9 Savings Tricks to Care for Your Dog

Proud pet parents across the country agree that owning a dog is priceless. However, there are lots of expenses that come with caring for your favorite canine: The American Kennel Club (AKC) estimates dog owners dish out an average of $2,500 per year on food, veterinary expenses, grooming, pet sitting and more. Additionally, more than one-quarter of dog owners surveyed by the AKC said annual costs "exceeded their expectations."

To keep your four-legged friend from licking your budget dry, follow these 9 savings tricks!

1. Sign up for loyalty programs.
Take advantage of rewards programs offered through your favorite pet stores for freebies, special promos and dollars-off future purchases. Petco's Pals Rewards program gives members $5 for every $100 in purchases, for example, plus special pricing on products throughout the store. Your local pet store might offer a loyalty program or points as well, so inquire about your options.

2. Double the discount with gift cards.
Sites like GiftCardGranny.com sell pet store gift cards at a big discount - you're looking at saving up to 25% off Petco gift cards and over 19% off gift cards to PetSmart. Use these discount gift cards as currency and try to pair them with sale items, coupon codes and/or reward bucks to keep your dog care items really cheap!

3. Look for low-cost clinics.
Routine check ups, vaccinations and emergency care for your four-legged friend can get expensive. However, you may qualify for discount care available at low-cost clinics. Search for a nearby accredited veterinary school through the American VeterinaryMedical Association to find out about free care to pet owners in need, or sliding-scale services. You can also find free or low-cost neuter or spay programs using the ASPCA website locator tool. Finally, vaccination clinics are held by select veterinary practices and Petco stores regularly, saving you money on office fees.

4. Ask for generic meds and buy online.
Don't assume you have to fill your dog's prescription at the vet, as prices on pet meds can have markups of over 100 percent in some cases. If your dog doesn't need treatment immediately, compare med prices online. Sites like 1800PetMeds and PetCareRX offer both generic and brand-name meds for less, plus you can find coupons for extra savings. Search for coupon codes using Coupon Sherpa for such savings as 15% off your qualifying purchase from PetCareRX, or 10% off plus free shipping on $49 orders from 1800PetMeds.

5. Buy treats and chews in bulk.
Treats and chews represent healthy ways to reward your dog, but they can be pricey! Shop for both these items in bulk to cut costs. You can buy rawhides and dental chews from Costco and Sam's Club for over 40% less compared to pet stores. Same goes with treats: a 25oz container of Milk-Bone Soft & Chewy Treats is priced at $12.99 on PetSmart's website, while Sam's Club offers a 37oz container of the same treats for just $8.38.

6. Order food online.
Buying dog food in bulk will get you the best bang for your buck, but there's nothing fun about hauling those oversized bags to and from your car. Not only is ordering food online easier, but it can be cheaper, too! Many pet-specific sites offer a discount to those who set up repeat delivery plus free delivery. For example, Petco offers 15% off when you use their repeat auto delivery program.

7. Set up a dog-emergency fund.
With average annual medical expenses for dogs costing $786, it's important to set aside money for their care. Be sure to include extra funds for emergencies, as unplanned visits to emergency clinics and overnight stays can add up fast. A pet-specific emergency fund will alleviate any financial pressure should your pet be facing an expensive surgery or medication to treat a serious illness.

8. Use daily deals for grooming.
In addition to using coupons, daily deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial are great places to snag discount vouchers for grooming services. For instance, you can save up to 54% at Furry Tails in New York City or pay just $8 for a doggie bath ($15 value) at Bark Williams near Los Angeles via Groupon.

9. Think outside the kennel.
Kenneling isn't the only option when you leave for vacation. Check out Rover.com to find a local pet sitter who will care for your dog in their home. You can easily find reviews for each person and rest easy knowing your dog is getting one-on-one attention. If you want your dog to accompany you on your travels, check Motel 6 availability at your destination (the "original pet-friendly motel," according to their website), or filter VRBO results by "pet-friendly" properties.

Guest post courtesy of Andrea Woroch. Find Andrea at AndreaWoroch.com or follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.

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