5 Costs Everyone Should Consider Before Getting a Pet

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Pets can be the equivalent of furry family members to many Americans, but before you fall in love with that adorable puppy in the window, it’s important to be sure you’re financially secure enough to afford your new friend’s myriad up-front and ongoing maintenance and health care costs. Remember, dogs often live to be between 10 and 15 years old, and cats can live as long as 20, so pets should be thought of as very much a long-term commitment and investment.

More and more Americans have become pet owners in recent years, and according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2013-2014 Pet Ownership survey, pet ownership in the U.S. has hit record levels. The association found that about 68% of American households now own at least one pet.

Not only are there more pet owners in the U.S. than ever before, but the study also found that Americans are spending more on their pets nowadays as well. According to the most recent survey, Americans spent a total of $58.04 billion on their pets in 2014.

The study also found that an astonishing 40% of households reported owning multiple types of pets, meaning that pet expenses for those households were even higher. Keep in mind, for instance, that based on current averages if you own both a cat and a dog, you’re looking at about $2,900 a year in expenses.

1. You are responsible for your pet’s medical bills

According to the ASPCA, recurring medical costs for dogs averages $235, or about $160 for cats. It’s easy to be placated with a false sense of security when you consider these numbers, but if for whatever reason your pet gets sick, their health expenses will likely escalate. Diagnostic testing can easily run you over $1,000, for instance, and even initial health-care costs, such as spay and neutering procedures, can cost between $45 and $135 for dogs, depending on the vet clinic you visit and the weight of the dog, though prices as high as $300 are not uncommon. For cats, the procedure is still fairly expensive; about $50 to $100, and for female cats, which need to be spayed, you can expect to pay $100 to $200.

Pet insurance is becoming a more and more common option for many pet owners, and is often touted as a way to be sure that you can provide the best health care for your pet possible. Consumer Reports looked into several different pet insurance plans and found that overall, pet insurance generally isn’t worth the money for a mostly healthy animal, mostly because so many exclusions apply. For instance, most pet insurance plans don’t cover hip dysplasia, an ailment that is incredibly common in larger-breed dogs.

Doug Kenney, a veterinarian at PreventativeVet.com makes a compelling argument for pet insurance, but notes that as a pet owner, you must feel comfortable waiting for the insurance company to reimburse you for large medical expenses, something not everyone will be okay with. If you do decide to buy pet insurance, be sure to shop around and read all the fine print before purchasing.

2. You are responsible for making sure your pet is getting the right nutrition

Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

Splurging on premium pet food might seems like a waste of your money, but just as a human’s diet has profound consequences for that person’s long-term health and longevity, so does your pet’s diet. It’s important to buy quality pet food both because it’s better for your animal, but also because it may save you money on health care costs down the road. While it’s true that the impact of high quality food may seem difficult to measure, providing good food should be considered simply one necessary aspect of being a good pet owner. After all, pets are our furry family members, right?

The APPA survey cited pet food as one of the largest annual expenses for pet owners, with food costing about $239 a year for dog-owners and $203 a year for cat-owners. If you’re buying premium food or you plan on adopting a large-breed dog, these expenses may be still higher, however. California Natural, for instance, a well-respected grain-free brand of dog food runs $55 for a 30 lb. bag.

3. You are responsible for providing adequate exercise and training

This is obviously more applicable if the animal you’re hoping to adopt happens to be a dog. Dogs, especially young dogs (I’m looking at all you aspiring puppy-owners right now), need a lot of exercise, and there are some pretty grave consequences that can result from a lack of mental stimulation or physical exercise. High energy dogs have been known to develop everything from separation anxiety, aggression, and OCD, all of which can result in destructive behavior.

Investing in obedience training classes and a dog walker (if you’re unable to be home enough to walk your dog yourself) will do wonders for your relationship with your dog, and without these things, you could find yourself with much more dog than you bargained for.

