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Can You Afford to Own a Pet?

The costs of owning a pet can really add up.

Can you afford to own a pet? To find out, you need to figure out how much owning a pet really costs.

The topic is close to my heart. I’m obsessed with our family four-year-old golden retriever, DiMaggio, and I’d love to have a dog of my own in the near future. Practically, however, I’m not sure when I’ll be able to afford it.

As we previously published, according to a report by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the costs of owning a pet can add up. Here’s what they estimate a cat or medium dog will cost in the first year:

One-time Expenses

  • Spaying or Neutering: Dog: $200 / Cat: $145
Initial
  • Medical Exam: Dog: $70 / Cat: $130
  • Collar or Leash: Dog: $30 / Cat: $10
  • Litter Box: Cat: $25
  • Scratching Post: Cat: $15
  • 
Crate: Dog: $95
  • Carrying Crate: Dog: $60 / Cat: $40
  • 
Training: Dog: $110
  • Total One-time Costs: Dog: $565 / Cat: $365

Annual Expenses

  • Food: Dog: $120/ Cat: $145
  • Annual Medical Exams: Dog: $235 / Cat: $130
  • 
Litter: Cat: $200
  • Toys and Treats: Dog: $55 / Cat: $25
  • 
License: Dog: $15
  • Pet Health Insurance: Dog: $225 / Cat: $175
  • Miscellaneous: Dog: $45 / Cat: $30
  • 
Total Annual Costs: Dog: $695 / Cat: $705
According to this report, the total first-year cost of owning a dog is $1,270 and for a cat it’s $1,070.

Your reactions

In the 2008 post on this topic, animal-loving readers had some passionate opinions about the subject.

Reader “Willfe” said he thought some of the averages were too high. His cats’ food costs about $72 per year, he said, even though it’s name brand. He also suggested buying litter in bulk, which he said could lower that amount as much as $50 per year.

Another reader, “Amy,” said she is part of the “frequent buyer” program at her pet store, so she is able to get the tenth bag of dog or cat food for free.

On the other hand, some readers pointed out there are occasional surprise costs associated with pets — and not a good kind of surprise. These additional fees could be significantly higher than the estimates.

“Livingalmostlarge” said he spends $30 per month on Heartguard and flea/tick medication.

“Meg” suggested there might be some opportunity costs associated with pet ownership.

“Many of my coworkers have to take long lunches and frequently miss office happy hours to go home and walk their dogs. I also see people in suits frantically walking their dogs in the morning by my building, late for work. Not something I’m ready to deal with yet,” she wrote.

“Funny about Money” said since pets cause damage at times, replacing your stuff should be factored in, too.

“Carpets ruined or at least in need of professional cleaning and de-stinking, furniture clawed, doors scratched up, flower and vegetable gardens unearthed, window screens ripped, draperies sprayed upon….eeek!” she wrote.

How to prepare for the unexpected

Kiplinger recently published an article on this topic, the hidden and unexpected costs of owning a pet. The authors suggest putting away an emergency fund for unexpected pet health costs: “Owners will likely incur at least one $2,000 – $4,000 bill for emergency care at some point during their pet’s lifetime”, says Dr. Louise Murray, vice-president of the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, in New York City.

In our case, that’s already been true. When he was two, DiMaggio almost died of a mysterious bacterial infection in his brain. When we thought we might lose him, we would have paid anything to make him better. Luckily, he pulled through. But between his medication and time in the pet hospital, the illness cost us several thousand dollars.

We’ve also had to pay for either a kennel or similar service when we go on vacations. I guess that’s somewhat expected, but in a given year, it’s hard to budget for that.

Four tips for would-be pet owners

What should we learn from this? Like a lot of things, the costs of pet ownership are unpredictable. As much as we can estimate cost for a year, it’s better to have a safety net in case of a major illness or other emergency. Here are a few steps for making sure you can afford to own a pet:

1. Figure out how monthly expenses will affect your budget.

Are you currently overspending in some area (eating at restaurants, indulging a shoe passion, maybe) where you can cut back? Is that worth it to you? If the answer is “no,” you probably aren’t willing to make the sacrifices necessary to keep a pet happy and healthy.

2. Set aside between $1,000 and $2,000, or a portion of your emergency fund for that unexpected vet bill.

Don’t just say, “It would never happen to me.” We didn’t think it would happen to us either. But as the Kiplinger article says, it is almost definite that every pet during its lifetime will have a major vet bill. Setting aside the funds for that is not optional!

