Prospective pet owners should ask more than “How much is that doggie in the window?” before deciding whether they can afford to welcome an animal into their home.
“Often the cute face and wagging tail and warm body is what forms the initial bond,” says Katherine Miller, director of anti-cruelty behavior research for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. But “pets are completely depending on us for their care. You do need to make considerations for the financial side.”
Nearly two-thirds of all U.S. households own a pet, according to the American Pet Products Association, so many families should budget for their needs.
Save money for emergency vet trips, says Adam Goldfarb pharmacy manager at VCA Animal Hospitals.
“Healthy animals are fairly cheap,” he says. “When they become ill or injured, the costs can go up quite a bit.”
Don’t forget to multiply recurring expenses by the pet’s expected life span, which varies even among different dog or cat breeds and also based on their lifestyles, says Miller.
Cats can live 15 to 20 years, and dogs 10 to 15 years, she says.
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In the doghouse
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Average yearly cost for a dog: $879.
Kibble doesn’t come cheap. Dog lovers spent an average of $269 on dog food and $61 on treats over 12 months, according to respondents of the pet association’s 2015-2016 National Pet Owners Survey.
Keeping Fido healthy is another investment. Routine vet visits cost dog owners $235 on average, but let’s not forget the costs to keep your pooch healthy and flea-free for the rest of the year. These preventive medicines ran owners another $184.
While you are keeping his insides healthy, of course you need to make sure the outsides look cuddly, as well. That’ll cost you, as grooming ran $83 on average.
All those dollar signs, and that’s not taking into consideration each time you walked into the pet store and picked up a toy because your dog was such a “good boy.” These bits and pieces add up to another $47 each year.
When getting a new pet, one-time costs may vary, Miller says. “Expect initial costs of about $500 to $600 for a new dog,” which includes an initial medical exam, vaccinations, a collar and leash, and a basic training class.
“Add to that the expected ongoing annual costs of about $600 to $1,000 when you figure in food, license, toys and treats, pet health insurance, flea/tick and heartworm preventatives and other miscellaneous costs,” says Miller. “That’s just for basic care for a healthy pet. If you pamper your pet with toys, premium foods, cushy beds, boarding, day care or grooming, costs can increase dramatically.”
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Average yearly cost for a cat: $670.
People may say cats are self-sufficient, but that doesn’t mean cats take care of themselves.
While cat food costs less than dog food, it’s still $246 on average annually, according to the survey. Add in another $51 for treats. You’ll also need to take into account other feline needs, which can include a scratching post and litter box. Cat litter can vary widely in cost, with basic options ringing up for far less than advanced varieties or those that claim earth-friendliness.
Routine vet visits also were cheaper than dogs, at an average of $196. And cat owners spent only about $165 on preventive medicine, including nutritional supplements and flea prevention.
Another area where cats cost less than dogs is in the grooming department. Primping your purring friend costs only $43 on average — perhaps because cats do such a good job on their own.
Let’s not forget the cost of those laser pens and catnip-filled mice. Toys cost less for cats as well: Pet owners say they spent an average of $28 over 12 months.
That’s in addition to the approximately $398 cat owners would spend on one-time costs, such as spaying or neutering, and $70 on other supplies.
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For the birds
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Average yearly cost for a bird: $534.
Birds might seem like a bargain in comparison with dogs and cats, but they can still wind up costing you a lot of “seed.” Miller found that caring for a pet bird could cost more than $200 annually, which is nothing to tweet at.
The lower costs may stem from significantly lower food costs. Apparently, birds really do eat like birds.
Bird owners said they spent less than cat or dog owners to feed their feathered friends, estimating only $120 on average over 12 months. An additional $41 went to treats. These “cheep” savings went down when talking about medications and supplements for birds. Owners spent $47 in a year, according to the pet owners survey.
When Polly wants a checkup, it tends to be less expensive on average — only about $106 for a routine visit.
Grooming aids for birds cost only about $32, although owners spent an additional $21 on non-medicated shampoo/conditioner each year. Other extras, including cages and toys, average $167.
Goldfarb says the Humane Society discourages people from keeping larger exotic birds, such as macaws or African gray parrots.
Unlike smaller domesticated birds, such as cockatiels and parakeets, the larger birds can live 80 years or longer and have complex needs for socialization and care, he says.
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Fishing for savings
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Average yearly cost for fish: $110.
Fans of freshwater fish spent the least to care for their finned companions. Food cost about $29 on average for 12 months, and pet owners reported that live-plant treats for those fish cost slightly less at $21.
Water test kits also ran an average of $18, in addition to $42 for other supplies. But owners also never took their fish to the vet, avoiding those costs.
But before you dive into the wonderful world of fish ownership, think about where you want your pets to live.
Depending on the setup, finding a home for your fish could cost up to $200 or more initially, and the temptation to purchase decorative bling can be difficult to resist. After all, what’s a fish tank without the bubbling treasure chest and castle?
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Ways to save
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Miller suggests pet owners could keep expenses in check by searching Craigslist or eBay for used, durable equipment such as crates and beds.
But all the experts agree families should not skimp on wellness visits and vaccinations.
“The more you can head off and prevent health problems, the less costs they’ll have down the road,” Miller says. “Catching a potential illness early in the progression is always going to be cheaper and more effective to treat than if it’s caught in the later stages.”
Jeff Blyskal, senior editor of Consumer Reports magazine, says pet owners should think twice before buying health insurance for their pets. “They scare you with the worst-case scenario, and the worst-case scenario is very unlikely,” he says.
He says it’s better to “self-insure” by socking away money on your own for any medical costs and unexpected emergencies.
And no matter how much pet-food companies market fancy ingredients and additives, Blyskal recommends no-frills pet foods, which still have to meet industry standards. “Those extra things have not been proven to have any benefit,” he says.
Also, avoid overfeeding pets or slipping them table scraps. “They’ll get diseases like humans,” such as diabetes and heart disease, he says.