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Affordable Pet Care Options and Strategies

Owning a pet can improve your well-being, lower stress and reduce anxiety, but the cost of caring for a four-legged family member can be tremendous. According to a 2018 survey from Rover.com, the nation's largest network of pet sitters and dog walkers, caring for a dog costs approximately $153 per month, on average. Though many pet owners budget for the basics, such as food and veterinary care, many overlook the significant cost of pet-sitting and boarding services. In fact, the average cost to board a dog is $40 per night, with rates ranging from $25 to $85, according to HomeGuide.com, a site that connects consumers with skilled professionals for hire.

Whether you're looking for care when you travel or are away during the workday, there are many affordable options. You just need to know where to look. Here are seven options and tips for finding reliable pet care that won't break your budget.

-- Hire a pet sitter.

-- Set up a free pet-sitting swap.

-- Compare pet boarding prices.

-- Find hotels that offer free or cheap pet stays.

-- Rent a house or condo.

-- Hire a college student.

-- Budget for long-term pet care.

[See: The True Costs of Owning a Pet -- and How to Spend Less.]

Hire a Pet Sitter

There are many pet-sitting options available. Connecting with trusted pet care is easy thanks to sites like Rover.com and WagWalking.com (also accessible on free apps available for both Android and iOS devices), where you can find sitters who will either stay in your own home or watch your pet in their home. Fees range from $20 to $40 per day on average, depending on the services involved. For pet parents seeking dog-walking service, Barkly Pets is another option that connects you with vetted caretakers in your neighborhood (fees start at $20 for a half-hour walk with one dog; $30 for an hourlong walk with one dog). Meanwhile, those who prefer to send their canines to luxurious facilities can find options like Camp Bow Wow, which offers a range of services, including overnight camp services and the peace of mind that comes with knowing your pet receives close attention with CPR-certified counselors. Prices for Camp Bow Wow vary by location. In Oak Ridge North, Texas, for example, a one-night stay for one dog costs $46; fees for each additional dog drop when staying in the same cabin.

You can also find free pet sitters through TrustedHousesitters.com, a membership service that connects you to travelers looking for free accommodation in exchange for house and pet-sitting services.

"This service is a real money-saver and can also give your pets the security of staying in their own home while you are away," says Kathe Kline, host of the personal finance podcast "Rock Your Retirement." Kline recommends interviewing at least three potential house and pet sitters to find the best match, and recommends setting up a video call via Skype or Zoom.

Set Up a Pet-Sitting Swap

Chances are you have a friend or family member who has a dog or cat and may need pet-sitting or walking services when they travel or are at work. A pet-sitting swap -- where you make arrangements to take care of a dog or cat with another pet parent when each of you are away or in need -- is a great opportunity to benefit from pet care at no cost.

"The most important factor in choosing someone to watch your pets is that you know them well enough to know how they care for their own," says Dawn LaFontaine, founder of Cat in the Box, which offers clean, attractive and whimsical boxes for cat play.

LaFontaine recommends turning to social media like Facebook to start a private pet swap group in your area. Or, follow your local animal shelter or pet rescue Facebook page. "This is a great way to get to know others with the kind of pet you own, and a great place to post a pet-swap request," she says.

[See: 10 Expenses Destroying Your Budget.]

Compare Pet Boarding Prices

Pet boarding isn't necessarily cheaper than pet sitting. You may pay more, especially for luxury kennels that offer extra amenities and perks. When searching for a pet boarding service, ask family and friends for recommendations or post a request on your social media account. Sites like Care.com help you find kennels in your area, and provide user reviews. Since your pet will need to be up to date on any vaccinations for boarding, check with your vet for records or book an appointment before your trip.

Look for Pet-Friendly Hotels

Pet sitting and boarding aren't your only options when you travel. There are plenty of hotels across the country that welcome pets as guests, such as Motel 6, Travelodge, Candlewood Suites and many more. Since fees can range anywhere from free to hundreds of dollars per animal, research ahead to find the most affordable option at your destination.

HotelTonight and TripAdvisor's apps allow you to sort by pet-friendly hotels and view their fees. BringFido.com is another helpful comparison tool that lets you search for pet-friendly hotels and vacation rentals at your destination.

Julia Dimon, a pet travel expert at Rover.com, says you can avoid those fees entirely by choosing a hotel that allows pets to stay for free. For instance, Kimpton Hotels doesn't charge a pet fee and has no restrictions when it comes to size or breed. "Beyond the savings, they also provide luxury pet beds, food bowls, yummy treats and dog guests are invited to their nightly wine reception," she says.

Keep in mind, some hotels do have limitations on the size and number of pets you can bring, so call ahead of your trip so there are no surprises upon your arrival, says Danielle Mühlenberg who runs PawLeaks.com, a dog training blog.

Rent a House or Condo

Renting a home or condo, especially one with a backyard, gives your pet more room to roam. Plus, you can often leave your cat or dog unattended when you're out exploring, which is often prohibited at hotels.

"Check off the pet-friendly filter on Airbnb and VRBO to find rentals that will let you bring your pets, but read the fine print for costs," Dimon says. You may be required to pay a pet deposit on top of a pet fee for your stay.

Hire a College Student

Rather than spending a fortune on boarding, look for a local college student who can house sit and care for your pets at a more affordable rate, suggests Rosemarie Groner, founder of BusyBudgeter.com, a personal finance blog.

"For $20 a night, you can usually find someone who's excited for free Wi-Fi and an open pantry," Groner says. "It's a little more time upfront to find the right fit, but the savings and peace of mind are worth it."

To find a reliable student, call a local college and ask if you can place an ad on their job boards, if available. Otherwise, ask around for recommendations from family or friends or via social sites like Facebook, Groner says.

[See: 10 Ways to Save More in 2019.]

Budget for Long-Term Pet Care

Whether hiring a pet sitter or sending your dog or cat to a kennel, remember that you often get what you pay for, says Erin Lowry, author of "Broke Millennial Takes On Investing."

"I personally save up for the anticipated expense of having my dog get boarded and send her to a high-quality, licensed boarder where she can also socialize with other dogs, isn't caged all day and has ample room to run around and play both inside and outside," she says. Spend time evaluating your potential pet care options to determine which one is best for your needs and budget. This gives you time to start saving so you don't have to skimp on care.

To find a trusted boarder, Lowry suggests asking other dog owners who live in your neighborhood for recommendations. "Other dog owners, especially if you're at a dog park, will give you the inside scoop," she says.

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