Pets, for many, are part of the family; another member that needs love, feeding and treatment, just like anyone else in the household.
Americans are expected to spend more than $55 billon on pet care this year, up from more than $53 billion in 2012, according to the American Pet Products Association. Cat owners, the group said, spend about $1,271 per pet, while dog owners spend about $1,649 per pet.
But in this economy, pet owners are seeking ways to save on expenses -- both their own and their pets. Check out CostHelper's tricks and tips for saving money on our furry friends' expenses.
1. There's an app for that
Apps such as Pet Care Services (free on iTunes) help with comparison shopping by offering lists of local service providers. It covers everything from emergency vets to local dog parks, and makes it easy to call or email the location ahead of time.
2. Saving with auto shipments
If you are using dog or cat food or other pet products at regular intervals, scheduling auto shipments from a retailer can save both time and money. Amazon's Subscribe and Save program offers discounts of 15%. Petco has a similar Repeat Delivery service, as does Pet Food Direct, with its program.
3. Pet meds: Options other than the vet
Just because the vet prescribes a medication, don't feel obligated to buy it there. Veterinarians often pad medication costs to cover their own bottom line. Try sites such as 1-800-PET-MEDS for low-cost alternatives. Or shop around: GoodRX offers information on costs of various medications for pets based on the owner's area code.
4. Make your own pet toys
How often do you come home from shopping, empty out the bag and turn around to find a cat inside of it? It's surprising how inexpensive items provide more entertainment to our pets than the costly kind. Try braiding an old towel to make a dog toy. Tie string around a toilet paper tube to amuse the cats. Ideas are endless.
5. Flea and tick medication secrets revealed
Flea and tick treatments are often sold in tiny little tubes measured out for dispensing based on a pet's weight. But, according to my vet, in the case of Advantage, it is possible to buy a vial for a larger pet and spread it among smaller pets. In my case, I bought a 30-pound dog treatment (about $13) and spread it over three 10-pound cats. Last month, three vials of 10-pound cat treatment cost about $43, so it was a substantial savings.
6. Cut coupons
It's the little things that can add up. Check the Sunday paper for pet food discounts or look online for savings. Or if you are a customer at a big-box pet store, take the time to sign up for the discount card and slap it on your key ring.
7. Low-cost clinics
Annual vaccinations -- and even spays and neuters -- are available in most areas through low-cost clinics. However, these clinics don't include the normal process of checking the health of your pet, only the annual shots needed. But, if your pet is in good health and doesn't need a full physical each year, a low-cost vaccination clinic is a cost-effective option. The ASPCA has a helpful tool to find local clinics.
Remember: Don't feel bad or that you are skimpy with your beloved pets. We're just stretching our dollars a bit farther, the same as we do for ourselves.