsibility–both financial and lifestyle-related–that shouldn’t be taken lightly. That being said, I wouldn’t want to be without my Frugal Hound!
P.S. As I shared last week, I WROTE A BOOK! I’m a little bit excited, can you tell?!? My book is now available to be pre-ordered, for which I will mail you a signed bookplate. Check out this post for all the details.
How do you care for your pets frugally? What factors did you consider before adopting a pet?
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