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How to Keep Pet-Care Costs on a Tight Leash

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As temperatures rise, the parks, beaches, and patios beckon, while Fido and Fifi finally get to spend some quality time romping around outdoors. But warm weather brings more than increased fetch time and neighborhood prowling -- it also exposes your fuzzy friends to parasites and the increased chance for costly mishaps.

Americans spent an estimated $11 billion on veterinary care last year. According to the ASPCA, basic medical costs run the average dog owner between $210 and $260 annually, and around $160 for cat lovers. Add in food, grooming, squeaky toys, and other necessaries, and your annual outlay can run up to $1,000 -- and much more during the first year you own your pet.

Moreover, a sudden injury to your beloved companion can double to quadruple what you normally spend to keep your pet in tip-top shape.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of fur
Routine care is not only compassionate, but it's also cost-effective. Before you let your pets encounter nature's nastiness, make sure they're up-to-date on their shots and flea and heartworm medication.

One way to save is to purchase your non-emergency medicines and preventatives online from websites such as 1800petmeds.com and DiscountPetMedicines.com -- check with your vet before buying a different brand from what you might usually use, though.

For pricier procedures such as teeth cleaning, check out programs at local veterinary schools, where students are supervised by experienced teachers.

Safety comes first in the great outdoors. Get a fence or keep your pet on a leash in high-traffic areas and anywhere wildlife might roam.

Pet insurance can take a bite out of costs
Preventative care can spot potential problems before they become big-ticket maladies. If your best friend does fall ill, having insurance coverage can help keep costs in check. The value of insurance to you depends on the coverage your pet qualifies for, as well as your ability and willingness to pay for treatment, should your companion suffer from a major oopsie.

Premiums run between $10 and $200 a month, based on the type of pet you have, its age, and its health, but buying into a group policy can yield savings. Many companies offer pet insurance as an employee perk. Individuals can purchase it directly from insurers such as petinsurance.com and petassure.com.

As with people insurance, you may be required to use a vet in the plan's network to receive benefits. Some breeds, older and exotic animals, and pets with chronic or terminal illnesses may not approved for coverage. Note whether routine care is included in the plan. Be sure to compare spending caps, deductibles, and coverage limitations. And factor in the cost of future premiums, which can increase by as much as 50% as your pet ages -- typically after nine years for dogs and 11 for cats.

And -- as if I needed to remind you -- take time every day (or, in my household, every hour) to give your pet some TLC. It'll keep both of you sprightly.

More advice on four-legged friends:

Dayana Yochim's mixed-breed pooch Poe graciously allows her to share living quarters and occasionally watch what she wants on TV (unless The Dog Whisperer is on). The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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