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From the Experts at

The True Cost of Owning a Dog or Cat

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man laying on the couch with his bulldog

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If you live in a typical American household, 68% of which own a pet, you know the many benefits of being a pet parent. Pets provide companionship, reduce stress and even improve your health. Pet owners, especially those with dogs, are more likely to get outside and take a stroll through the park. So what could be the down side?

Although the benefits outweigh the costs, pets are expensive. It’s important to take a close look at the financial side of pet ownership before you add a new member to the family. Even if you’ve considered the adoption fee and supplies, the ongoing costs of food, grooming and routine vet bills add up.

The cost of a pet in the first year alone is just over $1,000 on average. In a recent survey conducted asking how much people would expect a dog or cat to cost in the first year, only one in five answered correctly. The majority of respondents underestimated the cost, expecting the expenses to fall between $500 and $1,000. And as much as 17% believe that the initial expenses of bringing home a new furry friend cost less than $500.

78% of people underestimate how much a pet costs in the first year

If you’re financially savvy, you may have looked into ways to save on pet food or perform at-home pet pedicures, but veterinary visits can add up. Scheduling routine physicals and keeping up to date on vaccines is the best preventative measure against future health conditions that may be costly to treat.

While the number of insured pets is on the rise, emergency medical care can leave even the most prepared pet owner in a mountain of debt. Or in the worst cases, economic euthanasia—a heartbreaking decision for any family.

Most people agree that the unconditional love of a pet is worth any amount of money. Still, preparing for the true cost of pet ownership can help you plan your budget. Pets become a part of the family, and making sure you can afford one can help you avoid tough decisions down the road. Fortunately, if you plan ahead, you can maintain the health of your pet and your finances.

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    Cost of Owning a Dog

    cost of owning a dog

    Based on the average lifespan of 12 years, the lifetime cost of owning a dog ranges from $5,000 to $20,000. A majority of pet owners vastly underestimate this figure, and assume a lifetime cost of somewhere between $1,290 and $6,445.

    In our own survey, respondents were more realistic. Putting the initial cost at $1,000 or less adds up to a lifetime cost of $12,000 at the highest. However, this is still half of the AKC’s estimate.

    One-Time Expenses

    Aside from emergency care, most of the major expenses occur in the first year. New pet owners can expect to shell out nearly $400 for the bare necessities alone. The ASPCA estimates that the total first-year costs range from $1,314 and $1,843 on average, based on the size of your dog.

    • Adoption fee/cost: $0 to $350 (can be higher depending on breed)
    • Food and water bowls: $10 to $50
    • Spaying or neutering: $200
    • Initial medical exam: $70
    • Collar, tags and leash: $16 to $50
    • Bed and crate: $25 to $250
    • Carrying crate: $60

    Total one-time expenses: $381 to $1,030

    In some cases, puppies can be more expensive than healthy adult dogs, since they need more shots and veterinary procedures. They may also need obedience training due to their boundless energy and tendency to chew household items. Pet proof your home without breaking the bank to keep even the most inquisitive of pups from damaging your property or getting hurt.

    first year of owning a dog costs $1,270

    Annual Expenses

    For each following year, of a dog’s life, the ASPCA projects that you spend between $580 and $875 annually on your furry pal. Other sources put the number higher. For example, the AKC believes the estimated annual costs of raising a dog are low, projecting veterinary costs at $650 per year alone.

    • Food: $120 to $550
    • Vaccines and routine care: $80 to $250
    • Heartworm and flea prevention: $76 to $367
    • Vitamins: $58
    • License: $15
    • Treats and chew toys: $50 to $300
    • Toys: $10 to $200

    Total annual expenses: $409 to $1,740


    In addition to the basics such as food and veterinary care, there are other routine and unexpected expenses that arise. You’ll also need to consider pet-related expenses that come along with life events, such as travel and moving. For instance, many apartments charge a pet deposit and you may need to pay additional cleaning fees.

    • Professional grooming: $84
    • Self-service grooming: $10
    • Training: $30 to $100 per hour
    • Boarding and travel fees: $322
    • Accessories: $0 to 50
    • Pet health insurance: $42 per month

    While raising your dog is a significant investment, when it comes to keeping your dog healthy and happy, most pet owners feel it is all money well spent. After all, you get paid back with unconditional love and affection.

    Cost of Owning a Cat

    cost of owning a cat

    Cats may be less expensive to own than dogs, but even these lower maintenance creatures can put a dent in your bank account. For one reason, cats tend to live longer than dogs—they have a lifespan of about 15 years. And also, most families own more than one cat—the average number of cats per household is 2.1. The average lifetime cost of owning a cat ranges from $5,000 to $23,000.

    The biggest factor affecting the lifespan and total expenses of a cat is whether it lives indoors or outdoors. An outdoor cat has a much shorter lifespan (only five years on average) and is at greater risk of injury from other animals, traffic and diseases. If you do plan to let your cat outdoors, lower your financial risk by vaccinating against diseases and purchasing pet insurance to cover potential injuries. You also want to ensure that it’s not illegal to let your cat roam outside in your area. If it is and your beloved cat ends up at animal control, you’ll have to pay a fee to get your cat back.

    One-Time Expenses

    As with dogs, the expenses in the first year of cat ownership are the highest. You can expect to pay up to $900 in the first year.

