There are approximately 70 million pet dogs and 74.1 million pet cats in the U.S., according to the American Veterinary Medical Association's 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook.
Six out of 10 pet owners consider their pet a member of the family, but between 2006 and 2011 the percentage of households that did not take their pet to the veterinarian increased by 8 percent for dog owners and 24 percent for cat owners.
With the average annual veterinary household expense hovering at $375, not to mention other costs of pet ownership, it's not surprising that some pet owners are looking for ways to save. But experts caution them to do it in ways that will not endanger their pet's health. Here, some ways to keep money in your pocket while keeping your pet healthy.
• VETERINARY CARE/ PREVENTIVE CARE: "Having access to affordable vet care is becoming more and more important," says Nancy Longacre, executive director of PAWS Atlanta. "We are seeing more people use our services, because people are a lot more sensitive to their finances. From our perspective, it is good because we want people to take care of their pets."
PAWS Atlanta offers low-cost pet vaccine clinics twice a month to get animals current on shots, along with other preventative care and services for pets including nail trimming, microchipping, spaying and neutering, and dental care.
Check the Humane Society of the United States for other organizations offering similar services.
If you don't want to go that route, try going to a veterinary college to get discounted vet visits, says Jon Lal, founder of Befrugal.com. The University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Athens gets high marks for affordable, quality care, though it might not be convenient for everyone.
• MEDICATIONS: Compare the cost of prescriptions at drugstores and an online service to the price of getting medications at the vet, Lal says. Longacre suggests trying 1800Petmeds.com for over-the-counter drugs as a less expensive alternative to retail.
• BOARDING: "You want to be careful about places that say 'x dollars' for boarding or day care and later tack on $5 here or $25 for your dog to play in the play yard. Find a place that has upfront pricing and is all-inclusive," says Marie Bilthouse, spokeswoman for the newly opened Camp Bow Wow Woodstock in Georgia.
If you have multiple animals, it might make sense to have a pet sitter come to your home, depending on the level of activity needed for your pets.
"We can do walks, run the dogs, look after cats," she says of its Home Buddies program.
• NUTRITION: "People think, 'I am going to the grocery store and buy the cheapest food,' but that is like giving your animal a Happy Meal every day," Longacre says. "They can become obese. If you spend a little (more) and buy better food, your pet will be healthy." Bilthouse suggests checking Dogfoodadvisor.com for ratings of many brands of dog food.
Consider a "Subscribe and Save" option with Amazon for any recurring expense, including pet food, says Lal. You could get up to 15 percent off. Or purchase pet food at a wholesale store such as Costco. Always look for coupons and sales, and join reward programs at pet care stores, he says.
PAWS offers a pet food bank for people who cannot afford quality pet food. Pet owners have to complete a form to receive the free food, and their pet must be spayed or neutered.
"They can't have a female in heat who is giving birth to more litters. We make sure they are being responsible pet owners," Longacre says. "We'll help, but they have to meet us halfway."