Updated on: June 1, 2020

How to Save Money on Pet Adoption

dog house

Make sure that you get all the animal's medical information upfront, otherwise, you could get stuck with some wildly expensive vet bills.

Here on the OppLoans Financial Sense blog, we generally write about ways that people can avoid spending money on things.

Cutting your spending generally means focusing on your “needs” over your “wants,” but that philosophy has its limits. There are some things in life that may not be absolutely necessary, but carry intangible benefits that are totally worth the cost. Besides, cutting out everything in life except the barest essentials might make you more likely to snap and start splurging out of sheer frustration.

The benefits of owning a pet.

For many people, owning a pet is something they couldn’t live without. And while owning certainly means incurring additional costs, the joy that these furry (or scaly) little friends bring into people’s lives has benefits far beyond any line item in a budget. Heck, a recent meta-study published in the BMC Psychiatry journal found that owning a pet carries serious mental health benefits.

Still, we’re not telling you to break the bank in order to get a pet. That’s not going to benefit you or the animal. Stick with adoption over going to a breeder—which we would encourage you to do anyway, regardless of price—and search out ways to cut costs during the adoption process.

The more money you can save on adopting your pet, the more money you can save up for when you (or they) need it the most.

Figure out the full cost of pet ownership.

“First, average cost is very hard to calculate as it varies across facilities and across the country,” says communication expert Amy P. Castro, who serves as President of Starlight Outreach and Rescue, a nonprofit animal rescue organization. Since average cost can vary, begin your research be comparing costs in your area.

Instead of just going to one nearby facility, you should shop around between all your local organizations. Of course, if you fall head over heels for a certain little pup or kitty, that will likely affect your decision. But be aware that the cost of adopting will depend on who you are adopting them from.

Castro adds that “potential adopters need to consider the true cost of adopting. It’s not just the fee they pay to walk out the door with a pet. They need to consider the services the pet has/will receive and the cost of ‘set up,’ meaning buying food, supplies, crates, bowls, etc.”

This is another area where shopping around from different stores and online retailers will help you reduce costs. Make a spreadsheet listing out all the different expenses for your animal, both in the initial adoption period and for the future. You’ll be able to search for the best deals around while making sure that your prospective pet fits into your budget.

Choose a reputable organization.

“Adopt your dog or cat from a reputable rescue organization recognized as a 501(c)3 charity,” said Karen Heald, Executive Director and Medical Coordinator for NorCal Boxer Rescue. And while adopting from upstanding organizations can be a moral issue, this advice isn’t solely about that. Reputable organizations can also save you money.

According to Heald, “Many, but not all, animals in need of rescue require medical interventions beyond the simple spay/neuter, vaccinations, and microchip insertion.  If you adopt a pet through a responsible rescue you are more likely to adopt an animal for whom many—if not all—of these medical needs have already been addressed.”

She also provided an example of how the proper care provided by organizations like hers can benefits owners in addition to the animals themselves:

“At NorCal Boxer Rescue, we serve many homeless dogs who have broken bones that need to be mended, masses that need to be removed, teeth that need cleaning or extraction, or parasite infections that need to be resolved.  The average cost of each of these dogs’ medical care prior to adoption is approximately $1,300.

“This cost is one which adopters would have to assume themselves if they did not adopt through a rescue group that addressed each animal’s health needs prior to adoption.  Our adoption fee is $400 for most dogs, so most adopters are saving around $900 by adopting a dog from an organization like ours.”

Get all the fees and medical information upfront.

We mentioned earlier that you might fall in love with an animal at first sight. That could cloud your better judgment. So before you even start meeting prospective animals to adopt, figure out how much it’s going to cost to adopt one from that facility.

“Find out all adoption fees upfront from the organizations you’re considering AND the services that are provided to the pet before and/or after adoption,” says Castro. “That way, you can compare the true cost of adopting the pet.”

Similarly, once you have found an animal, you should ask what sort of medical care they have already received, as those costs could end up being ones that you are forced to bear yourself.

“When there is an animal you are interested in adopting,” says Heald, “ask the rescue organization if the animal has been evaluated by a veterinarian and ask what medical interventions the rescue has provided.  A reputable organization will not hesitate to share this information with you.”

Once you have all this information, you can weight the costs of initial adoption versus the long-term costs and post-adoption services offered. A slightly more expensive facility that offers more post-adoption assistance or has already provided for the animal’s short-term medical needs, might be a much better deal than a place that charges you next to nothing but then leaves you on your own.

Ask about specials and discounts.

Okay, now you’re probably suffering from some manner of sticker shock. With all these fees, how are you going to adopt your new furry forever friend? Well, the prices you see up front might not always be the price you end up paying.

“Don’t assume the price online or on the facility door is always in effect,” offers Castro. “Many facilities, especially municipal shelters like ours, often have adoption specials. Whether it’s two kittens for the price of one or, like we’re having now, a $12.50 cat adoption special if you tell a cat joke—when shelters get full, it’s less about breaking even and more about saving lives and getting animals into good homes.”

Similarly, a facility will likely be willing to discount the price for multiple animals that are best adopted together. According to Castro, “Even if the facility is NOT having a special, if they’re full of animals or have bonded animals that came into their facility together and they don’t want the animals split up, they’ll sometimes reduce the price for two animals.”

One special that Castro said to keep in mind is National “Clear the Shelters” Day, during which many facilities will offer low-cost or even no-cost adoptions. The date has already passed for 2018 (it was August 18th), but waiting for 2019 will give you even more time to save up!

Before you adopt, find a vet.

Veterinarians want to see pets find a good home. As such, there is a good chance that they offer deals for recently adopted pets. It might be small in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a good way to incentive rescue and shelter pets over those purchased from a breeder. Just don’t assume that a veterinary has such a discount ahead of time.

“Talk to your veterinarian BEFORE adopting about any special pricing he or she gives for rescued/shelter pets,” says Castro. “If you don’t have a vet currently, ask the question as you’re shopping around.”

Be careful, however, that you aren’t putting price ahead of quality care. Castro adds that “cost shouldn’t be a primary consideration when selecting a vet (or when adopting a pet for that matter). If all other things seem equal, why wouldn’t you select the vet that is going to give you a break on services for the first visit?”

When it comes to getting a new pet, the cost isn’t everything. Besides, owning a rescue animal, no matter what kind of deal you got on their adoption, is going to involve a lot of money, patience, and time. But the companionship that you get in return is going to be well worth the investment.

Don’t go overboard, look into the pros and cons of pet insurance, and you’ll be fine.

Article contributors
Karen Heald

Karen Heald is the Executive Director and Medical Coordinator of NorCal Boxer Rescue (@NCalBoxerRescue), an entirely volunteer-operated, foster-based 501(c)3 in California.

Amy Castro

Amy P. Castro (@amypcastro) is a communication and customer retention expert and speaker who works with organizations that want to increase profits, decrease conflict and improve customer service through extraordinary communication and service. Amy is also the volunteer liaison for the City of Friendswood Animal Control in Friendswood, Texas. In 2017, she started Starlight Outreach and Rescue, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to helping Houston area animal shelters provide medical care and other services to help save the lives of animals who might otherwise be euthanized. You can visit Amy’s website by going to www.Amy-Castro.com.

Alex Huntsberger
Communications Specialist
Alex Huntsberger has covered loans, credit scores, and personal finance for OppLoans since 2015. He is a graduate of Oberlin College and a regular contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times.
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