The True Cost to Own a Pet
Owning a pet can come with many upfront costs, along with unexpected expenses along the way.
Increasingly, households are adding furry family members. In fact, the American Pet Products Association reports that 67% of households have a pet. This is up from 56% of households more than two decades ago.
While pets can provide love and happiness in a home, it’s also important to understand that they require a commitment. In addition to providing emotional support and care to pets, realize, too, that you'll need to meet financial requirements when it comes to owning a pet.
Before you add a four-legged member to the family, make sure you understand the cost of owning a pet by examining your budget and setting aside the right amount for your furry friend. Here’s what you need to know.
The ongoing cost to own a pet
The commitment associated with owning pets is ongoing. You’ll pay costs over the lifetime of your pet, regardless of the situation. While you can expect to pay upfront costs, which can include the cost of adoption, paperwork, vaccinations, training and more, you should also prepare for ongoing costs like food, grooming, and medical expenses.
Plus, depending on the size of your pet — especially when it comes to larger dogs — you might need to consider the cost of a larger home with a fenced backyard.
Tail Waggers Pet Services offers a handy calculator that can help you estimate the cost of owning a dog or a cat, based on a variety of factors. Additionally, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has its own estimates of costs.
The table below illustrates some of the ongoing costs you’re likely to encounter for your dog or cat.
|Annual Cost||Small Dog||Medium Dog||Large Dog||Cat|
How much you end up paying to care for your pet depends on breed, as well as your location, according to Sara Ochoa, DVM, a small-animal and exotic veterinarian and a veterinary consultant for Doglab.com.
“A dog who lives in New York City is going to pay more for vaccines than a dog that lives in the country,” Ochoa points out. “A small dog may only need $200 to $300 in food per year, while with a giant breed you may spend that amount in only one week.”
Cats also have varying costs, depending on the breed. While size doesn’t play the same role it does in dogs, Tail Waggers points out that owning a Savannah cat could cost in excess of $10,000, while hypoallergenic cats might cost about $3,000. There are much less expensive housecat breeds as well.
In the end, looking for savings on pet expenses can make a big difference.
Breaking down the cost to own a dog
Dogs are popular pets, and their costs can add up quickly. In many cases, a dog will require more attention than a cat and can be more expensive, based on their size — as well as their training and grooming needs. Here are some things to consider before getting a dog.
Adopting from a shelter vs. getting a dog from a breeder
Ochoa points out that adoption from a shelter is often less expensive than buying from a breeder, and it’s possible to find purebreds in shelters and rescue groups.
“Older dogs are usually cheaper than puppies,” Ochoa says. “So waiting until one is six months old can help decrease the cost.”
Kat Tretina, a freelance writer and dog owner, has two dogs, Anya, an eight-year-old Samoyed, and Henry, a two-year-old Maltipoo.
“Anya is from a breeder, but we didn’t get her as a puppy,” Tretina says. “She was too much for her owner to handle, so they returned her to the breeder.”
Rather than paying top-dollar for Anya, Tretina was able to provide a home to her for 50% off the cost of getting a purebred Samoyed as a puppy. Henry, as a rescue, cost much less to adopt.
Rover, the popular dog care website, puts adoption costs at up to $600, and buying from a breeder can cost more than $2,000, according to Ochoa. And that doesn’t even include the other up-front costs that might come with getting a dog.
Finally, before buying from a breeder or a pet store, double-check to make sure that a puppy mill isn’t involved. These operations don’t usually have the dogs’ best interests at heart.
Medical care costs for dogs
The cost to own a pet includes ongoing medical care. Some of the common costs you’ll encounter with dog ownership include:
- Heartworm prevention
- Flea and tick medication
- Spay or neuter
- Unexpected illness and injuries
Ochoa notes that vaccines can cost between $100 and $500, with various vaccines costing around $20 apiece. “Some low-cost clinics are also funded by grants and can vaccinate pets for less than a regular veterinary clinic,” she says.
Also, depending on the shelter or rescue, a dog might be up-to-date on vaccinations and already be spayed or neutered, with those costs included in the price of adoption. If you have to spay or neuter the dog yourself, it can cost $200 or more for the surgery.
Tretina spends about $40 per month on flea and heartworm medications for both of her dogs and sets aside $150 per month in a medical fund for Anya and Henry — just in case.
