Veterinary care for 2008 is estimated at $10.9 billion, up almost a billion from 2007. With the economy tanking, jobs disappearing and the stock market down, many of us are postponing or foregoing veterinary care because we can't afford expensive treatments. It's time - past time! - to eliminate unnecessary products and services too many pet parents think are essential but may actually be damaging pet health. Here are some cost-saving ideas that will also make dogs healthier:

1. STOP VACCINATING UNNECESSARILY! No more vaccinating against diseases your dog is unlikely to catch and against diseases to which your dog is already immune. Not only is unnecessary vaccination a huge waste of time and money, the resulting adverse health consequences can ruin pet health and cost you a fortune in vet bills down the line. A simple blood test called a titer test is an excellent way to prevent over-vaccination.

2. FEED QUALITY FOOD. Although spending more for high quality food may seem a strange way to save money, it is your absolute best shot at long-term canine health and lower vet bills. Start feeding wisely and you may see allergies, intestinal problems, joint ouchiness and other ailments disappear. At the very least, stop feeding grocery store brands and switch from kibble to canned. Better yet, feed frozen raw or fresh cooked or raw foods.

According to Purina's 14-year study of 48 Labrador Retrievers, "lean-fed" dogs (receiving 25% less food than their littermates) eventually developed the same health problems as littermates as they aged, but needed treatment for ailments more than 2 years later. What was the secret to better health? It was not about feeding a particular brand, but rather about feeding to a healthy, lean condition. That is, don't leave food out all day and don't overfeed. Remember: fat dogs aren't cute; they're unhealthy and they're expensive.

3. BRUSH TEETH MORE OFTEN. Few things are more expensive, or risky, than dental procedures. Avoid them by feeding low-carb foods and by brushing your dog's teeth at least three times a week. Use a good paste meant for dogs (not Humans!) and use gauze around your finger or a super-soft toothbrush. By the way, kibble does not clean teeth. In fact, corn-laden kibble is actually bad for dental (and general) health.

4. STOP GIVING UNNECESSARY OR DANGEROUS DRUGS. Check out your dog's meds on-line (especially steroids and arthritis medications). If it's not mosquito or flea season where you live, why are you giving heartworm and flea meds? Do research to learn more about heartworm and flea life cycles and natural methods of pest control. Just make sure you get your facts from reliable, unbiased sources. Websites that look "scientific" are often fronts for manufacturers of pet meds.

5. GET FLUFFY A BLOOD TEST if she hasn't had one in the last year (or six months for senior dogs). Remember, dogs age faster than we do and a thorough blood test (with a chem panel) is the easiest (and sometimes the only) way to detect disease while it's still curable and cheaper to treat. Also test yearly for heartworms, whether or not you use meds.

6. STOP GIVING DANGEROUS TREATS that can perforate or lodge in tracheas or intestines. These include cooked bones, rawhide chews and poorly designed toys. Surgery for obstructions and perforations is very expensive and may come too late to save your dog's life. Beware, too, pig's feet and other too-hard chews that can be your dog's ticket to dental surgery to repair broken teeth.

7. PROTECT YOUR DOG FROM TOXINS AND POISONS. Wash paws after a walk on chemical-laden surfaces like city streets and salted roads. Learn your dog park's fertilization schedule and avoid the park when it's toxic. Also, never use toxic chemicals in your home or yard. Whatever gets on your dog's feet will end up in his mouth. Know, too, that trash can raids can result in an ailment called "Garbage Can Syndrome." And you'd be shocked at how much money is spent on inadvertent poisoning from snail, ant and rat bait.

In short, always think before you spend. Research drugs before you buy them. Don't automatically give shots or reorder meds or "prescription" foods. Consider alternatives. Ask questions. Become an educated consumer and trust your own instincts. You're your dog's only advocate. So advocate for better care and save money in the process.

Author's Bio: 

Jan Rasmusen authored Scared Poopless: The Straight Scoop on Dog Care, a comprehensive, fun-to-read book on holistic dog health and safety. Jan's book won national awards for the Best Health Care Book (of any kind) and Best Pet Care Book. Find free dog care videos, audios, and articles at Jan's website Sign up for her popular free e-newsletter and her information-packed blogs.