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The Annual Cost of Pet Ownership: Can You Afford a Furry Friend?

My friend Dan has always been an animal lover. He grew up with two dogs and three cats, and he always talked about owning his own pets.

When he bought a condo last year, Dan immediately went out and adopted two kittens.

The other day, Dan remarked to me how expensive his cats are. Dan can afford the costs of pet ownership, but he was still surprised at how much owning cats costs.

Before bringing a furry friend into your home, you might want to ask: Can you afford to be a pet owner?

The costs of bringing an animal into your home go far beyond any initial adoption fee, which can vary from nothing at all to hundreds of dollars. Here is a breakdown of the average first year cost of pet ownership costs for one medium dog or one cat, according to the ASPCA.

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
Health Insurance: Dog: $225 / Cat: $175
Miscellaneous: Dog: $45 / Cat: $30
Total Annual Costs: Dog: $695 / Cat: $705

Total First Year Pet Ownership Costs: Dog: $1,260 / Cat: $1,070

As you can see, having a pet can cost you over $1,000 in the first year, and well over $500 each additional year. Depending on the food you buy and your actual medical expenses, the costs could be much higher. Furthermore, these tables are not inclusive. If you travel, tack on pet sitting or kennel services, and if you rent an apartment, expect to pay a sometimes no refundable pet deposit or cleaning fee, if your landlord allows animals at all.

These figures take into account having pet health insurance, which many pet owners do not. If your animal gets sick and you do not have insurance, vet bills can quickly escalate into the thousands of dollars. I don’t know much about pet health insurance and whether it is a smart move or not, but I plan to investigate that in a future post. Without it though, having pets is another big reason to have an emergency fund of at least several thousands dollars.

Update: I just learned the Texas Society of CPAs has a PDF version of a pet budget worksheet. While the page is geared at parents teaching kids the costs involved in pet ownership, the actual worksheet is universal, and could be useful in trying to determine what your actual pet ownership costs might be.

How much do you spend on your pets? Do you want a pet but do not have one because of the cost?

About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

Comments

  1. Good post. Lots of people bring animals home to live with them and then can’t properly care for them because they unexpectedly find that the cutenes costs money.

    Those estimates aren’t too bad, but several of the numbers are somewhat inflated. Maybe they are more accurate for the coasts?

    My annual food and litter costs are only slightly over these estimates, but that is for two cats. It cost me $425 to adopt the both of them from the shelter (they were sisters, so I took them home as kittens on the same day–no two-fer deal, though!) but that included the spay, initial vaccines, a voucher for a free vet exam for follow-up vaccine boosters, a ID microchip implantation, and a starter pack of food. Then when I took them to their free vet visit, they got these little glittery balls that are their favorite toys ever. All of their other toys have been gifts or things I have made for nothing.

    They’re well worth everything I’ve spent on them, though.

  2. You don’t even count purchasing the animal in initial costs (I realize some people get pets from shelters for free, but most pay up front for their pets in my experience).

    I don’t have a pet because of financial considerations, but those considerations also include time spent caring for the animal.

    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.

  3. I might be gearing up to sound like a tightwad here but it’s important to raise a few questions/issues with some of the numbers here.

    I own four cats, and my annual expenses for them are far below the above estimate for just *one* cat. I don’t think I provide poor care for them, either — they act quite happy, are all very friendly, etc.

    Food: I’m clueless how one cat can consume $145 worth of food in a year. My pets eat a bagged, name-brand (i.e. not generic — go figure, *I* eat generic branded food most of the time but I give the cats name brand stuff :P) cat food (I think right now they’re eating 9 Lives). They go through one bag every month and a half or so, and each bag costs $8.98. Rounding that to $9, that’s $72 a year.

    Annual medical exams: No argument from me that this is important, but these can be had much more inexpensively. Shouldn’t these be *included* in the cost of a “health insurance” plan for them if one is being paid for? The fact that both are mentioned on the list above tells me the answer is apparently “no,” but I digress. If you hunt around in your area for a non-profit animal hospital or even ask the local ASPCA or Humane Society for information, you can generally find a place that can provide that annual exam inexpensively. I’d be stunned to pay over $150 for all *four* cats, much less one.

