In its latest issue, which hits newsstands today, Consumer Reports magazine offers pet owners several ways to save money. Among the recommendations: skip premium pet food, frequent big box stores and shop around for vet services.
“It’s still possible to save hundreds of dollars a year on pet care without shortchanging your furry, finned or feathered friends,” said Greg Daugherty, executive editor of Consumer Reports.
Food is the biggest ongoing cost of owning a cat or dog, according to the magazine, and a significant part of the national pet-food bill goes toward premium and super-premium varieties. But, Consumer Reports advises pet owners not to pay for premium pet food, because it said “premium” has no legal definition in terms of nutritional quality.
Consumer Reports does acknowledge that pets with certain problems, such as sensitive skin, digestive difficulties or obesity, might do better on special types of food. Still, consumers are likely to find significant price differences among equally appropriate foods, Consumer Reports said.
When shopping for pet food, Consumer Reports suggests pet owners hit up big box stores. In a study, Consumer Reports said it found that Target and Walmart had the lowest prices most of the time. The magazine also recommends pet owners consider store and private-label brands. Among the least expensive pet foods Consumer Reports found (on a unit-price basis) were Costco’s Kirkland Signature, Petsmart’s Grreat Choice, Safeway’s store brand and Walmart’s Ol’ Roy.
When it comes to protecting pets from fleas and ticks, Consumer Reports recommends pet owners consider new generic options. The magazine noted SentryFiproGuard Plus and PetArmor Plus as less expensive alternatives to Frontline Plus. However, a federal court recently ruled that PetArmor Plus infringed on Merial Ltd.’s U.S. patent for Frontline Plus.
Veterinary care is another area in which consumers can save money, according to Consumer Reports. The magazine recommends pet owners comparison shop by calling at least two or three nearby vets and finding out the cost of a physical exam. The exam fee forms the cornerstone of every vet bill, and vets often set their other fees as a percentage or multiple of that charge, according to Consumer Reports.
The same goes for pet medications. Consumer Reports advises pet owners not to buy medications from their veterinarian, because markups over wholesale start at 100 percent and frequently hit 160 percent. Instead, Consumer Reports recommends pet owners shop at one of the veterinary-verified Internet pharmacy sites, such as 1-800-PetMeds and Doctors Foster & Smith. If the medication is also prescribed to humans, Consumer Reports suggested filling the prescription at a chain drugstore, supermarket or big box store.
In addition, pet owners are advised to think twice about purchasing pet health insurance. Consumer Reports said it analyzed polices marketed by insurers representing about 90 percent of the pet insurance market and found that none would have reimbursed more than the premium they charged for a basically healthy dog over a 10-year life span. Only when Consumer Reports looked at extreme and uncommon situations did all of the policies pay out more than a pet owner would have paid in.
Lastly, Consumer Reports advises pet owners to take simple steps to avoid costly health problems in the future. For example, Consumer Reports suggested brushing dogs and cats’ teeth to prevent periodontal disease. Other recommended preventatives: spaying and neutering, keeping shots current (Consumer Reports noted that the core vaccines are needed every three years), and trying not to overfeed pets to prevent obesity.