3. Consider how you will feel if you are faced with a life-saving vet bill you can’t really afford before it happens.

If you don’t, you may be faced with a Sophie’s choice between your pet’s life and being able to pay the rent next month. Don’t put yourself in this position; it’s not fair to you, nor your future furry friend.

4. If you’re worried about not being able to afford big vet bills, consider pet insurance.

My family did not purchase pet insurance, but in hindsight we probably should have. When you visit your local vet, he or she will likely have a lot of information for you about purchasing the insurance, but do your own research: Some pet insurance plans are much better than others, and you want to know what you’re buying.

At the risk of sounding like my mom when we begged for a dog as kids, owning a pet is a significant financial responsibility. It’s not a decision to be made on a whim.

What about you? Do you have a tip for saving money throughout your pet’s life? When were you ready to afford your first pet? What is your largest pet expense?

About Maria LaMagna

Maria LaMagna is a recent graduate of Northwestern University where she served as editor-in-chief of the university’s award-winning daily newspaper and studied for five months in Argentina. Before joining Money Under 30, Maria worked as a reporter for CNN and the Indianapolis Business Journal. Follow Maria on Twitter @MCLaMagna.

Comments

  1. As a veterinarian, I will add 2 things to help save money in the long run. #1 is to keep your pet a healthy weight. The majority of pets I see daily are overweight, leading to numerous health problems. Being a good weight won’t prevent all problems, but it will help significantly.

    #2 is to brush you pet’s teeth. This is especially true for little dogs. Periodontal disease can lead to all kinds of health problems, and it can be very expensive to treat. The good news is it is preventable with a little (sometimes a lot) prevention. Check out VOHC.org for more information.

    Thanks for the great article!

  2. We adopted our first dog at 25, when my now-husband and I moved in together. We adopted a second dog three years later. They are both small, but we buy premium dog food and spend about $300/year. We also spend $300/year on flea/tick/heartworm prevention. Our dogs our older, so vet bills can be expensive–$400 for professional teeth cleaning, $450 to treat a prostate infection, etc. Based on friends’ experiences, I think that most major vet bills come while dogs are young (a puppy may eat something dangerous or play too rough and get injured) or old (illness and deterioration). I definitely agree that you should make sure that you are ready for these expenses before committing to a pet! I would never want to have to forego a lifesaving treatment for my dogs because of money.

    • Maria LaMagna says:

      That makes sense! We’ll remember that: most costs happen when the pet is very young, or getting old.

  3. I have had my chihuahua for 5 years now and some of those fees are low. I did however get smart and get him pet insurance which covers all of his expenses. It is the best 33.95 that I spend and I get a discount on the vitamins he has to take. All in all he is worth every penny but I want to use those pennies as far as I can. Be sure and weigh your options and really make sure you can afford a pet before you buy.

  4. The annual food expense seems really low to me…my dog is 65 lbs, and granted eats premium, grain free food, but I’d say I spend more around $550/year on that. He also goes to daycare every day because of his separation anxiety (I’m not even going to list all of the things I’ve had to replace because of that) which is my biggest expense with him. Often times you can negotiate a discount if you pay upfront for a certain number of days, and pay in cash.

    • Maria LaMagna says:

      Love the idea of negotiating for pet daycare cost. We’ll have to keep it in mind. Thanks, Sarah!

  5. Great article, Maria. As my girlfriend and I often pine over the idea of having a dog to keep us company. However, having tiny emergency funds and graduate school looming always makes us think twice.

    Another thing to consider with pet ownership is altering the lease with your landlord. Expect an increased security deposit and always have any pet agreements included in the fine print. Somebody close to me lost a $2,000 deposit due to a sketchy agreement between the landlord and tenants — not fun!

    • Amber Gilstrap says:

      Checking with your landlord is a great tip! Another thing to check on is homeowner’s insurance. Many of the shelters we’ve visited said that more and more dog breeds are being added to lists that will increase your homeowner’s insurance premiums. I don’t think it’s all insurance companies that are doing this, but definitely worth calling about before your new dog attacks a guest. :)

    • Maria LaMagna says:

      I had no idea that was even an option. Thanks, Jamie and Amber!

  6. Amber Gilstrap says:

    This is such a helpful article, Maria! My husband and I have actually been visiting animal shelters just this month because we are wanting to adopt a dog. I’ve noticed (at least in our area) that many animal shelter adoption prices are very low (maybe $40-50) and include spaying/neutering/microchipping/vaccines, so that’s definitely a huge cost saver.

