Pet Connection

Save Money!

7 smart ways to reduce pet expenses without cutting back on good care

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Are pet-care costs taking a bite out of your budget? You might be tempted to skimp on veterinary care or quality pet food, but there are better ways to save money without compromising your pet's well-being. Here are some of my favorite budget-boosting tips.

-- Ask about discounts. If your pet has severe periodontal disease, he may benefit from professional cleanings more than once a year. If that's the case, your veterinarian may give you the same discounted rate offered during National Pet Dental Health Month (February). Some clinics offer discounts if you bring in more than one animal at a time for exams, or if your pet is a rescue animal. Groomers may offer discounts if you bring your pet in on a regular basis, or if you bring in more than one pet at a time. Don't be afraid to ask; the worst they can do is say no, and you might even get them to start a new policy.

-- Buy smart. Ask your veterinarian if there is a generic equivalent of the medication your pet needs. With a prescription, you can take advantage of low-cost pharmaceuticals from big-box retailers such as Costco or Target. Your veterinarian may also have samples of medications, including flea- and tick-control products, or be willing to match the price found at an online pharmacy.

-- One word: email. Your local pet supply store or your favorite pet food brand likely has an email list you can join. They send out coupons and notices of sales or special events. One pet supply store I know of has a monthly "Yappy Hour," with special prices between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

-- Buy food in bulk. Whether you feed canned, dry or frozen pet food, bulk options are available. Buy the largest size container, and store excess dry or frozen food in your freezer, or split it -- and the savings -- with a friend or neighbor. If you make your pet's food yourself because he's on a special diet, look for a pet food co-op in your area. Scoop: Another item you can buy in bulk for big savings is cat litter.

-- Choose quality. Whether you're buying food, collars and leashes or toys, look for top-notch ingredients and materials. They'll always perform better. Well-made toys and other items last longer, so you don't have to replace them as often. High-quality foods contain more and better nutrients, so pets need to eat less. Even if you pay more upfront, your costs are less on the back end. And speaking of the back end, your pet's poop will be smaller, firmer and less stinky on a good-quality food, so it's a win-win all the way around.

-- Offer a trade. The barter economy is alive and well. If you have skills in construction, social media, interior design, cooking or, well, you name it, you may be able to work out a deal for a service exchange with your pet's trainer, groomer, pet sitter or veterinarian. It never hurts to ask.

-- Take a walk. Your dog needs regular exercise to stay healthy; in fact, all pets need some kind of exercise for both mental and physical well-being. For dogs, a walk is something you can easily do every day, in any place. For cats, toss a wadded-up piece of paper down the hall, or sit on the sofa and direct the beam from a flashlight on the floor for them to chase. Pets who get an appropriate amount of exercise and who live in an interesting environment have fewer behavior problems and better health.

Q&A

What to do when

dog guards food

Q: Our dog is very protective of her food dish, and she won't let anyone near it when there's food in it. How can I teach her that this behavior needs to change? -- via Facebook

A: That is definitely a serious problem. Guarding food is a normal, instinctive behavior for dogs, but it's not one they need to practice in a home environment, where they receive food on a regular basis. Your dog needs to learn that she must allow family members to approach and touch her food dish.

First things first: Never act aggressively toward your dog when she exhibits this behavior. No pinning her to the ground or other physical punishments. That's not only a quick way to get bitten, it also teaches your dog that you really are out to take her food, and it will worsen her guarding behavior.

To show her that your approach means good things, walk past her bowl and toss treats in it: more kibble, bits of cheese, even something special, such as bits of chicken or steak. You should start to notice that her body language becomes happy or relaxed when you approach. As you can get closer to her bowl, continue tossing goodies into it.

Another technique is to put only a small amount of food in the bowl when you feed her. As she finishes it, you can pick up the bowl and add more. Ask her to sit while you do so. That reinforces your position as leader and as giver of food. Have every member of the family do this so she learns to accept any person near the food bowl.

If her resource-guarding behavior involves growling or attempts to bite, it's a good idea to enlist the help of a professional trainer or veterinary behaviorist to work on changing her behavior. -- Mikkel Becker Johnson

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Fake service dog?

Face jail time

-- If buying a service dog vest online so you can take your dog into restaurants or other businesses sounds like a good idea, think again. Besides being fraudulent behavior, it's now a misdemeanor in Florida to pass off a pet as a service animal. People convicted face up to 60 days in jail and 30 hours of community service for organizations that help people with disabilities. Other states and municipalities are considering or have passed similar legislation. People who have service animals are not required to carry or present documentation, but businesses may ask if the animal is required for a disability and what tasks the animal is trained to do.

-- The Maine coon is considered to be the first American cat breed and is, yes, the official state cat of Maine. He's a plus-size feline adorned with a ruff of fur around his neck, fur "britches" on his legs, tufted feet and a bushy tail. The Maine coon is a laid-back cat who gets along with kids and other pets, often enjoys retrieving toys and may be willing to walk on leash. He's the third most popular pedigreed cat, according to registration statistics from the Cat Fanciers Association.

-- India has 14 new wildlife sniffer dogs -- German shepherds trained to detect tiger skins and other illegal wildlife products and locate animals injured or killed by poachers -- bringing the total in the country to 25. The dogs will work in areas that are home to large populations of tigers. The wildlife sniffer dog program is a joint project of the World Wildlife Fund and TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade-monitoring network. Future plans include training more of the dogs to help decrease animal poaching. -- Kim Campbell Thornton

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker Johnson. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker Johnson is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

CAPTIONS AND CREDITS

Caption 01: A good diet, regular exercise and careful shopping can help you shrink costs for pet care. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: His tabby markings may have given rise to the myth that the Maine coon is a cross between a cat and a raccoon. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 2

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