5 Do-It-Yourself Tips to Save Money on Your Vet Bills

While there are things only your veterinarian can do for your dog or cat, there are tasks you can do at home to help keep a lid on costly vet bills. Included are my top five, with step-by-step instructions, as well as my homemade formulas and agents to help prevent serious health issues later.

pet at home care

STORY AT-A-GLANCE

  • While there are certain things that absolutely require a visit to your veterinarian (e.g., diagnostic testing), fortunately, there are also routine pet care tasks that you can perform at home
  • The benefits of do-it-yourself pet care are that its much less expensive, it reduces the stress your furry family member experiences during professional appointments, and it can prevent many health issues down the line
  • With patience and practice, you can learn, for example, to care for your pet’s teeth, ears, nails, and occasional itchy skin at home
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If you’re a pet parent, you know there are things only your veterinarian can do for your dog or cat, for example, run diagnostic tests, check organ function, perform an oral exam with x-rays, or handle a necessary surgery.

But especially right now, when the cost of just about everything is skyrocketing, it’s a good idea to take the do-it-yourself approach when it comes to pet care tasks that can be handled at home.

Not only is this approach easier on your bank account, but it also keeps your furry family member’s stress level much lower than it would be if you were shuttling him around town to professional pet care appointments.

5 At-Home Do-It-Yourself Pet Care Tips

  1. Dental care — Veterinary dental procedures are expensive, especially when tooth extractions are necessary. It's also unnerving for many pet guardians to know their dog or cat must be anesthetized for the procedure. And the situation inside your pet's mouth doesn't improve with age. The older the animal, the more likely it is that she'll have tooth and gum issues.

    The best way to help your pet avoid oral disease is to brush her teeth every day or several times a week at a minimum. If you can develop the habit when your pet is a puppy or kitten, it's typically easier than training an adult dog or cat to accept tooth brushing. You can find a video demonstration and instructions on how to brush a cat's teeth here.
  2. Ear care — Ear problems are much more common in dogs than cats, but even kitty companions need their ears checked regularly and cleaned as needed.

    Some pets are much more prone to ear infections than others. If your dog has a tendency to have problems with his ears, I recommend checking them daily or every other day at a minimum. Wax or other debris that accumulates in the ear canal is the foundation for infection.

    A good rule of thumb is to simply clean your pet's ears when they're dirty. If there's lots of wax accumulating every day, they need to be cleaned every day. If the ears don't produce much wax or collect much crud, you can clean them less often.

    If you think your pet might already have an ear infection, it's important to have your veterinarian check him out before you begin a cleaning regimen. Infections often lead to ruptured eardrums, in which case special cleaners and medications will be required. For taking care of canine ears, my favorite cleaning agents include:

    Witch hazel

    Organic apple cider vinegar mixed with an equal amount of purified water

    Hydrogen peroxide, a few drops on a cotton round dabbed in coconut oil

    Green tea or calendula infusion (using cooled tea)

    One drop of tea tree oil mixed with 1 tablespoon coconut oil (for dogs only — never cats)

    Colloidal silver



    Use cotton balls only to clean the inside of the ear canal. You can use cotton swabs to clean the outer area of the ear, but never inside the canal, as they can damage the eardrums.

    The best method for cleaning a pet's ears is to saturate a cotton ball with cleaning solution and swab out the inside of the ear. Use as many cotton balls as necessary until there's no longer any residue on the cotton ball.
  3. Nail trims — Regularly trimming your dog's or cat's nails has many benefits. Most importantly, it prevents injury to your pet from a nail that catches on something or curls under and digs into the paw. Nail trims also keep human family members safe from pokes and scratches. In addition, when your pet's nails are short, she's less likely to damage your floors or furniture.

    It's important to desensitize a pet who doesn't like having her paws touched before you attempt a nail trim. Equally important is to err on the side of caution when deciding how close to clip the nails. You don't want to create a painful experience for your pet, because she'll forever associate the nail clipper with pain.

