NEW YORK — Pets bring joy and companionship, but the costs of care can quickly add up, especially if you’re a first-time pet owner and don’t know what to expect.
Many potential dog or cat owners only focus on the positive aspects of adding a furry friend into their life. And there are countless reasons why pets are great. But it’s also important to have realistic expectations so you’re not faced with sudden expenses that could jeopardize your financial stability.
“It’s important to be able to choose a pet that best fits your budget and lifestyle,” says Dr. Wendy Hauser, a veterinarian who founded her own consulting company.
When Melissa Chavez decided to get a toy poodle named Milo in the summer of 2020, she had an idea of the cost, but was surprised at how quickly it added up. Like many other people during the COVID-19 pandemic, she found her remote work schedule presented the perfect opportunity to get a puppy.
“I had never had dogs before, so I think the whole thing was a learning opportunity for me,” says Chavez.
If you’re thinking about getting a pet or are interested in learning strategies to reduce living expenses, here are some things to keep in mind:
Find out the basic costs for your pet
The cost of acquiring a dog or cat goes beyond the adoption or purchase price.
First, you’ll need to go to a vet for vaccinations or a general health check, which can cost between $200 and $300. At home, pets need, among other things, a bed, food, leashes and harnesses as well as care products. Although each of these items is relatively inexpensive individually, the costs add up.
On average, the annual cost of a dog is $1,400 and a cat is $1,200, said Kerry O’Hara, director of data analytics at the American Pet Products Association, a trade association.
Once you know how much you will initially have to spend on purchasing a pet, you can create a budget.
If you want to know which items are must-haves, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals offers lists of dog and cat supplies for first-time owners.
Examine your lifestyle
If you travel a lot or are away from home for many hours at a time, you may need to invest an additional amount in retirement savings or childcare.
Lauren Gelber, 44, recently went on a two-week family trip and paid about $1,800 to board her two dogs. Gelber, who lives in Marin County, California, said the price is high because he has two pit bull mixes and his dog hotel charges more for large breed dogs.
When Sharon Simon, 64, and her husband want to go on a trip, they ask their adult children to look after their dogs.
“We couldn’t afford to take in two dogs and take a two-week trip to Europe,” says Simon, who lives in Salinas, California.
If you don’t want to leave your pet in a boarding facility, you can also take it with you on vacation, but you will have to pay the flight and hotel fees.
If you work outside the home on a daily basis, you may also need to invest in daycare or the services of a dog walker. When Gelber’s children were younger, she often took their dogs to daycare to walk and socialize. That meant an additional expense of $800 per month.
Think about the race
It’s important to research the breed of pet you’re adopting, not only because it will help you determine whether it will fit your lifestyle, but also to know whether you can afford it, says Hauser.
“An example is Maine Coons, beautiful cats but with a high incidence of heart disease, so you have to pay for ultrasound scans and cardiology consultations once or twice a year,” he points out.
Another example of an expensive breed is French bulldogs, which tend to develop many health problems, adds Hauser.
Gelber had two French bulldogs, each of which had health complications requiring emergency care that cost between $4,000 and $6,000. Gelber ended up paying a small portion of those amounts because he had pet insurance, which he purchased knowing that French bulldogs are prone to disease.
In addition to medical issues, it is important to consider your pet’s energy levels or whether they need a special diet, which can be expensive. Although Gelber’s Pitbull mix breeds are healthy and don’t require as much medical care as their French bulldogs, their size means they spend more on food and meals.
Prepare for the unexpected
A few months ago, Milo developed pancreatitis and Chavez had to pay thousands of dollars in the emergency room, putting a strain on his budget for some time.
“I had to limit myself. “I stayed home and told my friends, ‘I’m sorry, I just spent almost $3,000 on my dog and I can’t go out to eat,'” he said.
While it’s impossible to predict what the future holds, Hauser says there are some things owners can do to limit the risk of health problems. The most important is to take your pet for regular medical checkups.
“We would rather detect and treat illnesses early so that the pet has a better quality of life and lives longer than having to put out a fire,” says Hauser. Two important things to monitor are dental health and weight, he adds.
Pet owners can also purchase health insurance, although the cost may not be worth it for some.
Chavez’s recent emergency medical bill made her question her decision not to purchase health insurance for Milo. Gelber also benefited from health insurance for her dogs’ emergencies. But Simon, who has had dogs for 25 years, has never rented one nor needed one.
Whether or not you have health insurance for your pets, it’s wise to have some saved up in case you need it for an unexpected vet visit.
Find out how you can reduce your costs
There are ways to reduce the cost of owning a pet. Chavez advises first-time homeowners not to act impulsively and buy everything they see on the internet.
“Don’t be tempted to buy things you may not need, because then it all adds up,” says Chavez.
To save some money, she joined Facebook groups in her area where people give away pet supplies. You got things like a pet carrier and also sold or gave away things you didn’t need, like a car seat for your dog. Chavez also vaccinated her toy poodle at Petco’s Affordable Veterinary Clinics, which offer vaccines at cheaper prices.
You can reduce some boarding costs by asking family or friends to care for your pet. If you need help with specialty food, Pet Help Finder can find food pantries nationwide that offer free or discounted food to low-income families.
No matter how much they’ve spent on their dogs, Chavez, Gelbert and Simon agree they don’t regret having them in their lives.
“The cost is 100% worth it; They are family members. I just want to add that you need to know (the cost) before you commit,” Gelber says.