By John Matarese| May 25, 2012 at 4:54 PM EST - Updated June 27 at 5:07 AM
(Toledo News Now) - If you have a cat, dog or other pets, you know that health care costs are rising. Just the first year alone with a new dog can cost you a $1,000 or more in food, checkups and medicine.
An older pet can cost thousands of dollars if it needs additional medical care. But there are ways to bring those costs down.
Pet lovers hit with high bills
Chris Smallwood cannot imagine taking walks without her English bulldog, Leo. But she knows the cute pup will be pricey. The bulldog she had before Leo cost her more than $2,000 in care before he died.
"He had pneumonia, his airways were blocked, he had ear infections, things like that," Smallwood said.
Mike Bork said even routine health care for his German shepherd is soaring.
"It's like everything else," Bork said. "Everything is going pretty pricey these days."
$500 a year just for meds
Basic heartworm, flea and tick medicine can cost $500 a year for some breeds and larger dogs. But smart pet owners are now finding ways to bring down those costs through generic and combination medicines.
Veterinarian Elizabeth Gigas said many people have sticker shock when they learn the cost of saving their beloved pet.
Gigas said the good news is cancer or heart disease is now treatable in pets.
"Many people don't realize there are cardiologists, anesthesiologists, a lot of specialists for pets," explained Gigas.
The bad news: All this life-saving care can drain your savings account.
"Going to a veterinary specialist to keep an ill cat or dog alive can cost $5,000 or more," said Gigas.
In the past, many people would have no choice but to put the pet down, but now they have many options, although some are very expensive.
Set up a pet savings account
Gigas suggests owners either set up a separate savings account for unexpected pet costs, or buy pet health insurance. However, she advises that people review an insurance plan carefully before they buy.
"Most will not cover pre-existing conditions," Gigas warned. "So if you have a German shepherd with hip dysplasia, that will not be covered."
For that reason, a savings account with $3,000 in it may turn out to be a much better value.
Buy pet food at discount stores
An August 2011 article in Consumer Reports magazine found that grocery stores are often more expensive places to buy pet food, second only to your vet's office. Walmart and Target often have a much lower price, according to the article. Their larger bags tend to be the best value.
How to save on routine medicines
Tired of the high cost of heartworm, flea and tick medicine?
Gigas suggests buying medicines in bulk, such as six months of flea and tick medicine at a time. She also said to consider "combination" drugs such as Sentinel, which combines heartworm medicine with flea and tick medicine in one monthly tablet.
Ask about generics
If your vet's prices are still too high, ask your vet for the prescription. Then shop at stores, such as Target, Walmart, or Sam's Club, where a $50 antibiotic can cost as little as $4.
Many pet antibiotics are the same as what is used for humans.
Always ask about generics. Frontline Plus, which can cost $20 a month, went off patent last year, and is now available in generic form. However, the more advanced Frontline is not yet generic, so be sure to ask your vet if your dog will get the same coverage.
Shelter dogs vs. purebreds
Finally, be careful what type of pet you decide to have. Purebreds are much more expensive to care for than a mixed breed, according to Gigas, because of years of breeding recessive genes.
Want an inexpensive dog? Gigas suggests you get a mixed breed from a shelter, not a breeder.
"If you want to see your vet every week, get an English bulldog," Gigas said.
Plus, many shelters will cover the cost of spaying or neutering. If you buy a dog privately, you will have to absorb all those costs.
Don't let the fear of high prices keep you from getting your next pet. Give a lot of thought when choosing a pet so you're prepared for the rising price of care. That way you don't waste your money.