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.
What Does Owning a Pet Really Cost?
If you want to get a more concrete idea of what a dog or cat may cost you during the first year, our pet calculator can help give you an estimate. For instance, a dog that needs standard first-year medical care, grooming every two months, regular food, and other supplies could run roughly $835. Throw in premium food, a fenced backyard, and group training sessions, and you could be looking at a $2,550 investment.
One important thing to note about these numbers: They include typical preventative health care (yearly checkup, shots, flea/tick prevention), but not the cost of spaying or neutering your cat or dog. If that’s not something that’s already done for you when you get your cat or dog, you could be looking at an added $200 for a medium-size dog or $145 for a cat, according to the ASPCA.
Pet Cost Calculator
To get a better idea of total estimated costs for your pet, use the calculator below.
The cost of dog ownership
Dogs can be fantastic, faithful companions — but they can also be an unexpectedly large drain on a household’s budget if you fail to think ahead.
Remember to factor in your dog’s lifespan when you’re thinking about costs. If you get a puppy or young dog, you may have a faithful friend for roughly a dozen years, according to PetMD. So if you’re paying $695 annually on pet-related expenses for your medium-size dog, that’s $8,340 over Fido’s lifetime — and that doesn’t include the one-time costs incurred when you first buy the dog that you can estimate with our calculator.
If you want a dog, one of the first decisions you’ll face is whether to buy a puppy from a pet store or breeder, or adopt a dog from a shelter. Choose wisely, because it will have a big impact on your bottom line.
Buying a puppy: Pet store or breeder?
If you have your eye on a specific breed, you’ll probably be buying a puppy. There are two major routes to do so: Pet stores and breeders.
Pet stores may be a less expensive option. You’ll shell out an average of $800 for a pet-store puppy, according to Bankrate. But as many animal lovers will caution, buying a puppy from a pet store might not be worth the initial savings. The pet store probably bought that pup, cute as it may be, from a high-volume breeder that is primarily concerned with pumping out animals — not whether those animals are healthy. Accordingly, pet-store puppies are at greater risk for a range of problems, from severe aggression to heart conditions.
If you go with a professional breeder, you could pay nearly $2,000 (or even more), depending on a host of factors, including breed and litter size. But reputable breeders make sure pups’ parents are in tip-top shape — both from a medical and behavioral standpoint — reducing the likelihood that you’ll have to shell out a huge amount for unexpected issues later in your dog’s life. Often, a breeder will even take the puppy back if you decide it’s not a good fit for your home.
One way to save a buck is to go with a nonprofessional “backyard breeder” that may match or even undercut the price of a pet store. However, many of the concerns here are similar to those when buying from a pet store: The puppies may have been bred from parents that weren’t screened for medical or behavioral issues, and they may not get proper veterinary care after birth. Living conditions may also be questionable, and you probably won’t be able to return the puppy if you encounter problems.
Adopting a puppy from a shelter
Getting your dog from a shelter is a much cheaper (and, some would argue, more humane) way to go. Adoption fees vary greatly by area, shelter, and the age of the pet you’re adopting (puppies and younger dogs are typically more expensive than older dogs).
One of the biggest shelters in my hometown of Knoxville, Tenn., charges as little as $50 for older dogs, and up to $150 for younger ones. Our local Humane Society charges a flat $150 for most dogs, or $200 for puppies. Breed-specific shelters and rescues were a bit more expensive, charging up to $400 for dogs.
Why pay at all to adopt that dog? You’re helping the shelter cover the cost of spaying or neutering the animal, shots, a microchip, an initial exam, and other medical costs such as heartworm or flea medications. In most cases, even if you got a dog for free, you would pay more to do all that on your own.
The cost of cat ownership
If you’re more of a cat person, there’s some good news for your budget: Cats are almost always initially cheaper than dogs. According to our calculator, a cat that needs standard first-year medical care, grooming every few months, regular food, and supplies will cost about $665 the first year. The ongoing annual cost of ownership may also be a bit lower: According to the ASPCA, you’ll pay about $670 a year for food, litter, medical care, and other costs, while a dog may cost as much as $875.
Remember to factor in lifespan, though. According to PetMD, you may have your cat a bit longer than your dog. The average lifespan of a cat is 10 to 15 years, but the lifespan for an indoor-only cat is likely to fall at the far end of that range. So paying $670 a year for 15 years means your cat could cost you more than $10,000 over its lifetime — no small drop in the bucket.
Getting a kitten: Buy or adopt?
Again, one of the first decisions you’ll encounter is how to get your new cat: From a pet store or breeder, or from a shelter. The pet store will be cheaper than the breeder, but you have the same risks that apply to dogs: The pet-store kitten is almost certainly at greater risk for medical or behavioral problems that will cost you more over the long run.
Certainly, it’s pricey to buy from a breeder. Like dogs, you’ll pay more depending on breed, demand, and where you live, but for the most in-demand breeds, you could pay more than $1,000. Again, you’re better off avoiding “backyard breeders” who undercut professionals’ prices, as they probably don’t screen the parent cats for problems.