    Litter: $200 seems a bit high for this. Four cats burn through lots of cat litter (they remind me of this *very* loudly if I ever forget to change the boxes for even a day :)). The general rule I’ve seen is that four 35 pound containers of the stuff (Sam’s Club’s “generic” of this works fine) will last about two months. Any time I buy a new set of 4 containers, I’ll dump out the litter boxes entirely and start them over. After that, it’s a daily sifting, and weekly refresh (about an inch per box). There’s little to no odor (beyond the scent the stuff has fresh out of the container). It’s $6.50 per container, so 24 per year adds up to $156 a year. Buy this stuff in bulk and use it wisely :)

    Toys & treats: I can’t argue with $25 here; in fact I tend to spoil the little buggers in this department and at any given moment you’ll easily find fifteen to twenty little felt mice or crinkly shiny balls scattered. These last a long time, though, and aren’t too pricey. They have a floor-to-ceiling scratching post as well, which I’ve anchored to the wall (since they’re good at tipping it over).

    License: Meh. An indoor cat doesn’t *strictly* need a license, but yeah, this fee is pretty much unavoidable if they go outside. As much as I hate to say it, if you live somewhere that your neighbors would actually rat you out for owning unlicensed cats that stay indoors, it’s time to move :)

    Health insurance: I’ve yet to be convinced this is even remotely worth the money. That $175 per year per cat would pile up to $700 a year for me — that’s the kind of money that would pay for just about any kind of emergency or surgery for any of the cats. The actual odds of something nasty happening to them indoors are pretty slim. I own few “poisons” that could harm them, and these are kept in sealed containers out of their reach. They don’t fight (they roughhouse, but it’s playful, not hurtful). If that $175 per year didn’t even cover the annual checkups and vaccinations, there’s no way you’d ever talk me into paying for the “insurance.” The whole point of health insurance (for humans, at least) is to reduce costs by minimizing health problems through preventive maintenance.

    My annual costs are about $400, mostly food and litter; vaccinations are cheap (sometimes even free if the county has it in the budget) and so are health checkups.

    That’s $100 per cat — a far cry from $705 a year per cat. They don’t seem unhappy, and they get favorable reviews from the doc every year when they go in for a checkup. Their teeth are good, their weights are generally good (though the black tabby is a bit chubby, so some extra exercise time with him daily has been on my list in recent months).

    It just doesn’t cost that much to take care of these little guys :)

  4. I can speak to our costs as both a dog and cat owner. I have two dogs (lab/newfoundland mix) and two cats. I buy Eukanuba brand food for them which is pretty expensive, about $40 a bag for a 40lb back of dog food and $25 for for a 12.5lb bag of cat food. I go through one bag of cat food and two bags of dog food a month; for a total of $105 a month just in food.

    I have been tracking my finances for about a year and a half now and after vet bills, toys and food I spend an average of $300 a month on our animals. I do note that one of my cats had to go in for surgery which was $700 and I travel for work sometimes so I have kennel costs as well. 1 week for my dogs is about $250.

    That being said, I have really shopped around and tried to cut costs down. The kennel I go to is the most affordable I could find. I’m always looking for coupons for food and am part of the “frequent buyer” plan at our pet store so I get the 10th bag of cat or dog food free. I have also switched Vet offices after calling around and getting prices. It’s amazing the difference in some vets.

    Since making these changes this year my average monthly pet expenditures are $125. I know that this average will go up next month though because they need to go into the vet this month and I will be gone for a week so there is that $250 charge again.

    It’s a constant battle to keep costs down. I can say that I was shocked when I first started keeping track of my budget to find out how much I spend on them, even when I try to be frugal.

  5. Wow! Thanks for the great comments, everyone. I figured these figures will vary greatly, by location, by animal, by owner etc etc.

    And I would imagine that it’s possible to take very good care of a pet on much less than $1,000 a year, but it’s those unexpected vet bills that scare me.

    I knew dogs need licenses, I didn’t know outdoor cats needed them too! Wow.

  6. I believe we spend about $200/month on our pets. Something you forgot monthly expense is heartguard and flea/tick mediction. We have 2 bichons and that runs me about $30/month for both.

    We also only feed our pets Eukanuba. The problem with cheaper food is that it promotes kidney stones and weight gain because of the cheaper filler food.

