Here Are the Pet Products That Are a Big Waste of Your Money

We all love our pets. And most of us want to pamper them as much as possible. There are items from the pet store every dog or cat needs. But pet supplies get expensive. And many of the items on display are unnecessary — and often incredibly expensive. Even if you want to spoil your pet, you don’t need to spend your hard-earned money on these accessories and supplies.

Before we proceed, we have a caveat to share. Although you shouldn’t believe all the marketing you see at the pet store, the things you hear at the vet are different. Sure, many pet owners share stories about vets pushing pricey procedures that don’t result in a better outcome for the dog or cat. But a veterinarian has undertaken years of training. So you should put weight on what your vet has to say — a courtesy you don’t owe to the many manufacturers of unnecessary pet items and accessories.

Ready to check out the pet products that are just a big waste of money? Read on for some of the worst offenders.

1. Premium pet food

maltese and black and white cat eating food from a bowl

You don’t need to buy premium food for your cat or dog. | iStock.com/humonia 

Quartz reports for the most part premium dog food will just be a waste of your money. The words used to describe pet food — such as “human-grade,” “natural,” or even “gluten-free” — don’t have official definitions. The FDA has standards for pet food labels. And most states have their own pet food labeling rules. But that doesn’t change the fact that catchy descriptors don’t mean much.

You also don’t need to avoid pet foods with byproducts and meals because there’s no nutritional reason not to feed these products to animals. Plus, smaller companies don’t necessarily have better quality control. And expensive pet foods have been recalled, too. So, for the most part, there’s no reason to buy premium food.

2. Natural or organic pet food

chocolate Labrador eating food from its bowl

Natural pet food won’t offer better nutrition. | iStock.com/Antonio_Diaz

As Quartz explains, organic pet foods need to meet the same criteria as organic food for humans. The problem? Those criteria don’t mean much. An organic seal doesn’t make your pet food safer or more nutritious. It doesn’t guarantee a lower impact on the environment either.

You might find it tempting to pay extra for “natural” or “organic” food for your dog or cat. But in most cases, doing so won’t get you better quality or superior nutrition. “Natural” pet food costs, on average, 50% more than typical pet food. And because marketing often trumps science in the pet food aisle, you shouldn’t let it guilt you into spending more.

3. Breed-specific pet food

puppy eating from a white bowl

Breed-specific pet food is all about marketing. | iStock.com/Proxima13

PetMD reports breed-specific pet foods “are little more than a marketing gimmick and do not have sound nutritional science backing them.” As the site explains, “We do not yet have the research that pinpoints the difference in nutritional requirements between different specific breeds of dogs.” Breed-specific foods won’t do your pet any harm. But they’re rendered unnecessary if you and your veterinarian are already choosing a food that’s well-suited to your pet’s dietary requirements. 

4. Untested dental chews

Labrador retriever with bone

Many dental chews go untested. | iStock.com/Chalabala 

It’s important to pay attention to your pet’s oral health. But you shouldn’t trust just any treat off the shelf at the pet store to do the job for you. Billings Animal Family Hospital in Montana reports dental chews can help keep your pet’s teeth clean — but only if you choose a product that will actually do what it claims.

Some have the potential to minimize plaque and tartar buildup. But they don’t make a good substitute for regular dental cleaning and care. Check out the recommendations of the Veterinary Oral Health Council to find products that have proven effective. 

5. Vitamins

tabby cat taking pill

Most animals don’t need you to supplement their diets. | iStock.com/Valery Kudryavtsev

When you head to the pet store, you’ll probably notice plenty of vitamins on the shelves. You might take some vitamins and supplements yourself, so it seems like a no-brainer to pick some up for your dog or cat. But a healthy pet won’t need them. The companies that manufacture pet food have done their research and formulated nutritionally complete food for your animal.

Unless your vet tells you otherwise (and recommends something specific), you don’t need to supplement your cat or dog’s diet with vitamins. Similarly, you might want to consult your veterinarian before adding prebiotics or probiotics to your pet’s diet. 

6. Over-the-counter medications

owner petting his dog who's resting

Instead of buying over-the-counter medication, go to the veterinarian. | iStock.com/damedeeso 

If you think your dog has even a medical issue, even a simple one, it’s worth consulting your vet. One veterinarian writes for The Washington Post that you should resist “the temptation to make your own veterinary diagnosis.” Whether you think your cat has worms or assume your dog has fleas, go to the veterinarian.

Over-the-counter medications can be a waste of money because they can either fail to solve the problem or bring on dangerous, even fatal, consequences. Whether it’s worming medication or flea spray, get your vet’s opinion instead of wasting your money (and risking a medication that could do more harm than good).

7. Pet insurance

Happy vet with dog and cat

Pet insurance doesn’t always save money. | iStock.com/humonia

Consumer Reports notes pet insurance policies get complicated — and you shouldn’t automatically assume they’ll be worth the money. The cost of coverage will depend on your pet’s breed and age, along with the options you choose.

