The cost of pet ownership is something everyone needs to carefully consider. In this article, I’ll cover the minimal cost of owning a pet, share stories of unexpected expenses, and suggest some cost-saving measures.
THE MINIMAL COST OF PET OWNERSHIP
Let’s start with the cost of owning a pet. What follows are two tables. The first lists the initial costs of bringing a dog or cat into one’s family, while the second lists the annual costs of keeping a dog or cat. For the purchase of a dog or cat, I listed the lowest local adoption price I found. If you choose not to adopt but instead to buy from a breeder, you should expect to pay several hundred dollars or even over a thousand. For all other expenses, I listed whichever was available of the minimal or average cost. However, calculating costs for dogs is tricky due to their huge variance in size. For example, food might only cost $100 for a small dog but could run over a $1,000 for a large dog. Under initial costs I didn’t include optional purchases such as a crate or training, and under annual costs I didn’t include optional expenses such as grooming, boarding/pet sitting, or rental deposit. The bulk of the prices I’ve listed come from the website Costs Helper, local animal welfare sites, and online pet stores. If you wish to create your own budget, the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants provides a worksheet and Simple Dollar provides an online calculator.
|DOG: INITIAL||CAT: INITIAL|
Spaying or Neutering: $200
Initial Medical Exam: $50
Food/Water Bowls: $10
Collar or Harness/Leash: $5
Dog Bed: $10
Total One-time Costs: $410
Spaying or Neutering: $200
Initial Medical Exam: $50
Food/Water Bowls $10
Collar or Harness & Leash: $15
Cat Bed: $10
Cat Litter Box: $5
Cat Scratching Post: $10
Grooming Tools: $25
Total One-time Costs: $435
|DOG: ANNUAL||CAT: ANNUAL|
Annual Medical Care: $100
Health Insurance: $300
Total Annual Costs: $615
Annual Medical Care: $100
Health Insurance: $120
Total Annual Costs: $570
THE UNEXPECTED COST OF PET OWNERSHIP
By far, the most unexpected expense cited the pet owners I talked to was health care. First-time owners especially are rarely prepared for the high cost of preventative health care. Lab work and dental surgery can run several hundred dollars, and while they aren’t necessary on an annual basis, they become more and more important as pets age. Catie Brown said, “The most unexpected cost was that Ms. Bean required dental surgery twice, and now I only give her wet food because dry food seems to be too hard to eat. She’s happy and thriving, and that’s worth every penny to me.”
Other health issues included sickness and disease. Some were one-time occurrences while others became chronic as in the case of allergies, bladder stones, and urinary crystals. Some health issues impacted part or all of the body as in the case of paralysis. Other issues were life threatening such as stomatitis and cancer.
Megan Wagner Major described her family’s experiences with their “sweet boy” Rocky who would get bladder stones he wasn’t able to pass. “It took many vet visits (sometimes more than once a week), several different medications, prescription dog food, and two surgeries (at $1,500 each) to remove the stones. Thousands of dollars were spent trying to get his health issues under control. We’d complain every time we had to take him to the vet, but we were fortunate we could afford the bills and would have continued to do whatever we could to ensure his was a life well lived.” Sadly, Rocky crossed Rainbow Bridge last February, because another health issue came to light which was untreatable.
Hindy Pearson told of her dog’s sudden paralysis. “This meant a specialist animal hospital, MRI, and spinal surgery. The total cost was about $6,500. We had no pet insurance.”
Carla Bishoff talked about feeding stray cats outside. “This one guy would come in for the night to warm up and go back out each day. When we started packing to move, he quit going back outside. Six months later, he was having some eating issues. We took him to the vet, and he was diagnosed with gingivitis stomatitis. Long story short, $1,000 later he has only his front teeth but he’s thriving.”
Jill Heese faced the unexpected costs of cancer. “Between diagnostics, surgery, and radiation, I’m sitting at about $12,000 in just one month. Baby girl is worth every cent, but I’ll research pet insurance with the next dog I adopt.”
Renee Dobbs said that three of her dogs developed serious illnesses. One had lymphoma, another an auto-immune disease, and the third an enlarged heart. “We spent $10,000 on one of our dogs with blood transfusions, medications, and specialist vet appointments. Only to lose that one to a snake bite. The other two had expensive medications and treatments too.”
The second highest unexpected expense of pet ownership was related to misbehavior. Liz Wood-Swedlund shared, “Our little one ate the carpet in our living room and made sure to pull the fiber down the center of the whole room. This set us back about $1,000 and a weekend installing wood. Thank goodness he’s cute!”
Jessie Nilson also told a story of property damage. One of her male dogs has bad separation anxiety. She locked him in a room once and he scratched/chewed a hole in the door. Nilson also listed several other misbehaviors, which in total have cost her a small fortune: “One of my girl dogs likes to eat things such as ant traps, candles, pills, etc. I’ve had to take her to the vet and have her charcoaled so many times that the vet taught me how to induce vomiting with hydrogen peroxide because he felt bad for me. One of my boy dogs saw a box on my stove that had offended him. When jumping up to try to get it to eat it he managed to turn the stove knobs on and set a small fire in my kitchen.”