    Also including grooming for some breeds, we used to do it a lot more with one, but with two Bichons we do it ourselves.

    And we have medical healthplan for $70/month for both. So overall I am guessing $200/month.

    And that’s not counting kenneling, daycare, etc.

    And MEG is right, we do have to consciously come home to let our dogs out. In the mornings I do it, and I usually come home at 4-5 and walk them if we are going out. And we have to be home by midnight to let them out again. It’s a very conscious decision to have a pet.

  7. SDXB (Semi-Demi-Ex-Boyfriend) used to call my German shepherd “The Thousand-Dollar-a-Day Dog.” As I recall, he came up with that one after she ate the leather living-room chair.

    Seriously, you do have to factor in all the damage an animal does: carpets ruined or at least in need of professional cleaning and destinking, furniture clawed, doors scratched up, flower and vegetable gardens unearthed, window screens ripped, draperies sprayed upon….eeek! Then of course there are the less tangible costs: the neighbor who contemplates throttling you after the postal carrier refuses to deliver any more mail to your neighborhood because your dog got out and chased him up the street, for example.

    I spent over $4,000 on my dogs last year. The greyhound died last fall, and so presumably costs will be lower this year. But I’m not counting on it.

    Mercifully, the vet has decided to stand down off his demand that the dog be schlepped in every six months for expensive blood tests before he’ll give me permission to buy expensive meds for her–but only because she’s too old and crippled to get into the car now and I’m too old and crippled to lift an 80-pound dog into a car.

    It’s hard for me to imagine being without a dog. But I guess when the Ger-shep is gone, that will be the case. I can’t afford another dog. In fact, IMHO pet ownership today is like keeping a horse: something that is beyond the means of the average middle-class earner.

  8. We paid $1000 for each dog.
    Yearly Costs-
    Vet, heartworm pills, frontline: $600
    Food: $300
    Treats: $1 Million dollars easy :-)

    They are worth every cent! But I also can afford them. Good advice on thinking about it first before making the step.

    Lisa

  9. finaidgirl says:

    As with other personal finance discussions, I think the issue of time should be factored in with financial cost of a pet. If someone can financially afford an animal, can they really afford the time they require? I see too many people who spoil their animals with “stuff” but leave them alone all day long.

    For myself, In the 15 months I’ve tracked my expenses my 42lb lab/basset mix costs average $118 per month – and like Lisa said above, it’s worth everything!

    Also I have to plug adoption and spaying/neutering over buying from a breeder – there are way too many animals dying every day due to overpopulation and not being wanted.

  10. True cost to own is something I have usually associated with car buying, but very relevant to pet ownership too. Too many dive into having a pet without thinking about the full consequences. Thanks for sharing some of these estimates with us.

  11. I have one cat, and I agree you do have to consider the cost and you shouldn’t adopt a pet that you can’t afford. However, on the flip side, there are studies that say that pet owners live longer and less stress filled lives than those who do not own pets. So maybe there is some cost savings in the long run?

  12. You forgot to mention:
    –boarding expenses or hotel “pet fees” if your friend is going with you. ($25/day)
    –emergency room visits and their associated costs ($150+)
    –cleaning agents (to clean whatever they threw up on)
    –shampoo and brush
    –vitamins ($5-10/mo)
    –nail clippers or trips to the groomer ($20/month)
    –specialty needs (one of my dogs requires eye drops for chronic dry eye and arthritis meds allergy medications) ($100/mo)

    They are expensive! …but worth every penny.

  13. I guess those numbers are for a small dog. I have a bloodhound that is about 90 pounds. She eats a $40 bag of dog food every month, at least. I think those food costs should be more like $300-$500 a year.

