Ask our experts: How to provide the best pet care within your budget

Woodgreen's Community Support Manager, Chris Bennett, gives his top tips for saving money on pet care without compromising welfare.

With the cost of living now estimated to be 7% higher than it was a year ago, many people are looking at how to reduce their outgoings and save money. The good news is that pets don’t care what things look like or how much they cost, and investing more doesn’t necessarily make someone a better pet owner, so there are lots of ways that we can keep pets healthy and happy on a budget. As Community Support Manager at Woodgreen, here are some questions Chris Bennett is asked regularly:

How much does it cost to own a pet?
It can vary hugely depending on their species, breed and individual needs. As a rough guideline, allow a monthly budget of around £100 for a dog, £80 for a cat and £80 for a pair of rabbits to cover the essentials – in addition to the initial up-front costs of getting the pet(s) and all the supplies they need. Bear in mind that small pets like rabbits, guinea pigs and rodents need to live with companions of their own kind, so you should always budget for having two.

This cost can be significantly higher for older pets, pets with ongoing medical conditions, large dogs and certain breeds, for example flat-faced dogs like French Bulldogs that are expensive to insure, as they usually suffer from more medical issues than other breeds. Before taking on a pet, please consider the ongoing costs and whether you will be able to afford them – both now and in the future.

Is preventative healthcare really worth it?
Yes, absolutely! Don’t underestimate how much money can be saved by preventing issues from occurring in the first place. There is a cost involved with neutering, microchipping, vaccinating and giving your pet regular flea and worming treatments, but you risk paying much more down the line if anything were to go wrong. Preventative healthcare is always a good investment and isn’t worth skimping on. Charities like Woodgreen can also help with neutering your pet.

Should I cancel my insurance policy to save money?
At Woodgreen, we always recommend insuring pets as it can save some hefty bills in the long run. Rather than cancelling your policy, shop around and use price comparison websites to make sure you’ve got the best policy for your pet, as you may find a cheaper option elsewhere. The best policies cover pre-existing conditions for life – if you don’t opt for this, ongoing conditions can become costly.

If you are struggling to meet the monthly cost of your insurance policy, another option is to contact your insurance provider and ask to drop the maximum level of cover, which will lower the monthly payments. A policy that covers your pet for up to £2,000 should be enough for most things like blood tests and basic procedures. This is better than having no cover and being faced with unexpected bills.

Is it possible to save money on vet bills?
Addressing medical issues at the first sign of sickness or injury is often cheaper in the long run, so it’s best to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible. Waiting to see if things “get better” can make treatment far more expensive.

If your pet is prescribed medication or a prescription diet, you don’t have to purchase it through your vet. Discuss with your vet the option of writing a prescription, as this can allow you to purchase the medication or food online at a cheaper cost.

You can also be registered with more than one vet. For pet owners who are on a low income or receive benefits, you may qualify for discounted veterinary treatment through the RSPCA or PDSA, depending on whether you fall into their catchment area. You can find out more about this by checking with your local RPSCA and PDSA clinics.

How much should I be spending on pet food?
A poor diet can cause problems with your pet’s teeth, skin and weight, but individual pets will have different dietary requirements. We advise getting the best quality within your budget, but don’t feel obliged to buy premium products unless there’s a medical reason why your pet needs to be fed a specific brand.
For dogs, look for a complete dry food that will meet all their nutritional needs – you don’t have to feed them a mixture of dry kibble and wet meat. If you can afford to, and have the storage space, buying in bulk will work out cheaper. It’s very easy to over-feed your pet which risks obesity, as well as being more expensive for you, so make sure you’re weighing out the right amount of food for your pet’s weight.

When it comes to treats and training aids for dogs, you can use dry kibble, small pieces of cheese or, my dog’s personal favourite, carrots! And if you’re struggling with the cost of pet food, please get in touch with Woodgreen or contact your local food bank for support.

Where can I buy affordable pet products?
You can buy lots of fantastic products second hand, or make them yourself. Check your local charity shops and Facebook Marketplace for things like pet beds, soft toys, dog coats, cat litter trays, scratching posts, appropriately sized small pet cages and enrichment items. Here at Woodgreen, our small pet accommodation is packed full of second-hand children’s toys like chairs and dolls’ houses, as well as household items like cardboard boxes and tubes, and they absolutely love exploring and chewing.

For dogs, an old duvet makes a very cosy bed, and a cereal box with kibble hidden in balls of newspaper provides hours of fun. You don’t need to go out and purchase pricey puzzle feeders and designer brands. Browse through our website or YouTube channel for more ideas on homemade enrichment – just get creative and have fun.
Are there any other low-cost services available to pet owners?

Getting help with a pet doesn’t need to be expensive. If you’re struggling with your pet’s behaviour, you can speak to one of Woodgreen’s qualified behaviourists for free – simply get in contact here. We also provide a number of free online events, including free Health & Wellbeing Clinics, and low-cost puppy and adult dog training classes at our centre in Cambridgeshire.

For things like dog walkers and pet sitters, think about whether you could ‘buddy up’ with a trusted neighbour or local friend. Check your local community, as there may be groups that can support with dog walking.

For animal lovers who can’t commit to owning a pet, another option is to foster. At Woodgreen, we are always looking for volunteers to join us – and all expenses are paid for. For more information about fostering, head to our dedicated fostering page.

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