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5 ways to make your pet's health care costs affordable

Caring for your best friend without breaking the bank

Nefertari Nelson, a jewelry designer and entrepreneur from Willingboro, New Jersey, says she's found ways to reduce pet costs for her three dogs. She says that she and her fiancé pay approximately $200 a month for the dogs' food, treats and vet care, but admits she is also on the lookout for ways to lower the costs.

"I'm a big fan of wholesale stores," Nelson says. "I can purchase a big bag of quality dog food and also save by purchasing their toys and flea medication in bulk."

Americans love their pets, and many see their furry friends as extended members of their family. The American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates that this year, pet owners will spend almost $63 billion on pet food and supplies, veterinary care, grooming, boarding and other related costs. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal (ASPCA), the first year of pet ownership can exceed $1,000.

Here are some ways to save money without jeopardizing your pet's health or care:

1. Explore a different kinds of veterinary care

Nelson takes her dogs to a local veterinary assistant vocational program that offers shots and exams at a discounted rate. All services are provided by students under the supervision of a vet.

In addition, some pet stores, animal welfare organizations, rescue groups and shelters often offer low-cost vaccinations, spay and neuter services—some even include it as part of an adoption package for no charge.

"Spaying and neutering your pets can prevent many expensive health problems later in life, including certain cancers," says Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, a San Diego, California-based vet and author of the book, "All Dogs Go To Kevin."

2. Focus on prevention

One of the biggest—and more expensive—mistakes pet owners can make is skipping wellness exams for their pets. These annual exams (twice-annually for senior pets) are key, says Vogelsang, since many health conditions can be caught early.

"A vet can pick up on the early and subtle signs of a pet's disease and detect conditions that owners might miss, such as an ear infection or a heart murmur," she says.

Behavioral training can also keep your pet happy and safe and reduce long-term costs. It can ward off problems such as aggression, barking and fear.

"A well-trained dog isn't going to run away and get hit by a car, or chew on items they shouldn't, which could result in an expensive surgery," Volsang says.

3. Get savvy with medication and supply shopping

Reputable websites can be great sources for discounts on grooming supplies or medication, since prices for medications are generally higher if you purchase directly from your vet.

"Ask for a prescription that can be filled elsewhere if price is an issue. Many online pharmacies and chain stores carry pet medications and can negotiate better prices with pharmaceutical companies, which means a reduced cost for consumers," Vogelsang says.

4. Groom your dog at home

Nelson bathes and brushes her dogs at home to save on grooming costs, which can be as high as $264 a year, according to the ASPCA. Ask your vet to show you how to trim your dog's nails, and be sure to brush your pet's teeth regularly to avoid future health problems, such as periodontal disease.

5. Prepare for emergency costs

If your pet needs an urgent medical treatment, you may face a hefty vet bill. Vogelsang recommends researching different types of pet insurance plans.

"An insurance policy for an older pet diagnosed with cancer or who needs surgery can be a lifesaver," she says. Policies exist for wellness coverage, accidents and accidents or illness.

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