  14. I have found the first year to be the most expensive. We got our pit bull/mastiff from the shelter. $200 covered her spay, microchip, shots, leash, collar, bag of dog food. We feed the raw diet that we get from an organic farm and she eats $35 of food a week. $140 a month on food. We use natural balance for training and a large $8 roll lasts us two weeks. $16 a month on training food. We did all three training classes her first year in preparation for her being a therapy dog. Each class ran us $120 for a whopping total of $360. We took her to three “puppy parties” at a trainers class before she was five months old $800 there. I forgot her crate. We bought an extra large when we got her and just sectioned it off when we were housebreaking her. That crate cost us $100. She has never gone to bathroom in the house. She doesn’t chew the furniture (despite her love of chewing) because we always have toys for her. We probably spend another $400 a year on various toys. She’s worth every penny. This next year will be less expensive, luckily. With our next dog, we won’t need to buy another crate. We’ll likely adopt a dog that is a few years old so we don’t have to go through housebreaking again as well. Our bestfriends got thier puppy from a backyard breeder. They were told she was a fullsize maltese and it turned out she was a runt (or “teacup” aka poorly bred dog). After spending $800 on her (because backyard breeders are CHEAP), they dumped another $5,000 into her medical bills only to lose her barely a year after they got her. Buyer beware. Do your research to be sure you are getting a quality dog if you are going to a breeder. It’s worth the extra money to avoid medical bills and heartache down the road. The Humane Society has an excellent breeder checklist for those of you who are looking for a GOOD breeder. Good breeders don’t advertise for free. They don’t take credit cards. They don’t sell CHEAP dogs ($200-800). Their dogs hold champion titles from competing in dog shows. They don’t breed their female until she is two years of age. They don’t always have puppies available (they breed every few years). They insist on you meeting BOTH parents of the puppy. They get to know you. They make follow up calls. You sign a contract stating that you will notify them if ANYTHING medical crops up with your puppy even five years from now. Why? Because they CARE about the dogs and are all about furthering the breed. If your dog develops hip dysplasia at two, they want to know so they don’t breed that female again. It is worth the extra money to ensure you are getting a quality dog.

  15. The puppy classes were only $15 each. The $800 was unforeseen medical. Like most “blues” (which are all MIXES of pit bull/mastiff), she has massive allergies. It was $800 before we got them under control.

  16. I caught the earlier post about the SDXB (Semi Demi Ex Boyfriend)and his comment on the “Thousand Dollar a Day Dog”. The animals, in excess, mind you, can cost you a relationship. My wife is a serial cat rescuer. I’ve drawn the line at seven cats and one bunny. When you have to draw a line, things get tense. I don’t want the tension, and I will not occupy the same space as eight cats.

  17. Thank you so much for the info! I’ve been surfing the net forever trying to pin down some actual real numbers on what to expect for costs associated with getting a dog. Every other website just lists types of expenses and never puts any dollar amount. Thanks to you I can now plan a real budget for my new dog.

    • Hi,

      I have one small dog (a papillon) which doesn’t cost me much anymore. They first year was tough since she was a puppy and had to go for her 3 rounds of shots. After she was spayed and stopped teething(I went through tons of toys) she’s getting cheap in her “old” age. $18 for a bag of pro plan selects which last 2 months, I use the sandwich bags as her poop bags ($3.00 at target 250count), vet is $$ I spent $124 for her annual visit in june.

      I live in New York City, and we pamper out pets dearly here so she has sweaters, coats, 2 coach collars (one with matching leash) (mommy had a discount), treats from petco or petsmart.

      The expense of having a pet doesn’t matter when you come home and see there face light up every day. Even when you only ran to get the mail.

  18. I recently acquired my 4th indoor cat. Three of them were from shelters and had a $75 adoption fee. they were already spayed/neutered and had their shots. I use a litter robot which cost over $300, but the savings in litter is remarkable. Pays for itself the first year. I spend $10 a month on litter (generic clumping), and about $40 a month on food…good quality food (Natural balance). The adopted cats received free vaccinations. Since two of my cats are 5 months old, I expect that I may be purchasing one more bag per month (about $13) when they are fully grown. Checkups are only $35 per cat, so annual checkups would cost a total of $140 for 4 cats. So, overall my cat cost per year for 4 cats are:
    Litter: $120
    Vet (routine): $140
    Food: $600 (@ $50/month)
    Total: $860, or $215 per cat.
    Worth every penny.

