Pet ownership represents a large emotional – and financial – commitment. Whether you buy from a pet store or a breeder, adopt an animal from a shelter, or take in a stray, initial costs are just the beginning of the story. This guide examines the different costs associated with pet ownership and helps you know what to expect, how to plan for these expenses, and potential ways to reduce the financial burden of pet ownership.
The Lifetime Cost of a Pet
There are two main cost areas when owning a pet: the initial cost (adoption costs, vaccinations, training, etc.) and then general costs over your pet’s lifetime (food, toys, routine vet visits, etc.) Combining both of these costs together will give you a rough estimate of the lifetime cost of your pet. Even without some of the larger expenses like a fenced in backyard, initial costs like vaccines, heart-worm prevention, toys, training, and food can add up to $680 or more. Throw in routine expenses such as dental care ($40 to $80 per year), food ($240 per year), and grooming ($30 per visit) and you’re looking at $300-$400 per year before major medical expenses.
One of the first expenses of pet ownership is the adoption or purchase price. The price of purchasing from a breeder is typically influenced by the demand for that particular breed. Reputable breeders will charge fair, if competitive, prices, while backyard breeders will charge high prices to earn a profit. You should avoid purchasing from backyard breeders; their practices are driven by money rather than care for the animals. Backyard breeders often purchase from puppy mills and other unethical institutions. The Partnership for Animal Welfare provides a useful guide for identifying the differences between backyard breeders and legitimate breeders. Legitimate breeders know their breeds and can refer buyers to other satisfied customers, while backyard breeders will sell to whomever is willing to pay.
Adoption costs, on the other hand, cover a variety of expenses. Many shelters and rescues will microchip animals, provide medical care and heartworm care, and in some cases even spay and neuter animals. The cost of all this care can be upwards of $800, but shelters rarely ask this much. The upper range of most adoption fees is around $500, but can be higher in some cases.
Medical costs are arguably the most expensive aspect of owning a pet; even smaller expenses quickly add up. The average vet visit can be anywhere from $50 to $400, while dental care runs about the same. Vitamins are usually around $100 per year, and preventative medication for fleas and heartworms are each around $20 per month. None of this includes emergency treatments your pet may require. Pet insurance is another expense that can be marked as a medical expense, but is well worth it. We explain pet insurance in a later section.
Depending on the breed of dog or cat you own, grooming can be a relatively minor cost or a budget-breaking one. Long haired breeds require much more grooming than short haired breeds, although you can often reduce the cost of grooming by handling it yourself. Brushing your pet’s hair daily and trimming their nails at home can save $50 per month.
Pet food will be a large portion of your yearly pet budget, but despite common belief, your pets don’t have to have the most expensive food. Many pet food claims to be “all-natural” and “premium”, but there isn’t much regulation on what it takes to meet those qualifications, they are typically just marketing terms. Price isn’t the determining factor in quality, make sure to do your research on what best fits your budget and pet’s needs. A 22-pound bag of Purina One Complete cat food will cost around $17.48, while a 50-pound bag of Kibbles ‘N Bits dog food is around $22.98 from big-box retailers. Depending on the size of your pet, this could be enough for a single month.
Equipment costs vary wildly depending on the individual. If you need to fence in your backyard, you’re looking at well over $1,000 on average. However, for an indoor pet, you may only need water and food bowls and a few toys. This cost depends entirely on your personal circumstances.
Training is an optional cost. Cat owners likely won’t need to pay for training because most cats don’t require it but dog owners have two options: pay for training or train their pet themselves. If you have owned a dog before, then you may be able to get away with training it on your own unless it is a particularly difficult breed. If you’ve never owned a dog, then professional training can be worth the cost. Not only does training reduce behavioral issues, but it can also reduce costs later in the future; for instance, the cost of a lawsuit or medical treatments if your dog bites someone.
Joanne Lekas, CPDT-KA, of Happy Dog Behavior Training, has taken her love of dogs and her 25 years’ of sales and consulting experience and has transitioned these skills to help people live happier lives with their dogs.