Pets are much-loved members of many families. They're also big business. The American Pet Products Association estimates that pet owners spend nearly $60 billion a year on their furry friends. Although it's fun to treat Fluffy and Fido to the best -- and lots of it -- if frugality is the order of the day, there are many items that simply aren't necessary when welcoming a pet into the home.
There's no need to go crazy buying bucketsful of toys for a new pet, especially when it's not clear what they will enjoy. A few playthings will do. Top choices for nearly all dogs: a plush toy (about $4), a ball for fetching, a chew toy ($6), and a tug toy. (Owners might also try making their own.) Cats will be happy with a string toy (about $2) and little balls to chase.
Whether the new pet is a pup or full-grown adult, a fancy bed isn't worth the price. Puppies chew and rip all kinds of things, as do untrained older dogs. And don't forget the potential housebreaking accidents that are so common at the beginning of pet ownership. Go cheap with a DIY bed -- numerous Pinterest boards are devoted to fashioning pet beds.
Dressing up a pet can be loads of fun -- for humans. But budget-conscious pet owners are better off sticking to the essentials, such as a winter sweater or coat for a small or short-haired dog, which can be found for as little as $10. Besides, some animals may flat out refuse to wear clothing, leaving the owner with a closetful of unworn outfits.
Buying expensive treats to save money may sound counterintuitive, but many cheap treats are filled with hard-to-pronounce ingredients that may cause stomach distress for a pet. Corn syrup, for example, is one of the main ingredients in some treats and, as with humans, it does nothing for an animal's nutrition.
Forget paying extra for specially formulated "paw" wipes to use after walking a pooch through mud and over wintertime's salt-strewn sidewalks. Generic baby wipes will get an animal's paws just as clean. Cheaper yet is any old washcloth dunked in a little dog shampoo.
Dog urine can create yellow spots in a lawn. But giving the animal a chewable tablet that alters the chemical composition of the urine is not a good idea, according to experts on animal health. Instead, train the dog not to pee in certain areas -- or consider an imperfect lawn a small price to pay for a pet's love.
Some pet owners are willing to drop hundreds of dollars on a Wi-Fi pet camera to monitor their pet's every move. Really? Giving a dog plenty of exercise, especially before leaving home, is a thriftier way to keep the animal calm. A treat-finder puzzle ($12) can alleviate boredom. Cats, on the other hand, are probably thrilled to have the house to themselves.
One bowl for food and one bowl for water is plenty. Don't waste money on bowls with cute decorations (the pet won't notice) or with some special purpose, such as encouraging slow eating or saving the effort of angling down for chow, unless this is recommended by a vet.
Martingales, halters, gentle leaders -- there are many ways to control a dog that pulls on leash. But there's no point buying without knowing more about the pet's temperament. Working with a trainer who can offer a recommendation costs money upfront but helps save money on wasted purchases.
Any basic nylon collar and leash will do the job. Just make sure the collar is made with a material that a pulling pet can't rip off easily. A cat doesn't need a collar if there's no escape route from the house.
There have been countless DVDs marketed promising to capture pets' attention, and DogTV says it can help dogs suffering from loneliness, boredom, separation anxiety, or depression for $5 a month. But entertainment extras for well-adjusted pets are an unnecessary expense. Dogs can stay very busy for quite a while with a simple Kong toy (about $5) filled with a treat. Cats enjoy a perch ($16) placed near a window with a good view of greenery and birds -- and sometimes an existing shelf, desk, or chair does the trick.
Professional grooming is a luxury -- for pets and owners. Instead, check out the many YouTube videos that provide instruction on everything from proper bathing to trimming nails. For breeds with constant hair growth, such as poodles and bichons, learning to do touch-ups on the face or paws between professional grooming sessions can save big bucks.
So long as they aren't elderly and immobile, dogs need exercise every day for sound physical and emotional health. Setting the pet in a stroller (which can cost into the hundreds of dollars) short-circuits that objective. Cats, meanwhile, are likely to experience being enclosed in a stroller as stressful rather than enjoyable.