“Anya is getting older and is just starting to show signs of arthritis, so we started hydrotherapy,” Tretina says. “That costs $35 per hour, and I try to go once a week.”
Breed-specific medical issues
When choosing a pet, realize that there are some breeds that have specific medical issues. A German shepherd might have hip dysplasia or an English bulldog could have joint problems.
Just as you need to make sure your human children are bathed and groomed, your furry friends also need to be taken care of. With dog grooming, some of the most common items that need to be done include:
- Nail Trimming
Tretina takes Henry, the Maltipoo, to a groomer every six weeks for $60 per visit. A full grooming treatment, which often includes a bath, can cost more than $90, depending on the breed of dog. For a dog like Anya, grooming can get extremely expensive, as Samoyeds have thick hair. Tretina learned how to groom Anya herself. Buying the right tools cost her about $300 up front, but now she saves money regularly.
Nail trimming can cost as little as $10, and it’s also something that many pet owners can learn to do on their own.
Dogs need to eat, and the cost can vary, depending on the breed of dog. As Ochoa points out, some of the larger breeds can cost $200 to $300 per week to feed — that’s up to $1,200 per month on dog food.
Tretina spends about $65 per month on food for both her dogs, one of which has allergies and needs special food. She also spends about $20 a month on treats and chews for her furry family members.
Other costs to own a dog
there are other costs associated with owning a dog, including:
- Pet sitting
- Dog walking
Don’t forget about the miscellaneous costs of dog ownership. Ochoa says that leaving a dog with a pet sitter could cost up to $100 per night. And, if you take your dog with you on a trip, some hotels might charge an extra fee to allow your pet in the room.
Tretina spends about $20 per month on toys for her dogs, but some of the upfront costs to get them settled — including leashes, crates, beds, bowls, and other items — amounted to about $200 for each dog.
Training can also be expensive, depending on whether you do group training or private training.
“I got Anya as an adult, and she was very difficult to train, so I needed to hire a private trainer rather than go to group lessons,” Tretina says. “That was about $1,200, but it was worth it because she’s remarkably well-behaved.”
Henry, however, was easier to train. Tretina just learned how to do it herself, with no need to take him to classes or to get a private trainer.
When Tretina first got Anya, she worked in an office and the large Samoyed needed to be walked each day. She paid someone $20 per business day to walk Anya. Now, however, Tretina works from home and has a much more flexible schedule.
Being able to handle some of the pet care on her own has helped Tretina reduce some of the costs of owning a dog.
Breaking down the cost to own a cat
In many ways, cats can cost less than owning a dog, depending on the breed. Cats are usually seen as more self-sufficient and their generally smaller size often means other lower costs. However, it’s important to understand that there are still costs to own a cat.
Adopting from a shelter vs. getting a cat from a breeder
Hannah A. fosters cats, taking care of them until they find a more permanent home. She stresses that it’s important to pay attention to where you’re getting your pet because there are a number of initial costs that come when you don’t get a cat from a reputable shelter or breeder.
“Sure, you can find free cats or kittens on Craigslist, but a free kitten can end up costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars,” Hannah says. “Kittens require a series of vaccinations, meaning multiple vet visits, as well as basic deworming and flea treatments.”
Adopting from a shelter might cost something up front, but these cats are usually vetted and in many cases, their initial vet work — including being spayed or neutered — is often included in the original cost of the adoption.
It’s also possible to get a cat from a breeder or pet store where you have access to a complete medical history. You’ll pay more than adopting from a rescue or shelter, but you are more likely to get exactly what you’re looking for.
Medical care costs for cats
Before getting a cat, it’s important to understand that there will be costs for medical care. Some of the common items for cats include:
- Flea control
- Heartworm prevention
- Spay and neuter costs
- Dental care
- Ear care
“I had no idea how prevalent dental issues are, and how expensive they are to correct,” says Hannah. “A basic cleaning can cost more than $500, while multiple extractions can cost thousands of dollars.”
Hannah also points out that cats should have a vet exam at least once a year, and that she’s seen older cats, more prone to disease, need more frequent exams. She recently spent $59 for an annual exam and $44 for a rabies vaccine. Additionally, it’s important to have a new cat tested for feline immunodeficiency problems. Checking for FeLV and FIV are important parts of caring for cats.
