Do you have friends who — as soon as they moved into their first place — immediately went out and got an adorable puppy or kitten?
I sure do, because I was one of them. When I was 24, I moved into my first “real” apartment with my girlfriend (now wife), Lauren. We could barely afford the rent, but being young and overwhelmed by “playing family” for the first time, we adopted two kittens from a local animal shelter. Ten years later, we’ve lost one of the cats but the other, a raspy-breathed tortoise calico named Moose, is still in the family.
Along the way, we’ve spent thousands on food and veterinary care including over $2,000 in surgery that fell while Lauren was still in law school.
We certainly don’t regret having pets — in fact, we’ve now adopted a dog, too — but we obviously were not thinking about the potential (and not insignificant) costs of pet ownership when we were young and looking for a cat.
If you have the foresight and are considering bringing a furry friend into your home, you might want to ask: can you afford to be a pet owner?
Here’s a complete breakdown of what to expect, financially speaking.
One-time pet expenses
- Adoption cost. Dog: $0 to $667 / Cat: $0 to $276.
- Startup supplies (food, bowls, bed, leashes, tags, toys, etc.). $110 – $210.
- Vet and vaccinations. Dog: $300 / Cat: $175.
- Spay or neuter. Dog: $300 / Cat: $150.
- Licensing. $15.
- Microchip. $50.
That brings the total one-time costs for adopting a dog to between $775 and $1,542, and between $500 to $876 for adopting a cat.
Of course, this is assuming you adopt your pet. If you’re thinking about getting a dog or a cat from a breeder, the initial costs could increase by hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars more.
Annual pet expenses
- Food. Dog: $300 / Cat: $225.
- Routine medical costs (annual exam, vaccinations, etc). Dog: $225 / Cat: $160.
- Preventative medical. Dog: $185 / Cat: $140.
- Litter. Cat: $150
- Toys and miscellaneous supplies. Dog: $37 – $97 / Cat: $22 – $58.
- License. $15
This brings the total annual cost of owning a dog to between $762 to $822, and between $712 and $748 for owning a cat.
However, these costs can vary a lot, especially when it comes to vet costs and food. As you can imagine, the size of your dog impacts how much food they will eat. Larger dogs need larger quantities of food; smaller dogs, smaller quantities. So, the cost of feeding a larger dog is going to be a lot more than the smaller dog.
Also, if your pet happens to have a condition that requires them to frequent the vet rather often or if they can only eat a particular brand of food, that could also run up your annual costs by a few hundred dollars more.
Other expenses to consider
Until you get a pet, it’s hard to imagine how quickly your bill at the vet can add up From annual teeth cleaning to injuries, your pet’s medical expenses can often be large and unexpected.
Luckily, there’s pet insurance that will save your budget from these expenses.
Pumpkin offers optional preventive care packages for pets; they pay you back in full for wellness essentials like the annual exam fee, vaccines, and more. Plus, they have pretty high annual limits ($10k or $20k for dogs; $7k or $15k for cats).
Lemonade is another great option for pet insurance. They offer customizable, affordable policy options, starting at just $10 a month. You can get coverage for wellness exams, heartworm tests, fecal tests, vaccines, and more. Plus, if your pet experiences any illnesses or accidents, Lemonade also covers diagnostics, emergency care and procedures, and prescriptions.
Even on the travel front, you have to tack on pet sitting or kennel services. Sometimes you’ll find a neighbor who will gladly walk your dog, etc. Other times, there will be doggie daycare.
If you rent an apartment, expect to pay a sometimes nonrefundable pet deposit or cleaning fee if your landlord allows animals at all. Likewise, it’s very likely that you’ll have to invest in a good vacuum cleaner or cleaning service to get rid of all the hair from your furniture, carpet, and other places in the house.
Your reactions to the cost of pet ownership
Since we first published this breakdown, animal-loving readers have had some passionate opinions about the subject.
Reader Willfe said he thought some of the averages were too high. His cat’s food costs about $72 per year, he said, even though it’s name brand. He also suggested buying litter in bulk, which he said could lower that amount by as much as $50 per year.
Another reader, Amy, said she is part of the “frequent buyer” program at her pet store, so she is able to get the tenth bag of dog or cat food for free.
On the other hand, some readers pointed out there are occasional surprise costs associated with pets — and not a good kind of surprise. These additional fees could be significantly higher than the estimates.
Meg suggested there might be some opportunity costs associated with pet ownership.
“Many of my coworkers have to take long lunches and frequently miss office happy hours to go home and walk their dogs. I also see people in suits frantically walking their dogs in the morning by my building, late for work. Not something I’m ready to deal with yet,” she wrote.
Another reader, said since pets cause damage at times, replacing your stuff should be factored in, too.