“Almost all policies exclude pre-existing conditions and may exclude breed-specific conditions (or charge you more to cover them),” Consumer Reports explains. Of course, “There’s no way to predict whether your pet will become sick or injured. But if you’d like help with unexpected, large vet bills, a plan may be worth considering.” An alternative is to start an emergency savings fund for pet care. 

8. Luxury pet bed

cat sleeping in a bed

Animals don’t need luxury pet beds. | iStock.com/Gumpanat 

We all like having a cozy place to sleep. And your cat or dog is no exception. But you don’t have to feel guilty if you don’t let your pet sleep on the couch or curl up in your bed. There’s no reason to shell out for a super-expensive, luxury pet bed. You’re better off finding something simple and cozy — and perhaps machine-washable — for your pet to nap in. Even a dog who takes forever to choose a place to lie down, or a cat who’s particularly picky about napping spots, won’t know the difference between an economical pet bed and its luxury alternatives. 

9. Expensive clothing

two dachshunds in sweaters

Most pets don’t need clothing. | iStock.com/Juncero 

Depending on the dog breed, and the harshness of the winter weather where you live, your vet might recommend a sweater or coat. But for the most part, expensive pet clothing is a waste of your money. Many animals don’t like wearing clothing. If that’s the case for your dog or cat, don’t stress out your pet just for the sake of capturing a few cute photos.

Plus, you need to make sure the clothing won’t cause your pet to overheat. The Telegraph reports clothing impedes a dog’s ability to control his own temperature. 

10. Pricey treats

dog waiting for treat outside

You don’t have to splurge on treats. | iStock.com/pakornkrit

Most animals won’t know the difference between a budget-friendly treat and one that costs twice as much. The important thing to your cat or dog is the treats taste different from their regular food. And if you need some guidance on which treats to buy, remember expensive isn’t always better. Ask your vet for a recommendation if you get stuck.

11. Superfluous grooming

yorkie getting groomed

Your animal likely doesn’t need expensive grooming. | iStock.com/Zinkevych

Some breeds of cats and dogs need professional grooming. But most don’t. If you take the time to brush your animal’s fur and regularly clip his nails, you probably don’t need to spend money on professional grooming. Many short-haired dog breeds, for instance, just need you to brush them every week or so. So taking the time to learn what your pet needs should save you money.

12. Stroller

two chihuahuas sitting in a stroller

A pet stroller is completely unnecessary. | iStock.com/thisislover 

We’ve all seen dog owners who push their pets around the farmers market or mall in a specially made stroller. But in most cases (excluding special-needs pets), those strollers are just a waste of money. Even a small dog needs exercise — exercise he could be getting if you’d let him walk instead of pushing him around in a stroller. And if your dog is small enough to fit in one of these strollers, he’s probably small enough that you can just pick him up and carry him in a pinch.

13. Booster seat

black and golden cocker spaniels in a car

Booster seats often aren’t the best way to keep your dog safe in the car. | iStock.com/bobhackettphotos

Many owners of small dogs consider buying a booster seat for taking their pup with them on car rides and road trips. Any vet will tell you it’s important to keep your pets restrained while in the car. But you don’t actually have to spend your money on a dedicated booster seat if you’re smart about the carrier you purchase.

Many pet carriers have a base you can secure to the car seat with a seat belt. You can also use these carriers as a crate at home or on vacation — which makes them a much more versatile purchase than the one-purpose booster seat. If you really want to choose a product that’s designed to be safe, even in a car crash, check out these carrier and crate studies from the Center for Pet Safety.

14. Pet-specific first-aid kit

orange cat with broken leg

You don’t need to splurge on a pet-specific first-aid kit. | iStock.com/pyotr021 

When you’re at the pet store stocking up on necessities, you might encounter first-aid kits designed specifically for pets. But The Wirecutter learned these kits — though they offer a good starting point — are typically a poor value. It’ll be easier on your wallet if you assemble your own kit. You should include basics, such as tweezers, gauze, and a strip of fabric you can gently tie around your dog’s muzzle if she lashes out when hurt and frightened.

The Humane Society of the United States also recommends adding a self-cling bandage, a nylon leash, and paperwork for your pet. Plus, you can download the American Red Cross Pet First Aid app for Android or iOS

15. Pet camera

yellow Lab looking into the camera

A pet camera is completely unnecessary, even though it might be entertaining. | iStock.com/Annetics

Having the ability to look in on your pet — and see the adorable things your dog or cat does while you’re away — sounds great. But you really don’t need a pet camera. Most are exorbitantly expensive. And like many of the other internet-connected smart home devices you can buy for your house or apartment, many have poor security. For most people, being able to check in on a sleeping pet isn’t worth the potential worry over security vulnerabilities or weak passwords.

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