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We love our furry friends, but sometimes they can cause an unexpected dent in the ol’ wallet.

Being unable to afford the cost of pet maintenance is one of the top three reasons dogs are relinquished to shelters, according to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy. But like most things, a little planning and preparation can help you keep the bills low and manageable. Here’s how:

Sign up for pet insurance: Most plans work by reimbursement, meaning you’ll still have to shell out the cash when your dog has an unexpected visit to the vet, but it’s a lot easier to swallow that bill when you know you’ll get some—or most—of it back.

If you’re buying a puppy, only purchase from a reputable breeder: Yes, those “free puppies” advertised on Craigslist or on sale at the local pet store may be cute, but what you don’t know about their background could end up costing you a lot more in the long run. Reputable breeders charge more than the average pet store, but you’re paying for expertise in breeding dogs for good health. This includes everything from conducting genetic tests and providing the puppies with early socialization, which will cost you less at the vet and behaviorist later. With dogs, like anything else, you get what you pay for.

Be proactive: Don’t cut corners when it comes to preventive medications and vaccinations. Those few extra dollars you spend on heartworm medication a couple times a year may seem like an annoying expense, but in this case, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If your dog gets heartworm (which is prevelant now in all 50 states), the treatment combined with the hospitalization will likely leave you with a four-figure veterinary bill. And anyone who has ever had to have their house “bombed” after a flea infestation will tell you how much preventive medication is worth the cost. Furthermore, diseases like parvovirus and distemper that can be prevented by vaccinations are not only very expensive to treat, but also can cost your pet his life.

Brush his teeth: Laugh all you want about how silly this seems, but here’s the sobering fact: If your dog is over the age of three and you haven’t been brushing his teeth, he likely has periodontal disease. End of story. And treatment for this, which requires anesthesia and blood work, costs a pretty penny. Trust us, after you pay a bill for teeth extractions and surgery, the sight of a dog toothbrush won’t seem too funny anymore.

Brush his hair: Groomers charge extra for removing mats and knots. Keep the bill low by running a brush or comb through your pets fur at least once a week (some breeds require daily brushing). Here’s a tip: Areas around the cheeks and ears tend to be more prone to matting than others.

Have a credit card dedicated to pet care: Nobody likes to be in debt, but having a credit card reserved for pet emergencies can be a much-needed security blanket, especially for those trips to the emergency vet at 2 a.m., well after the bank has closed. Knowing you have a resource to pay the bill will allow you focus on your pet.

Get the cost of common pet expenses here. 

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