If you go with a shelter, cat adoption fees are often going to be lower than they are for dogs. Our Humane Society charges a flat $75 for most cats (dogs are double) or $125 for kittens (puppies are $200). The fee covers the cost of spaying or neutering, microchips, shots, and a follow-up visit to a vet after adoption.
How to Save on Pet Care Costs
You’ve probably heard this old saying: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That’s particularly true when it comes to pets. Spending a little where it counts can save you a lot of money in the long run. Here are some dos and don’ts for saving on pet care:
- Look at places other than your veterinarian for routine medications. It’s easy to go through your vet for all pet medications. It’s also expensive. Many common meds, such as flea or tick prevention and heartworm pills, are available online or at big-box stores for less.
- Don’t skip your pet’s annual checkup with the vet. If your vet can catch and treat a problem early on, you will invariably pay much less than you would by shelling out for care if an illness gets to an advanced stage.
- Consider grooming your pet yourself. Grooming may seem like a luxury, but it can also help you spot potential medical problems such as eye or ear infections. Each session with a dog groomer can cost between $30 and $90, with smaller, shorter-hair breeds costing less, according to Angie’s List. If you take your pet once a month or even every other month, that can add up fast. The ASPCA provides DIY grooming tips for both dogs and cats. Just be sure to start early and be consistent to keep your pet used to the process.
- Don’t overspend on pet food. While you may not want to buy the absolute cheapest pet food on the market, the vast majority of pets do just fine on non-premium chow. Brands that tout special health benefits probably aren’t worth spending extra unless your pet has a proven need, experts say. Other ways to save include shopping at big-box stores instead of pet stores, as well as buying in bulk, Consumer Reports advises.
- Be wary of overfeeding your pet. About 25% of dogs and a third of cats are overweight or obese, putting them at higher risk of costly medical problems. Be sure to consult your vet on proper portion sizes — chances are, you can save a nice chunk of change by sticking to what’s best for your pet. Be especially careful of providing high-calorie treats and human food.
- Get creative when it comes to toys. You probably don’t need to buy expensive – or maybe even any – toys for your pet. Your cat may be happy to bat around a plastic ring from a gallon of milk or a foil ball; your dog is probably content to tug on an old braided dish towel or chase a tennis ball.
How to Pay for Pet Emergencies
It’s easy enough to budget for routine vet visits, but unexpected medical costs can be one of the biggest budget-busters of pet ownership. Treatments for a pet’s sudden illness or injury can easily cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars — particularly shocking to those of us who have medical insurance that insulates us from the true cost of our own healthcare.
Pet insurer VPI provides a list of 10 common medical conditions for dogs and cats, and the average amount it costs to treat them. The most common canine condition, treating a benign skin mass, averaged $552 — but an ACL rupture, also common, could run more than $3,000. More exotic health problems can cost much more to treat, such as this dog’s $6,000 gallbladder removal.
Unfortunately, prices like these mean pet owners may find themselves in a terrible bind: Cough up thousands in an effort to save the animal’s life, or put them to sleep. If that doesn’t sound like a pleasant choice, make sure you plan ahead by either buying pet insurance, saving up for unexpected pet costs on your own, or both.
Pet insurance: Is it worth it?
The pet insurance industry raked in an estimated $870 million in 2014. What you’ll shell out to insure Fido or Fifi each month varies widely depending on factors such as your pet’s age and how comprehensive you want the policy to be, but plans begin anywhere from $17 to $64 a month with Nationwide, parent company of VPI.
But is buying pet insurance worth it? That’s a good question — and there’s no right answer. Even if you’re willing to pay the monthly premium, there are several potential “gotchas” you’ll need to consider:
- You still have to pay up, at least at first. You usually still need to pay upfront for your pet’s treatment. If you have pet insurance, you’ll then be reimbursed for covered costs after submitting a claim.
- Your premium isn’t all you’ll pay. Just like regular health insurance, you’ll still have a copay or deductible — possibly both. And while your own major medical insurance can no longer put a cap on the amount of care you receive in a given year, Fido can only receive so much before you’re on the hook again.
- Pre-existing conditions aren’t covered. A pet insurer won’t shell out for treatment of any condition that your pet had before the policy was in effect. Seems standard enough, but be sure you know exactly how the policy defines pre-existing conditions.
- There will be other exclusions. Even if your pet doesn’t have a pre-existing condition, many pet insurers specifically exclude problems that your pet may be particularly prone to, such as hip dysplasia or hereditary and congenital problems.
Save up on your own
Yes, pet insurance can help cover your pet’s unexpected bills — but it’s costly, and it comes with plenty of potential pitfalls that may leave you high and dry. If you can afford $35 a month for pet insurance, you might consider saving that money in your own pet emergency fund instead. Do that from the time your pet is a puppy or a kitten, and after five years you’ll already have $2,100 to put toward medical bills. Be sure to keep saving, though, since your pet is more likely to have problems as it ages.
A word of warning: If you already have your own emergency fund — as you absolutely should — avoid dipping into it for pet expenses. That money should be firmly earmarked for your own financial emergencies, such as keeping a roof over your head if you lose your job. If it’s so amply padded that you feel comfortable using some on your pet, you may still want to make a separate pet account. That way, “some” won’t become “almost all,” and Fido won’t be responsible for your own potential financial crisis.