Pet Connection: Learn how to leash all those expenses

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

The buzz

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.

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with