“Carpets ruined or at least in need of professional cleaning and de-stinking, furniture clawed, doors scratched up, flower and vegetable gardens unearthed, window screens ripped, draperies sprayed upon….eeek!” she wrote.
How to prepare for the unexpected
The hidden costs of owning a pet are truly abundant, and therefore there are many considerations about getting or gifting someone a pet. I strongly suggest putting away an emergency fund for unexpected pet health costs, and here’s why.
Dr. Louise Murray, vice-president of the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, in New York City, said in a statement that, “owners will likely incur at least one $2,000 – $4,000 bill for emergency care at some point during their pet’s lifetime.”
In our case, that’s already been true. When he was two, DiMaggio almost died of a mysterious bacterial infection in his brain. When we thought we might lose him, we would have paid anything to make him better. Luckily, he pulled through. But between his medication and time in the pet hospital, the illness cost us several thousand dollars.
But not to worry, you don’t have to spend all that money. With Pawp, for example, it’s estimated that new pet parents save around $400 a year for puppies and $300 for kittens. Their 24/7 online vets have your back so that you can avoid unnecessary in-person vet visits and expensive vet bills.
Staff writer Lauren Barret says it’s also good to budget for pet dental care.
“My cat, Luna, has bad teeth — it’s genetic, just like with people — and she’s already had three removed, and will need to have more taken out soon. I’m kind of just assuming this will keep happening every year or so, and set aside $500 or so to cover it.”
We’ve also had to pay for either a kennel or a similar service when we go on a vacation. I guess that’s somewhat expected, but in a given year, it’s hard to budget for that.
4 tips for future pet owners
What should we learn from this? Like a lot of things, the costs of pet ownership are unpredictable. As much as we can estimate the cost for a year, it’s better to have a safety net in case of a major illness or another emergency. You never want to be in a situation where you have to choose between saving your pet’s life and putting yourself into serious debt.
Here are a few steps for making sure you can afford to own a pet:
1. Figure out how monthly expenses will affect your budget
Are you currently overspending in some area (eating at restaurants, indulging a shoe passion) where you can cut back? Is that worth it to you? If the answer is “no,” you probably aren’t willing to make the sacrifices necessary to keep a pet happy and healthy.
2. Set aside between $1,000 and $2,000, or a portion of your emergency fund for that unexpected vet bill
Don’t just say, “It would never happen to me.” We didn’t think it would happen to us, either. But as the Kiplinger article says, it is almost definite that every pet during its lifetime will have a major vet bill. Setting aside the funds for that is not optional (sadly).
3. Consider how you will feel if you are faced with a life-saving vet bill you can’t really afford — before it happens
If you don’t, you may be faced with a Sophie’s choice between your pet’s life and being able to pay the rent next month. Don’t put yourself in this position; it’s not fair to you, or your future furry friend.
4. If you’re worried about not being able to afford big vet bills, consider pet insurance
My family did not purchase pet insurance, but in hindsight, we probably should have. When you visit your local vet, they will likely have a lot of information for you about purchasing the insurance, but you should do your own research. Not all policies are created equal.
As I mentioned above, Lemonade provides affordable pet insurance with adjustable coverage amounts and a long list of covered procedures.
Whether your pet needs a heartworm or fecal test, or if they need emergency surgery, x-rays, or certain medications, Lemonade has you covered. With coverage amounts ranging from $5,000 to $100,000, and a starting monthly cost of just $10, Lemonade has a plan option for every pet owner. Plus, as an added bonus, you can qualify for a 10% discount if you insure your home with Lemonade as well.
What about you? Do you have a tip for saving money throughout your pet’s life? When were you ready to afford your first pet? What is your largest pet expense?
At the risk of sounding like my mom when we begged for a dog as kids, owning a pet is a big responsibility.
Most people spend around $500 per year on their pets, but that can vary widely based on your preferences, your pet’s medical needs, and if you want to spoil your furry little friend. So, it’s not a decision to be made on a whim.
Pumpkin Advertiser Disclosure: Pumpkin Pet Insurance policies do not cover pre-existing conditions. Waiting periods, annual deductible, co-insurance, benefit limits and exclusions may apply. For full terms, visit pumpkin.care/insurancepolicy. Products, discounts, and rates may vary and are subject to change. Pumpkin Insurance Services Inc. (“Pumpkin”) (NPN #19084749) is a licensed insurance agency, not an insurer. Insurance is underwritten by United States Fire Insurance Company (NAIC #21113, Morristown, NJ), a Crum & Forster Company and produced by Pumpkin. Pumpkin Preventive Essentials is not an insurance policy. It is offered as an optional add-on non-insurance benefit. Pumpkin is responsible for the product and administration. Pumpkin Preventive Essentials is not available in all states. For full terms, visit pumpkin.care/customeragreement.