    • Adoption fee/cost: $0 to $200 (can be higher depending on breed)
    • Food and water bowls: $5 to $30
    • Spaying or neutering: $145
    • Initial medical exam: $130
    • Collar or leash: $10
    • Litter box: $10 to $200
    • Cat bed: $20 to $100
    • Carrying crate: $20 to $75

    Total one-time expenses: $340 to $900

    first year of owning a cat costs $1,070

    Annual Expenses

    Of course, cats aren’t always predictable. You may have a certain cat food in mind (one that fits your budget), but that doesn’t mean your cat will find it to his or her tastes. Cats can also be particular about the type of litter they use. Still, the following ranges give you an idea what to expect in the years ahead.

    • Food: $120 to $500
    • Vaccines and routine care: $110 to $550
    • Flea and tick prevention: $20 to $200
    • Treats: $10 to $100
    • Litter: $70 to $150
    • Toys and scratching post: $20 to $75

    Total annual expenses: $350 to $1,575


    Cats have a penchant for knocking things off tables, and they don’t differentiate between empty toilet paper rolls and expensive vases. Additionally, they have sharp claws and if you don’t give them someplace to scratch, they may turn your furniture into a shredding post. This is all to say that you may want to set aside money for miscellaneous expenses.

    Here are some other extras you may want to consider:

    • Pet health insurance: $21 per month
    • Pet sitting or boarding: $15 to 20 a day

    No matter how much you spend on your cat, the joy he or she brings to your life makes it worth every penny. Owning a cat brings unparalleled benefits to your family, including increased happiness and reduced stress. In fact, cats can make you 40% less likely to suffer a heart attack.

    true cost of owning a dog or cat infographic

    Prepare for the Unexpected

    prepare for the unexpected

    Emergency Vet Expenses

    When you bring home your new fur baby, the last thing you want to think about is a tragedy or major illness hitting them, but it’s important to be prepared. Even if you establish healthy habits such as regular exercise, you should plan ahead for unexpected veterinary bills. According to Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of the ASPCA Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, “Owners will likely incur at least one $2,000 to $4,000 bill for emergency care at some point during their pet’s lifetime.”

    Once you become a pet parent, you may find that you’ll do anything for your canine or feline companion, even risking your credit to save their lives. While many pet owners feel that their pet’s well-being is worth the necessary sacrifices, setting aside money for a rainy day can help deflect some of the costs of an emergency procedure or unexpected illness.

    Pet Insurance

    Putting money aside for unexpected pet expenses is a good idea, but it’s difficult to save enough to cover a major medical bill—especially if you’re paying off existing debt at the same time. A diagnostic procedure alone can cost up to $2,000. And common medical conditions, such as orthopedic surgery or removing a foreign body can cost $7,000. If your pet has a chronic condition requiring regular follow-up visits or medications, your pet could rack up tens of thousands of dollars in medical expenses.

    Rather than set yourself up to be forced to decide between your financial health and your pet’s health, plan for the worst by taking out pet insurance. With ongoing expenses adding up, it’s tempting to cut corners by skipping pet insurance, but the peace of mind it will give you is invaluable.

    Tips for Budgeting for a Pet

    budgeting for a pet

    Advance planning, such as signing up for health insurance or contributing to a savings account with your pet in mind, can help keep you out of financial water. But there are other ways to make pet ownership affordable and keep costs down.

    Consider whether you’re willing to cut back in other areas

    Being a responsible pet owner requires sacrifices of your time and sometimes, your finances. You may need to reconsider your morning latte once you’re splurging on treats for your new best friend.

    Set aside money for an unexpected vet bill

    It can seem like a large amount now, but setting aside $1,000 to $2,000 for a pet emergency can keep you from losing sight of your financial goals when the worst happens. Even if you have pet insurance, your policy may have a deductible or maximum coverage limits.

    It takes a village

    Pet sitting or boarding can cost you $15 to $60 a day, but asking for help from friends and neighbors can save you money, even if you offer to pay for their time.

    Search out low cost clinics for routine pet care

    Animal welfare organizations often offer low-cost vaccinations, spaying and neutering, saving you money both now and in the long run by helping prevent costly medical conditions. Check with your local humane society or local pet rescue groups to get more information.

    Avoid Pet Debt

    Prevention can be the most effective tool for avoiding surprise pet costs. Regular exams help detect problems earlier making them less expensive and more likely to have a positive outcome. For example, spaying/neutering your pets reduces their risk of certain cancers.

    If you can’t afford an expensive but necessary medical procedure, you may be able to get financial assistance from veterinary medical colleges or non-profit organizations. The American Veterinary Medical Association has a list of organizations that offer aid to pet owners with financial needs. This list is by no means comprehensive, so if you don’t find an option there, keep looking.

    Credit Cards for Pet Owners

    While you don’t want to rely on credit cards alone to cover the cost of owning a pet, choosing the right card can help you earn cash back and rewards points on pet-related purchases you’re already making. Some even offer 0% financing, which is useful for transferring a hefty vet bill from an existing card to a new one. Depending on whether you plan to use the card for pet purchases alone or everyday spending will help you determine which card is best for you.

    If you’re considering bringing a furry friend home, make sure your credit is in good standing first. A credit card that rewards pet purchases can make it more affordable to own a pet. You’ll want to check your credit scores to know where your credit stands before you apply, so you can reduce the risk of a rejected application and come up with a plan to work your way toward better credit if necessary.

    Survey Methodology: This study was conducted by December 2018 using Google Surveys. The sample consists of one question with 1,000 completed responses. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population.

    Sources: American Pet Products Association | Market Research | American Veterinary Medical Association | Business Insider | Petfinder 1, 2 | Money Under 30

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