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10 Ways to Keep Your Pet Healthy and Happy for Less

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pet care on a budget

Having a pet can be as costly as it is rewarding. Taking proper care of a pet doesn't have to be expensive, however. There are ways to save on pet care, as well as some occasional splurges pet owners should make to avoid costly problems later.

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protect against fleas and ticks

These bugs aren't simply a nuisance. While flea and tick bites may start by causing minor skin irritation, an infestation can lead to significant blood loss or infection. Consider using preventive treatments such as Frontline or Advantage to eliminate a problem before it starts.

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use natural remedies

If your pet does contract fleas, make your own flea shampoo by mixing together 1 cup dish soap, 1 cup vinegar, and 1 quart of warm water. Rub the shampoo into the pet's fur and let it sit for at least five minutes before rinsing. Coffee grounds can also ward off fleas and ticks without special shampoo. After using your regular pet shampoo, massage coffee grounds left over from your morning brew through your pet's coat and rinse thoroughly. Another natural remedy: To treat bad breath, add parsley to pet food.

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do some grooming yourself

Keeping pets groomed helps keep them healthy while drastically reducing the amount of animal hair inside your home. Ask a veterinarian for tips on brushing teeth and fur as well as cleaning the animal's ears. Nails, though, should be trimmed by a professional. Done incorrectly, home trims run the risk of cutting too close to a nerve or blood vessel.

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take brushing teeth seriously

Dental hygiene is crucial to a pet's overall health, and healthy pets spend less time (and money) at the veterinarian. Neglecting your pet's teeth can lead to kidney disease or even heart failure. Research also shows that cleaning a dog's teeth daily can add two to four years to the animal's life, and dental care treats are another way to keep choppers shiny.

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shop around for medication

It can be convenient to purchase medication directly from the vet's office, but it is usually the most expensive option. Companies such as 1-800-PetMeds. PetCareRx, and the price comparison site GoodRx promise savings up to 80 percent on brand-name medications. The owners of two Labrador retrievers who were profiled on ABC News said they found the same medication ranging in price from $27 to $122 by using the GoodRx website. Pet owners also may be able to save on vaccinations by attending a vaccine clinic, usually held several times during the year, at a local animal shelter.

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research pet food options

Many store-brand pet foods are just as nutritious as brand-name alternatives that cost up to six times as much. Look for natural varieties that have more whole food and fewer fillers, and a nutritional adequacy statement on the label that includes the phrase "complete balanced," indicating the food meets minimum nutrition standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Members of Amazon's Prime program can sign up for the Subscribe Save service to get 15 percent off pet food, which is automatically shipped free.

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spend money on preventive care

Taking pets for annual checkups can help avoid expensive procedures and costly illnesses later on. When it comes to picking a veterinarian, though, be sure to shop around. The cost of preventive care can vary.

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spay or neuter your animal

Not only does it save money by preventing unexpected litters of puppies or kittens, but spaying and neutering can have health benefits for some pets. While some research suggests sterilization can increase the risks of health problems in specific breeds, spaying or neutering a pet eliminates the possibility of uterine or ovarian cancer and reduces the chance of breast or prostate cancer. Local shelters often offer spaying or neutering at little to no cost to you.

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don't count out pet health insurance

Pet health insurance, just like your own health insurance, requires a monthly premium but can cover expenses should your pet need emergency care or treatment for a serious illness. There are a variety of plans starting at just a few dollars a month, but do your research to see what is covered and what isn't. Also, find out whether your veterinarian accepts insurance before purchasing.

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evaluate the environment

An easy way to keep animals out of the vet's office is to quickly assess their living conditions. Keep all toxic chemicals and cleaners out of reach, pick up small toys or other items that can be swallowed, keep dust at a minimum, and don't allow smoking. These things can lead to medical problems easily avoided with a preventive sweep of the house.