5 Most Inexpensive Pets You Can Own

 puppy sitting in a pile of money
Puppies cost money. | iStock.com/JStaley401

How much is that doggie in the window? He costs a lot more than you might realize, even if the price to take him home today seems low. While you might be able to adopt a dog from a shelter for less than $100, the ongoing costs of caring for your pet can top $2,000 per year, according to WalletHub. If you’re a cat person, you’ll save a little, but not much. You can expect to spend roughly $1,320 per year on food, litter, and vet visits for your friendly feline, according to Pets Best, a pet health insurance company. Dogs and cats aren’t the only expensive pets. Reptiles and amphibians seem low-maintenance but can be quite expensive because they require very specific habitats and may live a long time.
Overall, Americans spend nearly $63 billion every year on buying food, vet care, toys, and treats for their pets, according to figures from the American Pet Products Association. The high cost of owning a pet is a big reason why some animals end up abandoned or in shelters, a study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found. Pet owners surveyed reported not being able to afford medical care for their animals and difficulty finding pet-friendly housing as major reasons for giving up their pets.
Low-cost veterinary care programs, assistance with paying licensing fees, and pet food banks can help struggling pet owners keep their animals. For those who don’t yet have pets, considering the full cost of ownership before bringing Fido or Fluffy home is essential. But even if funds are tight, you may not have to give up on your dreams of pet ownership entirely. These five pets are cheaper to care for than dogs and cats, making them a good choice for animal lovers on a budget.

1. Guinea pigs

guinea pigs
Guinea pigs | Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images

A guinea pig costs between $10 and $35, according to Cost Helper, with long-haired animals or those with unique patterns costing more than others. But if you get your pet at a local animal shelter, which is where the Humane Society suggests you look, you can save money. A cage may cost between $35 and $80, and food costs $5 to $10 per month. Toys are another modest expense. You’ll also need to budget to cover veterinary care costs. Finally, guinea pigs are social, so you should consider adopting at least two so they can keep each other company, according to the Humane Society.

2. Rats

pet rats
A man plays with his pet rats. | Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images

Assuming you don’t have murophobia, a rat can make a pretty good pet. You can buy a pair of rats for $25 to $35, according to Cost Helper. (Rats are social, so you’ll want to get at least two.) They’ll need a cage that costs anywhere between $30 and $180. The Humane Society suggests buying a larger one, which may cost more. You’ll also need to invest in toys to keep your rat entertained, fresh bedding (about $7 per month), and food (about $20 for a 25-pound bag of rat pellets). Your pet rat will also need occasional vet visits, which will cost anywhere from $35 to $150, depending on the type of care they’re receiving.

3. Betta fish

betta fish
Betta fish for sale | Tengku Bahar/AFP/Getty Images

You can buy a single betta fish for around $5 at many pet stores. Unlike other pet fish, which might require more elaborate habitats, betta fish can live in small bowls filled with tap water, since they come to the surface to breathe. However, a larger tank with a filter and heater is a healthier environment for your fish, according to PetMD. But even if you do invest in an aquarium tank and decorations (which you need, since bettas like to hide), they are still a very affordable pet. Just don’t try to put two male bettas in the same tank: They’re called Siamese fighting fish for a reason.

4. Sea Monkeys

Sea Monkeys
Sea Monkeys | Amazon

When it comes to foolproof pets, you can’t do much better than sea monkeys. The tiny creatures are an artificial breed of brine shrimp invented in the 1950s, according to Live Science. For years, these inexpensive pets were sold to kids via ads in comic books, and though the actual sea monkeys don’t look anything like the weird characters on the box, they do come to life when you add them to water. A Sea Monkey kit, which includes a tank and food, costs about $10 to $15.

5. Hermit crabs

hermit crab
Hermit crab | Jacques Demarthon/AFP/Getty Images

You can purchase hermit crabs for under $10 at pet stores and gift shops, making them one of the most inexpensive pets you can buy. Plus, these popular crustaceans don’t require a ton of space and are easy to take care of, making them an affordable pet choice.
Low maintenance doesn’t mean no maintenance, though. To properly care for your hermit crab, you’ll need an aquarium, plenty of sand (hermit crabs need to burrow when they molt), and extra shells for your pet to move into as he grows. Food should cost $3 to $6 per month, according to Cost Helper. Hermit crabs are also social, so you should plan on buying at least three so they can keep each other company, according to Petco.
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