  19. I should really re-consider adopting a dog i planned to next week, really seems like too much money involved.

  20. Try owning a horse…
    $2,500-$150,000 for a horse. Most people I knew spent between $3000-$15,000.
    $300-$1000/mo board if you don’t have a barn on your property. Most commonly in my area is $350.
    $200-$10,000 for a saddle alone (depending if you buy used or are buying a brand new silvery show saddle) Many people own more than one saddle.
    $400-? for other tack, such as bridles, girths, training aids and leg protection.
    $80 for a shoeing and trim. (usually horses go through at least 2 sets of shoes a year. $40 for just a trim EVERY 6-8wks.
    $240 or so a year for regular vet checkups/shots.
    $120 for teeth filing (1-2 times a year).
    $100-$400 for riding boots (western boots or tall boots).
    $50-$100 for grooming supplies
    $14/bottle of fly spray…you’ll go through several of those per fly season.
    $40-$300 for a blanket. (depends if it’s a lightweight or a winter blanket).
    $2000-$100,000 for a trailer if you plan on showing or trail riding your horse. Oh, and you’ll need a truck to tow it. And you’ll need a lot of gasoline when you’re lugging around a 1500lb animal in a heavy trailer.
    $25-$65 for an hour riding lesson should you choose to do them.

    Other expenses include supplements, horse shows, show clothes, riding clothes, shampoos/cleaning products, buckets, etc, etc,

    There are ways to own a horse cheaply…but it is nonetheless difficult, especially if you’re a young adult… Which is why I sold mine years ago. :/

  21. I am still on the fence about buying a dog. I grew up always having animals in the house and I deeply miss that feeling of your dog curling up with you on the couch.. or barking at something, you may or may not have been scared of haha. My husband and I have gone over a budget for a dog and it does seem to really add up. My little girl asked me today for a dog.. and I really want to give her that same relationship with animals that I had growing up.. but at what expense i guess? it is really too bad that a lot of vets charge such unbelievable rates for things. it always surprises me that one vet charges $700.00 for something that, the vet down the street charges you $250.00 for. it’s just out of control.

  22. First of all, instead of “buying” an animal, consider adoption. There are about 10,000 people born in US daily. There are close to 70,00 cats and dogs born daily. Where are they going to go? Thousand of cats and dogs are euthanized daily. These are not all mutts. There are boxers, chihuahuas, Labs and more pure-bred dogs. Yes, there are wonderful mutts there too. And oh, so many cats. Two of my four dogs came from the shelter. My rescued chocolate Lab is the best dog in the world. She plays firm, yet kind mother to the others. One of my dogs was found in a shoebox outside an apartment complex. He was maybe four weeks old, covered in fleas. He has a kind and gentle, almost spiritual nature. Go to a rescue, go to a shelter. Get them vetted. Once you love them, it doesn’t matter where they came from. Just matters where the two of you will go, together.

  23. This shows me that I might be able to afford a dog! I think the costs would be lower for me, too. I live in the midwest, and I could get things like crates from family or friends. I’d probably skip the medical insurance too, although I’d look into it.

    I went to a benefit walk for my local Humane Society earlier this year, and the vendors were practically throwing 5-pound bags of dog food at us. I took home so much food and snacks for my parents’ dogs. If they’d liked all of the food, there was probably enough for 3-6 months.

    Now the question is, do I have enough time for a dog? My roommate loves dogs too, so I know she’d help, but I don’t want to burden her. I’d like to adopt an adult dog from the shelter, so there wouldn’t be so much training or medical care necessary, hopefully.

  24. Great article! The costs reported here are much lower than any other estimates I’ve seen, and actually make it look affordable! That’s a dangerous thought…

    One thing worth mentioning is that, if you find you’re not ready for the financial commitment, you can always foster for your local shelter. Of course, there will be time spent and money for damages done by your foster dog or cat, but most shelters pay for food, toys, vet visits, etc. Damages can be mitigated, too, by fostering senior animals instead of the younger, more desirable ones.

  25. Just checked what we pay for our small Boston Terrier.

    We paid $115 for her as a puppy. Then over the course of 1 1/3 yrs, we’ve paid $750 total. One big bag of food lasts about 2.5 months. She’s had numerous vet visits which is the bulk of what we’ve paid for, and a little bit of dog sitting and toys. We already had a kennel.

  26. Okay, I paid less than 20 for my dogs collar AND leash (medium size). I paid less than 70 dollars for my dogs crate (36 x 24). Never had to pay 70 for an exam. More like 25-45.