Flea and tick medication can cost between $30 and $60 per month, and heartworm medication usually runs around $20 or $25 per month. As with many costs, the breed and where you live matters, so do some cost comparison before committing to a cat.
Spaying and neutering are also costs to consider. Spaying can cost between $300 and $500, according to Hannah, while neutering is a bit less, at around $200.
“Some communities offer free or low-cost spay and neuter services at clinics or shelters,” says Hannah. “Those options are worth exploring as well.”
Finally, pay attention to the breed you want to buy. Some cat breeds are more prone to certain medical problems than others, and that can increase the lifetime cost.
While cats are generally clean animals and groom themselves, they should still have periodic help. It can cost up to $50 or more for a professional cat bath – and it might be worth paying that, given that cats don’t usually react well to water.
Buying a scratching post can help your cat keep its own nails trimmed. Hannah says that cat trees and condos can be as little as $20, while more elaborate versions might cost right around $100. She also says that it’s possible to get an inexpensive cardboard scratch box, but you’ll likely replace it more frequently, so it might not be cost-effective in the long run.
Hannah says that wet food is often most recommended to her by vets, and the cost ranges between $0.35 and $3.50 per can, depending on the brand chosen. Dry food is also available for between $0.75 and $6.75 per pound.
“Food for cats who have medical issues or otherwise require special diets can cost even more,” says Hannah. “But for most pet parents, there are many intermediate options to suit their needs.”
Other costs to own a cat
Don’t forget about the kitty litter, Hannah says. She points out that it’s possible to get a 20-pound bag of litter for less than $5, but recommends spending a little more for better odor control. She says that it’s possible to get a 40-pound bag of mid-range cat litter for about $20 and have it last about a month if you have one cat.
“A fancy Litter-Robot costs about $500, but for most cats, a heavy-duty plastic box, with or without a lid, depending on your kitty’s preferences, can suffice and cost less than $10,” says Hannah. “Some cat parents prefer disposable boxes they can throw away rather than clean. You can find such boxes for a few dollars each, but they would be a recurring cost rather than a one-time cost.”
In addition to scratch posts, Hannah says that cat toys are important for stimulation. She says to use trial and error to find cat toys your pet likes. There are options that range from variety packs for as little as $10 to more advanced and interactive toys that cost more than $20 each.
Hannah also suggests experimenting with catnip to see if that’s something your cat likes.
Finally, even though many cats are fine on their own for a few days, it’s important to make sure they’re cared for. An automatic feeder can ensure that your pet gets the food and water needed. However, when you’re gone for a few days, you might need to pay up to $20 per day to send your pet to a cattery. You can also hire a pet sitter for up to $50 a day to stay in your home and care for your cat while you’re gone.
Pet insurance and your furry family member
With medical problems, pet insurance can be a big help in managing costs, especially when your dog or cat becomes unexpectedly hurt or sick.
“Pet insurance can cost upwards of around $100 a month,” says Ochoa. “Most pet health insurance also covers wellness such as vaccines, spay or neuter, heartworm and flea prevention. If an owner takes advantage of all that their insurance will cover, they can really benefit.”
Ochoa recommends consulting with your vet to compare options and needs for a pet. She also points out that there are a number of pet insurers, and that it’s important to shop around for a policy that meets your needs and your budget.
Tretina says that pet insurance helped her out of a tight spot with Anya, allowing her to get an emergency dental surgery that would normally have cost thousands of dollars for the cost of the $500 deductible. Today, though, Tretina doesn’t have a policy.
“As pets get older, the premiums go up and some policies will drop older dogs altogether,” Tretina says. “As my emergency fund grew, I decided to end my insurance policy and to self-insure instead.”
Double-check the coverage, though. Tretina says she’s seen policies that don’t cover common health issues like hip dysplasia, so it’s a good idea to review the pet insurance and make sure that medical issues common to your pet’s breed are covered.
Bottom line: research the cost to own a pet
Owning a pet is a financial responsibility, as well as an emotional and physical responsibility. Before adding a four-legged family member, research the costs and make sure you can handle them. While owning a pet can cost you money, the companionship and potential health benefits of pet ownership could help you save over time. If you can afford the upfront and ongoing costs of owning a pet, it can be well worth it in the long run.