Basic obedience training classes (such as “puppy school”) generally run about $40-$125 a week for 4 to 8 weeks of one hour training sessions. Obedience training is a necessary expense unless you feel you are experienced enough in handling and raising dogs to go it alone. Be forewarned, though, failure to properly obedience train your animal can often result in behavior problems, which will cost you even more in the long run, as you’ll need a trainer or behaviorist to help you to correct your dog’s bad habits. In other words: be prepared to invest in puppy training before you get a dog.

The consensus seems to be that, on average, dog walkers generally charge about $22 to $30 an hour, or $15 to $20 for a half hour. If you’re unable to walk your dog during the workweek, then you’re looking at between $75 to $150 a week, or around $3,900 to $7,800 a year to have your dog walked once a day, and many dogs, particularly high-energy dogs, require more exercise than one half-hour walk per day.

If you decide to go the doggie daycare route, your annual costs will be slightly cheaper, but your dog might not get the same amount of exercise or personal attention as she would with a dog walker (though she will get lots of socialization and play time with other dogs). Yearly expenses for doggie daycare are likely to run your between $2,880 and $6,600, and rates are likely to be still pricier in large cities, where there is greater demand for such services.

4. If you choose a purebred pet, prepare for a higher up-front cost and higher medical bills

Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

While the allure of purebred animals is fairly obvious, the consequences of one is often not so well-documented. Pure breed dogs are valued because they are predictable, as you know more or less the type of dog (both physically and in terms of temperament) that you’re getting when you buy a purebred puppy. Say you’re particularly attracted to the German Shepherd, for instance. You probably know that German Shepherds are driven, intelligent, loyal, and protective dogs. Perhaps in your mind this dog will serve as the perfect family protector and companion, and maybe, on top of that, you also admire the breed’s dignified, elegant conformation and almost wolf-like appearance.

Well, Rin Tin Tin might have been brave, strong, and loyal, but his modern compatriots are often also more likely to suffer from any number of diseases or ailments that the breed is particularly disposed to, such as hip dysplasia, which is very common in German Shepherds. Mutts, on the other hand, don’t generally have the same genetic predisposition to serious health problems because they’re less likely to have been inbred.

If you want to ensure a healthy dog, look for crossbred hybrids, such as Goldendoodles, which are much hardier than their Golden Retriever cousins but have many of the same characteristics. That being said, it is still crucially important to select a high-quality breeder if you choose to adopt a “designer breed” puppy. You must be sure that there is no history of hip dysplasia, Von Willebrand’s disease, or heart problems (all of which are common in Goldens), for instance, in your puppy’s parentage. The same is true if you decide to pursue a purebred dog — do your research and select a high-quality breeder. If nothing else, it’s likely to save you money down the line.

Mutts are another great option, and like designer breeds, they’re often much hardier and less prone to disease than purebred dogs. Further, there are plenty of mutts in shelters that need good, loving homes. If you want to avoid the trials and messes of puppyhood, opt to adopt an adult dog from a shelter.

5. Traveling and apartment hunting might become harder (and more expensive) than before

Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

One of the biggest reasons why pets get abandoned to animal shelters is because their owners are moving and can’t take their pet with them, either because their new landlord won’t allow it, someone in the new house is allergic, or they are simply moving too far away. It’s important to remember that pets are a long-term commitment. When you adopt a new pet, be sure that you’re willing to go the extra mile necessary to find a place where your pet is welcome.

Boarding and kennel costs are also big expenses, and as a result, pets might limit your ability to travel as easily and as freely as you’re used to. Finding pet-friendly accommodations if you’d like to take your pet with you, too, can be a significant challenge. Kennels charge anywhere from $15 to $25 a day (at lower-end establishments), to between $22 and $55 a day for higher-end facilities.

You may also be able to get a house or pet sitter, in which case rates vary widely, but generally you can expect to pay between $10 and $65 a day, according to costhelper.com. You’ll need to factor in these expenses when you go on vacation, and, additionally, you’ll need to take the time to book in advance, particularly during the winter and summer holidays, when there may be less availability. Some families even book their dog’s next stay a year in advance if they go on vacation the same week every year.
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