If you’re thinking about getting a pet, the emotional part of you is probably pretty excited. But the rational part of you may be feeling wary, for good reason. Owning a pet will add additional expenses to your budget. And the more prepared you are for that, the better the experience it should be, for you and your future pet.
Whatever you do, don’t rush into this, urges Sandy Weaver, an American Kennel Club judge and a consultant who works with veterinarians to implement well-being programs and improve their and their staff’s morale. She is based out of Marietta, Georgia.
“A pet isn’t an impulse purchase,” Weaver says. “It’s worth taking time to research the dog or cat breed or mix that is a good fit for you and your family.”
That can take time, she adds. “Responsible rescues and breeders don’t keep a stock of animals on shelves, waiting for you to show up. Decide what you want, get everything you need for the new addition, and when the right fit shows up, you’ll be prepared.”
[READ: Ways to Teach Kids About Money.]
Typical Adoption Costs
Adoption fee. Unless you wind up finding a stray dog or cat, you’re going to spend some money, anywhere from a couple hundred bucks to maybe a thousand or more if you’re buying from a breeder.
The adoption costs vary. The Animal Humane Society, for instance, lists its standard adoption fees on its website as being between $129 and $767 for dogs and puppies, and $39 to $317 for cats and kittens. Birds, rabbits and other small mammals may have a cost of $9 to $199.
Initial veterinary costs. You may avoid some veterinary costs by finding your pet in a shelter, since many of them have already given pets any vaccines that they need and spayed and neutered them. In other words, the initial medical care is often part of the adoption fee.
Still, if you want a figure to hang on to, CanineJournal.com, a dog information website, suggests that during the first year, you’ll likely pay $100 to $350 for a dog’s veterinary visits.
Initial supplies. Cats need litter boxes and cat litter. You’ll probably want a scratching post or two, if you don’t want your couch and walls to become claw magnets. You’ll also probably want a crate for your dog or a cat carrier, Weaver says.
“You’ll also need feeding and water bowls, a collar and leash and a comb or brush,” she says. “Toys are good to have. Be sure they’re sized appropriately for the pet you choose and are safe.”
It’s probably best, though, to skip getting a new dog a bed, says Jme Thomas, executive director of Motley Zoo Animal Rescue in Redmond, Washington, which focuses on rescuing and fostering dogs and cats.
“They will very likely shred that thing the first night. Give them a towel or blanket. and then when you know they can be trusted, then reward them with the more expensive or nice bed that matches your décor,” Thomas advises.
In any case, the adoption costs always go far beyond the actual animal, according to Davis.
Once your pet is settled in and you have everything you need, your costs will go down, but you’ll always have some ongoing maintenance costs that you’ll want to add in to your monthly financial plan.
The time commitment. Most people recognize the need to make time to walk their dog or play with their cat. But some might not be prepared for how much time goes into, say, keeping a turtle alive; the water in the terrarium needs to be routinely cleaned. With a guinea pig, for example, you’ll be frequently changing its bedding; experts suggest changing the bedding, which isn’t cheap, once or twice a week.
Food costs.For a dog, the bigger the animal, the more you’ll probably spend. Many experts also advise to not get the cheapest brands you can find.
“Food is not an area to economize,” Weaver warns. “The basic rule of thumb is the more you pay for food, the less you’ll pay at the vet. Poor nutrition contributes to skin and coat problems at a minimum — and major metabolic problems and a shortened lifespan at a maximum. Consider the amount you pay for food to be health insurance for your pet.”
For exotic pets, the food costs can really add up, depending on the pet. Ashley Davis is the co-founder of CatProductGuide.com. She has four cats and two ball pythons.
“My snakes need to eat mice three to four times per week. Each mouse costs $3, so I’m spending $18 a week on food for two snakes,” Davis says. “This adds up quickly and was something I was not aware of when I first purchased a snake. Since you usually buy a snake when it’s young, it requires less food, but as it grows it needs more.”
That definitely adds up. Eighteen dollars a week means that Davis is spending $936 on mice a year. Most pet owners aren’t going to consider that type of cost before buying a pet.
Davis also mentions that ball pythons are extremely picky eaters, which has made her food costs climb.
“My snakes refuse to eat mice unless they’re freshly killed, so we have to buy them from a specific local vendor. It took us a while to figure this out,” she says.
Veterinarian visits. Thomas recommends budgeting $150 for most routine vet visits, “with approximately four visits per year for the first year of a dog’s life. Two to three for a cat.”
She adds that senior dogs should go annually to the vet, “but probably more likely twice as they tend to have chronic conditions that require monitoring.”
But taking your pet to the vet should help you avoid those costly visits.
Thomas recommends having $1,500 in the bank for vet emergencies, but if that’s too far of a reach, she suggests getting pet health insurance.
“Each insurance company has different rates and deductibles, but we are extremely huge proponents for it, as many of the animals we see surrendered could still be in the family if they had gotten it before it was too late,” she says.
“Some insurance plans even cover crazy things like cataract surgery, MRIs and other far more complicated and unusual care which can really make a difference in your animal’s life, especially as they age,” Thomas adds.
The expenses can get worse if you’re dealing with an exotic animal, says Davis.
“For instance, taking my snakes to the vet costs about $200 in exam fees alone, with treatments and tests costing $100 to $400. I also have to drive an hour to a vet who specializes in snakes,” Davis says.
Other than the first general checkup exams, Davis says that one of the ball pythons had trouble removing his skin, a condition called dysecdysis. One of the snakes also had a respiratory infection.
“I noticed that one snake wasn’t moving around much and had some fluid draining from its nose. After a trip to the vet, he was diagnosed with the infection and given antibiotics,” Davis says.
“Caring for a cat is less costly than owning a snake,” Davis adds. “My cats rarely need to visit the vet, and if they do it’s only for their vaccine updates or a general checkup. It’s also much easier to find a high-quality vet to care for my cats.”
Ongoing medication. Thomas says that you should plan to buy medicine for flea treatment and heartworm prevention. “We’d suggest budgeting about $50 a month for that kind of preventative care,” she says, adding that paying for medication is far cheaper than “dealing with a flea infestation or the cost of heartworm treatment.”
Bottom line: Taking good care of a pet can be an expensive proposition, and you really want to be prepared for all sorts of costs, especially since animals often really do become part of the family.
John Lockhart, chief marketing officer at People Media Worldwide Inc., a marketing and public relations firm, says that he has had a lot of pets over the years and adopted a German Shepherd mix named Grover in 2021. About a week after the adoption, Lockhart took Grover to a river to swim. On the way home, Grover saw a rattlesnake, and like any good dog, decided he should quickly investigate.
“He was bitten in the face,” Lockhart says.
Lockhart called his vet and, because of the pandemic, the animal hospital came for Grover and took him.
The cost for the medical treatment was $2,200.
“He’s doing fine now and we’re more careful on our walks. Grover was almost free but quickly became the most expensive dog I’ve ever adopted,” Lockhart says.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but if you’re looking for a checklist of some of the expenses you may encounter as a pet parent, along with an estimate for what you might pay, here are some averages that can help:
|Adoption fee||$50-$150 or much more|
|Spay or neuter||$50-$500 if not part of adoption fee|
|Dog or cat license||$20|
|Home supplies such as crate, litter box, toys, fish tank, etc.||$150-$350|
|Food varies based on animal type, size and food quality||Not less than $200 a year.|
|Veterinary appointments||$600 for first year|
|Monthly medications for ticks, fleas, heartworms, etc.||$50 per month|
|Kennels or pet sitters||$20-$40 per day|
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Update 07/13/22: This article was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.