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Make sure you're not overfeeding your dog. Overfeeding can lead to obesity and other health problems, which can also drain money from your wallet.
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Bankrate.com
updated 4/22/2011 8:12:19 AM ET 2011-04-22T12:12:19

People really love their dogs, and they pay top dollar to show it. From clothes to spa treatments to boarding facilities with private suites, it seems no luxury is off the table.

There's nothing wrong with paying for those pricey items if you have the cash. "Pets are part of the family," says Chris Pinney, founder of VeterinaryInsider.com.

But at the end of the day, all your dog needs is a nutritious diet, exercise, preventive care and regular interaction with you, Pinney says.

The good news is those things don't have to cost a fortune. Keep reading to learn how to save money while keeping your dog happy and healthy.

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When it comes to dog food, you can save money and still find a brand that's suitable for your dog.

Some dogs can't handle high-end food and are fine with grocery store dog food, he says. Pinney estimates that a 35-pound bag of dog chow on the lower end of the spectrum will cost about $20 to $25. But you could pay more than $70 for a higher-end bag.

Make sure you're not overfeeding your dog, Pinney says. Overfeeding can lead to obesity and other health problems, which can also drain money from your wallet.

There's a calculation you can make to determine how many calories your dog needs per day. Visit the American Kennel Club website to find your dog's ideal weight. Convert the weight into kilograms, multiply by 30 and add 70. That's the resting energy requirement, Pinney says.

If you have an adult dog that participates in normal activities, multiply the resting energy requirement by 1.8 to get the daily caloric intake. If your dog is a nursing mother or very active, multiply the number by 4, 5 or 6, depending on how active your dog is. If the dog has been neutered or spayed, multiply it by 1.6.

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Keeping your dog healthy
Keeping your dog current on its vaccines and medications is key. But there are still ways to save money.

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Stores often sell heartworm and flea-and-tick medication in combo packs. But your dog only needs the heartworm medication every month, not the flea-and-tick medication. Often, flea medications last longer than a month, and you can save money by buying them separately, Pinney says.

When health problems arise, you may need to meet with a vet, says Mandy Fults, vice president of the Texas Association of Registered Veterinary Technicians.

If the vet suggests a series of costly tests that you can't afford, ask what can be done to minimize the cost but still give the dog the treatment it needs. Also ask about any available payment plans to make a costly treatment less onerous on your budget, she says.

Health insurance
Buying health insurance will help you avoid excruciating decisions about whether you can afford to treat your pet for an illness, says Loran Hickton, former executive director of the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.

"At the very least, all pet owners should seriously consider (a policy) that covers emergency care," Hickton says.

Ask if your vet recommends any particular coverage for your pet, Hickton says.

And visit the pet health insurance group's member Web page, which allows you to request a quote from each member company. Type out all of the pertinent information about your pet beforehand so you can easily cut and paste it into the contact form for each company.

"It's fine for pet owners to not have insurance as long as they realize the risk and have the liquidity to cover care," he says.

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Start a pet savings account
A potential alternative to pet health insurance for your dog is a pet savings account where you deposit money every month. "Sock some money away so major decisions don't have to be based on money. They can be based on what's best for the pet," Pinney says.

With insurance, you won't get your premium back. With a savings account, you'll have money to spend on some other need if you don't use it on your dog.

A pet savings account is a much cheaper approach that should cover most of your problems while you save money at the same time, Pinney says. However, he says health insurance is a good financial choice if you live where veterinary services are expensive.

Hickton says a savings account is a great idea, but owners should have insurance in addition to savings because you may not have enough in a savings account to cover every expense.

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Keeping your dog happy
You don't need to take Spot to a spa or buy him a bunch of toys to keep him happy. You can save money by just spending time with him. Many behavior problems stem from a lack of interaction, Pinney says.

Taking your dog to the park, walking it around the block and playing fetch are activities you can do for free, Fults says.

When it comes to toys, you don't need many. Two will do. "They'll like to interact with you regardless," Pinney says.

Copyright © 2011 Bankrate.com

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