Photo by Cia de Foto

I’m pretty fed up with big media perpetuating tragic stories of owners abandoning their pets, without offering any solutions for affordable animal care during the recession.

IF YOU’RE IN DIRE straits–and I’m not talking about no longer being able to pay your $100+ cable bill, but just scraping by, living paycheck to paycheck–here’s a quick guide to keep your fur-buddy from becoming a burden.

Despite what the pet industry–and it is an industry–tries to peddle, animals do not need that much to be healthy and happy, but they do need consistency and care. Also, keep in mind that cheaper does not mean easier.

Medical

Photo by Paulo Ordoveza

Medical bills can be the biggest expenditure to break a struggling pet companion’s budget, but serious health problems can be avoided or at least mitigated with regular health maintenance.

Don’t skip vaccinations and check-ups. Not only do shots prevent costly diseases such as leukemia, but regular vet visits can catch other maladies in initial, cheaper-to-treat phases.

Some vaccinations are less necessary than others, though. (For instance, if you live in a geographical area with low risk for Lyme disease, then that shot isn’t a pressing concern for your dog.) Talk with your vet about individualizing a preventive care program for your pet.

Here’s a list of vaccinations and their recommended administration schedules.

Food

Don’t think that buying a 20 pound bag of generic commercial pet food is cutting down on anything but your companion’s life-expectancy. Loaded with fillers and light on substance, these foods essentially starve your pet of nutrition.

How long would you expect to stay healthy if you ate fast food for every meal? Ensuring a balanced diet with proper exercise will keep complications associated with obesity, heart disease, and dental disease at bay.

If premium pet food is too expensive, consider making your own pet food. Some animals’ dietary needs lend themselves to homemade meals (like dogs, who actually don’t mind a bit of fruit in their diet), and oftentimes can be cheaper and more nutrient-rich than processed foods.

Experiment with recipes and ingredients to see what works with your budget, but make sure to consult your vet before switching to homemade.

Signing up for special savings programs on manufacturers’ or retailers’ websites, and scanning for coupons also saves more money than you’d think.

Grooming

Photo by Mark

With the exception of certain breeds, most cats and dogs can be groomed easily at home with a consistent routine—and even the more high-maintenance breeds can be home-groomed with a bit of practice.

Daily to weekly brushings, depending on coat lengths and types, help to spread essential oils, remove detritus, and maintain overall coat health. And if you gently ease your pet into having its paws touched, rewarding it with positive reinforcement, nail trimming doesn’t have to be an epic battle, either.

Constant handling of your pet also allows you to feel for any unusual lumps or bumps that can indicate the early onset of medical problems (in addition to, of course, deepening the bond with your ani-pal).

Here are some general tips for dog and cat grooming.

Free or Discount Services

You’ve tried everything to reduce expenditures, but it’s still down to a choice between your pet and your dinner plate.

Check this site and review this list for comprehensive resources regarding financial aid, discount veterinary services, pet food banks, and other charitable assistance for special needs candidates, including the elderly, the ill, the disabled, and the just plain broke.

Even with all these tips and resources, you might find that you’re no longer able to afford or house your pet. If you have to make that difficult decision to relinquish your animal companion, make sure to surrender them to a no-kill shelter. With most shelters, municipal and not, at full-capacity, there’s not much guarantee that your pet will find the home he or she deserves.

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How are you affected by the recession? Do you have any tips for managing pet-related expenses on a shoestring budget? Share your thoughts below!