    For more information on clipping a dog's nails, see Trimming Your Dog's Nails Without Stress or Pain. If you're owned by a cat, go here.
  4. Healing baths and rinses — If your dog or cat develops a skin condition, irrigation therapy (rinsing with water) and frequent bathing can promote healing and provide immediate relief for itchy, irritated skin.

    When bathing your dog or cat, avoid oatmeal shampoos. Oatmeal may be a soothing ingredient, but grain-based shampoos are not a good idea for most dogs and cats. In fact, the only pets that truly benefit from oatmeal shampoos are those with poison oak or poison ivy reactions. Use an all-natural organic pet shampoo specifically formulated for dogs or cats. Homemade healing rinses:
    • Disinfecting vinegar rinse — Add 1 cup of vinegar to one gallon of water. Pour over your pet (from the neck down). Massage into skin. Do not rinse off. Towel dry.
    • Deodorizing lemon rinse (note that applying lemon rinse to dark-coated pets can bleach their fur if they spend time in the sun) — Cut one lemon in thin slices and boil in 1 quart of water for 10 minutes. Cover and let stand for about three hours. After shampooing, pour solution over your pet starting at the neck and working toward the tail. Massage the solution into skin, avoiding the eyes. Do not rinse off. Towel dry.
    • Povidone iodine rinse (note that this iced tea-colored solution will turn white coats to an off-white color) — This is a good rinse for hotspots and bumpy or infected skin. Add 1 cup of povidone iodine (also called Betadine or 1 percent iodine solution) to 1 gallon of water. Pour over pet from the neck back to the tail. Do not rinse off. Towel dry. You can re-establish your pet's skin microbiome by trying this probiotic rinse.
    • Herbal tea rinse (for generalized itchiness and restlessness) — Add five green, peppermint, chamomile, or Tulsi tea bags to 2 quarts of very hot water. Steep for about three hours to allow for the release of the maximum amount of polyphenols into the water. Remove tea bags and pour rinse over pet from the neck down. Massage into skin. Do not rinse off. Towel dry.
  5. Hairball prevention — Long-haired cats, excessively clean short-haired cats, and kitties who like to groom all the other pets in the household are prime candidates for hairballs. Other common causes of trichobezoars (the scientific name for hairballs) are a moisture-deficient diet, or a problem with the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Do-it-yourself hairball management:

    Brush or comb your cat — How much of this you'll need to do depends a great deal on the type and texture of your cat's fur, as well as his age, lifestyle, and health status. Some coats never develop so much as a tangle, while others become matted overnight. Generally speaking, the longer, softer and silkier the coat, the more upkeep it requires.

    Set a goal of 5 minutes a day with a long-haired cat and 3 to 4 times a week for a kitty with short hair. You should notice a very quick improvement in the hairball situation, and regular brushing or combing will also help improve the condition of your pet's skin by removing debris and dead cells.

    Feed a nutritionally optimal, species-specific, moisture rich diet made with excellent quality human grade ingredients — If your cat is eating exclusively dry food and you can't or aren't willing to switch to a different diet, I recommend adding bone broth to the kibble.

    Add a fiber source to your cat's meals — Mix the contents of a capsule of psyllium seed husk powder with a tablespoon of water and stir it into the food, add a pinch of coconut fiber to each meal, or try a teaspoon of 100% canned pumpkin or freshly cooked mashed pumpkin.

    Add an omega-3 supplement (DHA/EPA) such as krill oil Sufficient omega-3 fatty acids in the diet can help improve the condition of your cat's skin and fur, as well as the ability of his digestive system to manage the hair and debris he swallows while grooming himself.

    Add a high-quality digestive enzyme to your cat's diet — Cats in the wild consume raw food, which contains natural enzymes not found in highly processed, commercial feline diets.

    Never use petroleum jelly or mineral oil for hairballs — If you must use medication to assist with the passage of hair, use a petroleum-free hairball remedy (look for an all-natural product made with slippery elm, marshmallow, or papaya) or put a dab of coconut oil on your cat's front paw or near her bowl.

    I also recommend fiber and coconut oil together. Kibble fed cats, in particular, need additional GI lubrication to help ingested hair pass through the digestive tract.

Sources & References