Think you can’t afford to keep your pet? Read this!

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I’ll never forget the look on one woman’s face as she had to surrender her longtime cat. I was working at the MSPCA Boston Adoption Center at the time and this woman’s plight literally made me ache. She had lost her job and, faced with eviction, she had nowhere to go. No one she knew could take in her cat and she was planning on spending that very night at a homeless shelter. Her face was tight and she was holding back tears as she signed the relinquishment papers.

Unfortunately, this woman is not alone. Petfinder’s 2009 FurKeeps Member Survey identified cost as one of the top five reasons people give up their pets. And it’s no surprise: Unexpected vet bills, the rising cost of pet care and sudden changes in a pet parent’s finances can be devastating.

Here are a few ways that you can manage the cost of pet care and plan for the worst financial scenarios. Please pass these resources on and feel free to add any we missed in the comments section below.

  • Be prepared before you adopt. The costs of owning a pet can vary, and can range from about $500 to about $10,000 a year for a dog and between about $300 and $5,000 a year for a cat. Before you adopt, check out our breakdowns, Estimated Annual Dog Care Costs and Estimated Annual Cat Care Costs.
  • Spay or neuter your pet. The best way to avoid having a litter you can’t afford is to spay or neuter your pet — and you’ll also prevent costly health and behavior problems (read our article Why Spay or Neuter?). Spaying and neutering doesn’t have to be expensive: Find a low or no-cost spay/neuter clinic near you.
  • Buy in bulk. While the smallest bag of pet food seems to cost the least, it can actually cost the most per pound. A 3-lb. bag of my cat’s (admittedly very high-end) food costs $17.99 online, and a 15-lb. bag is $42.29. If I buy the same amount of cat food in 3-lb. quantities I end up paying $89.95 for 15 lbs. of food — more than twice as much! Some pet specialists also recommend buying higher-quality food to reduce the cost of pet health care in the long term.
  • Make your own treats and toys. Check out our guest blogger Nikki Moustaki’s tips for making your own pet toys and saving money on pet treats, or try out our recipes for homemade pet treats.
  • Be prepared for unexpected costs. Having pet insurance can prepare you for unexpected vet bills. Our partner, PetFirst, offers a low-cost pet-insurance plan for only $5 for the first month. Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so check out our Pet Health section for tips on keeping your pet healthy.

Do you know of organizations that help pet owners during times of need, whether by providing lower-cost medical care, donating pet food to food banks, temporarily housing pets whose parents are in the military or have lost their homes, or in any other way? We’re compiling a list, so tell us below!

You might also like:

FurKeeps: Get it right from the start

Pets on a Budget: Weekly tips for the cash-conscious pet owner

Pets on a Budget: Easy homemade pet toys


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