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, heartworm 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.
Average Initial and Lifetime Pet Costs
The Cost of Owning a Dog
Dogs and cats are the two most popular pets on the planet, but the differences between these two animals are stark. Dogs tend to require far more attention than cats do. From a financial standpoint, this translates into more expenses. Dogs need to be brushed every day or every few days—more if you own a particularly energetic breed that frequently gets dirty. More energy results in more injuries, and dogs often benefit from training.
As a rule, owning a dog will be more expensive than owning a cat. It’s important to decide before you adopt which of the two animals is a better fit for your lifestyle.
Adopting From a Shelter
Adopting a dog from a legitimate shelter assures you first that the dog has been taken care of. Shelters take care of immediate medical needs and vaccinate and treat for common maladies such as kennel cough, parvo, and distemper. The adoption fee covers the cost of this medical care, as well as food, shelter, and transport.
Many people prefer to adopt from a shelter. Most of the animals are there because they’ve been abandoned by previous owners or are the victims of puppy mills. Adopting is the most humane option and gives the dogs a second chance. The cost of adoption ranges from $50 for mixed-breed dogs up to $500 for purebreds.
While the cost of adoption may seem high, it covers a number of expenses and can actually save you money in the long run. The total cost of everything a shelter provides for a dog often exceeds the adoption fee.
Purchasing From a Pet Store
Pet stores are usually the go-to option for first time pet owners, but many animal lovers warn against them. Pet stores, particularly smaller ones, often purchase their animals from high-volume breeders. These breeders are more concerned with making a profit than the well-being of the animals. This means that animals purchased from pet stores have a higher risk of health problems than those adopted from a shelter or bought from a licensed breeder.
High-volume breeders often keep animals confined to cages for years, only allowing limited amounts of exercise per day. They do this to keep the males and females separated, only allowing them together for the purpose of mating. The Best Friends Animal Society, an organization dedicated to the proper treatment of pets, details the problems with puppy mills and ways the average person can fight back.
The average cost of purchasing a dog from a pet store is upwards of $1000, but despite this higher cost, there are few benefits. Unlike shelters, pet stores don’t spay and neuter animals, and most don’t treat illnesses.
Purchasing From a Breeder
A licensed, legitimate breeder is the way to go if you’re interested in a specific type of dog. Licensed breeders undergo routine inspections of their facilities and treat their animals with care, so you don’t have to worry about the ethics of their operation. Breeders are the easiest way to get a purebred dog of the type you want. People interested in competing in dog shows will most likely need to go through a breeder to get papers for the American Kennel Club.
Another benefit to purchasing from a breeder is that undesirable traits will likely have been bred out. Health and behavioral issues are minimized as much as possible through selective breeding, while the traits a pet owner wants—obedience, loyalty, friendliness, etc.—are encouraged.
NOTE: These prices are only estimates and that real prices can vary significantly due pedigree and location of breeders.
Source: The Simple Dollar