    We’ve also been searching Craig’s List since there are always families who are needing to find a new home for their pet. Many will even give them away for free with crates/dishes/food/etc.

    Sorry to hear about your family dog! Glad to hear he’s all better now!

    • Maria LaMagna says:

      Thanks, Amber! He’s doing great. That’s so awesome you’re thinking about adopting a new dog. We got ours from a breeder, but I’ve always thought that’s such a nice idea on top of being cost-effective.

  7. I don’t know where people are getting dog food, but my pup eats $80/month. Granted this is higher end stuff, but that is because my previous dog was prone to fatty tumors from processed dog food. I’m trying to avoid that issue by spending more up front.

    • Seems that the annual price of $120 for dog food is way to low. Inless you feed your dog cheap filler food from wal-mart. I feed my dog the best just like I would for me and my wife. We spend about $50 every 2 months give or take. So really to get a good dog food your looking at around $300 a year. This is with my dog being about 45 pounds. Of course the smaller the dog the less you will spend. This will help keep your dog healthy and less vet bills. Just like if we eat better less medical bills later on. Also I spend about $20-40 every other month on toys for my dog. Each toy is around $15 for her. I buy here the toys to stimulate her mentally. But she is a very smart dog and learns fast. She can also do all most any trick. But i will say that our dog is family. It is like having a kid it is worth it in the end. They also will make you live longer and more healthy life style. I take mine on runs and walks all the time. Also they are great to protect you and warn you if someone is breaking in. Me and the wife want another dog this time a great dane. Which would cost more due to the size of them. But we want to have a baby first than another dog.

    • You really need to find a new place to buy your dog food. I’m buying Wellness brand dog food (some of the best you can get) and I’m spending $70 per month for THREE dogs, two of which are 40 lbs plus. Something is off in your monthly expense.

  8. An inside cat might not quite be that much. Sometimes leashes aren’t required and a carry crate isn’t always needed either. You can get by at times by being creative in the way you care for your animal. An immediate example that comes to mind is building your own scratching post/dog house (might be a good activity with the kids!). Just a thought!

  9. Wow, these numbers blew me away. I own two dogs and at first I was like “there is no way that my dogs cost me this much” but when I sat down and did the math, your figures check out. Guess I’ll hold off on a third for awhile!

  10. My 4 year old cat went from being very active to lethargic over a couple days. It turned out to be a progressed case of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (common in male cats of certain breeds, more severe in young cats but medication can treat if detected early). I depleted a good portion my emergency savings trying to save him, and because I would do it again in a heartbeat, no pets for me until I build it back up and then some. I fully agree with an extra $1-2k in your emergency fund… even for a cat. The lines on that bill added up.

  11. My husband and I are not financially ready (as well as we don’t really have the space right now) for a pet but we both have a great love for animals and have wanted our children to learn how to love as well as care for and respect animals from a young age. How have we been able to have the best of both worlds? We volunteer at a local animal shelter. We take our girls (2 1/2 & 17 months) to the shelter and we help clean up after the animals and take them for walks. We give the dogs play time, and occasionally have brought a couple at a time to a beach not to far from the shelter or our home. It’s amazing how this can help us bond as a family, help us feel good about doing something to help, as well as we get to have a fun family day without spending money (except paying for the gas to drive to the shelter).

  12. I am pretty sure there are lots of studies that show people who have pets live longer and are healthier than people who don’t. That’s something to consider, too.

  13. These are all good points. My husband and I recently adopted our 2nd dog, and I have to say, we really underestimated how much more a big dog can cost than a little dog, like our 1st dog.

    Food costs are higher b/c she eats more. Crates, crate pads, beds, etc cost more b/c they are bigger. Even her heartworm & flea prevention meds cost more to buy the pills for larger dogs.

    Our finances are pretty tight now b/c we were basing a lot of costs off of how much our little dog costs. We knew to add a bit more for a bigger dog, but as I mentioned, still ended up underestimating. We love our new girl though!

  14. Buying a pet is a big commitment for you and your family, so it would be good to think about before making a decision. People who are planning to purchase pet(s) should ask some questions to themselves like is my house or apartment big enough for a pet? Can I give my pet enough attention? Do I have the patience to own a pet? Do I have enough budget for adopting a pet? You may also want to consider pet health insurance for some emergency. So, proper planning will give you clear vision whether you afford a pet or not.