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Budget-Friendly Tips For Dog Guardians

Five ways to save money without shortchanging your dog
By Karen B. London PhD, May 2019, Updated June 2021
Budget friendly ideas for dog owners

Most people aren’t trying to spend as much money as possible on their dogs. It just looks that way to anyone who sees a record of their purchases. There’s no denying that having a dog can make living on a budget challenging. However, there are plenty of ways to save money without making your dog miss out. Here are a few of my top picks for budget-friendly solutions to canine-related expenses.

1. Create a toy for your stuffing ripper. Dogs who love to shred toys can go through them so quickly that many people stop providing them for their dogs at all. Others end up spending an excessive amount of money buying toys that are essentially single use disposable items. That’s wasteful financially as well as environmentally.

Another option is to make a substitute that can be used over and over. Buy a hollow rubber dog toy with a honeycomb shape. Wrap a couple of treats in scraps of fleece or pieces of old t-shirts, put it inside the toy and then stuff additional fabric scraps around the original treat package. How tightly you pack the fabric and how much you twist the pieces around each other determine how difficult it is for the dog to pull out the fabric strips to get to the treats.

For safety, watch your dog as she enjoys this opportunity to unstuff a toy to be sure that she is not chewing or swallowing anything but the treats.


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2. Make homemade treat pockets for pills. Pill pockets from the store are an amazing invention that have helped countless dogs take their medicine with no stress for them or for their people. On the down side, they are not cheap, which is why making your own pill pockets is a terrific budget alternative.

The recipe is simple: Combine 2 tablespoons brown rice flour, 1 tablespoon milk (use almond milk or coconut milk if you prefer instead of cow’s milk) and 1 tablespoon smooth peanut butter. Be absolutely sure that the peanut butter does NOT contain xylitol as it is very dangerous for dogs to ingest it. Roll the dough into 9-10 small balls and then use a chopstick to make a hole in each.

They last about a week in the fridge in a closed container or in the freezer for 3 months. Sure, you can use the old standbys to deliver pills—dabs of peanut butter or bits of cheese—but these pill pockets are less messy and easier to use.

3. Use walnuts to cover scratch marks. If you’ve never had scratch marks on your furniture or floors, you are probably not looking carefully enough at your furniture or your floors. Most of us with dogs (and cats, to be sure!) have found that many of our pets don’t treat the house as gently as we would like.

Luckily, when it comes to scratch marks, there is a much cheaper option than replacing or refinishing and it is even less expensive than wood-colored pens designed specifically for this purpose. Simply rub a pecan or a walnut back-and-forth along the scratch and then rub your finger along the same area. It will look as though you are erasing the damage, but you are actually filling it in with oil and then warming it up to help the wood absorb it.

4. Trade out toys to keep your dog’s interest. This suggestion is an old one, but it’s too good to leave off the list. Rotating your dog’s toys can save you a lot of money because toys she hasn’t seen in a long time may be just as good as new to her. Trading out toys weekly and cycling through three to four sets of them works really well for many dogs.

If there are a few toys that your dog is always excited about and continues to enjoy on a daily basis, there is no reason to pull them. Your dog can have those toys all the time. Just rotate the others and her interest will likely be higher in them when they appear again. It’s still advisable to bring in brand-new toys regularly, but rotating what she already has means less money spent overall on toys.

5. Parsley for fresh breath and other health benefits. Parsley offers many benefits to dogs, but one of the most popular is fresh breath. Simply sprinkle a little bit of this herb on top of her food. Parsley is antimicrobial so it prevents bacteria and other germs from continuing to multiply quickly in the mouth.

Among the other benefits of consuming parsley are relieving arthritis pain, improving kidney function, and treating gas and indigestion. There is evidence that parsley can help inhibit cancer growth and even lessen the pain from bee stings. (Pregnant dogs should NOT be given parsley as it can stimulate the uterus.) 

There are many products on the market that may help freshen your dog’s breath, but none of them are as cheap as parsley, especially if you grow it yourself.

Do you have a favorite strategy for saving money without your dog missing out on anything?

Photo: Stefan Stefancik / Pexels

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life