The third highest unexpected expense of pet ownership were accidents. One of Nilson’s girl dogs tore the Anterior Cruciate Ligaments (ACL) on both her hind legs by chasing another dog. Surgery was required for the one, while the second healed on its own. Manual Walker told me how their family’s German short hair saw “something outside and put his paw through the window pane. He sliced his paw up pretty good. It set us back 150 bucks for the vet to stitch him up.”
COST-SAVING MEASURES FOR PET OWNERSHIP
Given that by far the most unexpected expense of being a pet owner was health care, it should come as no surprise that cost-saving measures included finding an economical vet, going to low-cost clinics for routine vaccinations and treatments, establishing an emergency fund through personal savings, and obtaining pet insurance. Amy Van Gerpen said that she seeks out a veterinarian “without bells and whistles that will do vaccinations without a checkup.” Emelia Evans said that she uses a shelter clinic for spay/neuter and pop up clinics for vaccinations, flea treatments, and even blood tests. Multiple owners talked about using human or online pharmacies. Sherri Telenko from Canada said, “I had a vet write down what off-the-shelf meds I needed for my cat and the pharmacy sold it to me no problem and even helped me find it.” Billie Beattie sets aside a certain amount of money each month to offset unexpected vet expenses, stressing that pet owners need to be prepared to pay for pet needs just as they would any other family member. Paula Gregg purchased insurance when her cats first came to her as kittens, and also obtained a Care Credit card. For more health-related financial resources, check out Financial Safety Nets for Pet Owners.
Another way to save money on pet health costs is to provide preventative care. Some owners perform their own wellness checks and grooming on their pets. Kat Pothoff said, “I try to do daily checks to observe any signs of illness, body condition, or changes in behavior.” Many owners have researched the most cost-effective pet foods and treats. Robert Wurth buys quality pet food because even though the cost per bag is higher, “since the food isn’t filled with non-nutritional fillers, you can actually feed your pet less and they’ll be healthier for it. In the long run, it saves money.” Lindsay Pevny noted, “Treats can really add up, especially when you do a lot of training and need something super-tasty, super-motivating, and super-healthy. It’s easy to make treats in a dehydrator, particularly with ground turkey, and they stay fresh for months.”
In the long run, affordable pet maintenance often comes down to finding ways to cut costs and perhaps ways to make some extra cash. Besides the ideas listed above, owners have chosen to seek out sales and to make their own pet toys. Jessie Nilson buys pet food in bulk when there are sales and Jill Heese buys gift certificates for boarding when there are sales. Emelia Evans noted that cat owners can make great puzzle feeders out of toilet paper tubes with the ends folded in, or castles out of shipping boxes for them to explore. And, finally, Serina Rieckman shared that she does dog-walking on the side which has the added benefit of giving her “guaranteed nice dogs” for her new dog to interact with.
As more responses to my questions about the costs of pet ownership rolled in, what most stood out to me is how extremely dedicated many pet owners are to their furry family members. They don’t simply fork out the minimal initial cost of owning a pet. They’re also more than willing to go the extra mile to ensure their pets’ health. More than one owner expressed the sentiment that their pets were worth every cent of their vet bill. Nilson elaborated, “A coworker heard about some of the expenses for my dogs. He asked if I was going to get rid of my dogs. I was dumbfounded. Get rid of my babies? I’d rather give up non-necessities, take on a second job, or add to my credit card debt.”
Indeed, many pet owners are so passionate about their pets that they change their lifestyle for them. Jill Heese gave up bar-hopping with friends to spend more time with her dogs. Stephanie Paige Nickeson-Phares traded her monthly tanning membership for a monthly Bark Box (full of dog toys, treats, and other goodies) subscription and stopped doing any frivolous shopping. She explained, “I really don’t NEED anything. The tradeoff is giving them top shelf rated food, toys and treats and my time. Having my own dogs and foster dogs makes me want to be home to spend time with them. My focus has changed to something more purposeful and altruistic. By making their life the best I can, the benefits are twofold. I’m mentally and physically more healthy as well.”
A study conducted by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy and published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science listed the cost of pet maintenance as the fourth most common reason for pet relinquishment. The Nebraska shelters and rescues who responded to my survey also listed the cost of pet maintenance as a top reason owners surrendered pets. My hope is that the anecdotes I’ve shared from pet owners will provide a better understanding of the costs of pet ownership and that the cost-saving tips I’ve provided will help more people afford the joy of owning pets.
Need help with cat behavior? I offer cat behavior consultations, training in obedience and agility, and support for basic care and enrichment. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me at Allison Helps Cats.