Paws and Effect - The annual cost of pet ownership and how to reduce costs

Israel Guitian |

There’s a good reason there’s an estimated 74 to 96 million owned cats and 70 to 80 million dogs in the U.S. With wagging tails, slobbery kisses, and little whiskers that make for adorable Instagrams, pets give us that warm, cuddly feeling inside. They are part of our families and some of our best friends. But, they can also be a substantial part of a personal budget, especially since it (hopefully) is a long-term commitment that can last for a couple decades. It was estimated that over $62 billion was spent collectively on U.S. pets in 2016.

Cats and dogs (the most common pets) have both first-time and annual expenses. According to the ASPCA the total first-year cost of owning a cat is approximately $1,070 and a dog is $1,270. For each additional year after that initial year the cost can be over $500.

The greatest costs are vet fees, like the one-time spaying or neutering and annual medical exams, annual pet health insurance, food, training, and litter (for cats). Out of the ASPCA’s estimate some things could be cut, such as certain toys and treats. But, the estimate is also not inclusive. Depending on your situation you should also factor in kenneling and a refundable apartment pet deposit. A survey from the American Pet Products Association estimates cat owners pay an average of $196 in routine care and close to $400 on surgical visits; dog owners shell out an average $235 annually and $551 on surgical visits.


Other pets like lizards and snakes need an ample amount of costly tank equipment to facilitate their cold-blooded nature. Some birds (especially the exotic and large kinds) can rack up lifetime bills of over $100k. Horses are one of the biggest investments; since they can live for so long and require a lot of food, stable boarding, and ample grooming and costly care the lifetime cost is hundreds of thousands of dollars.

None of this is to say you shouldn’t adopt a furry friend, simply that you should account for the costs, expected and unexpected, associated with pet ownership. Additionally, there are some solid ways to reduce your monthly pet ownership costs through a few simple changes. 

Shop Around for Pet Insurance

If your pet contracts a major illness or has an accident the vet bills rack of fast. This is where pet insurance is a necessary cost to cover you on emergency vet visits and treatments. Say the new puppy goes missing, a pet insurance policy can cover costs and a reward for finding it. Some policies also cover legal costs if your pet gets into a legal snare (like biting a neighbor who ends up suing) that will require hiring a lawyer. While this may seem counterintuitive for saving money, an insurance policy can protect against unexpected pet-related exorbitant costs. Do you research though. Depending on the type of pet, its health needs, projected life expectancy, the rate will vary. Typically, a policy on an older pet will cost more, as will the price for an urban pet compared to rural one. ValuePenguin has a great pet insurance comparison tool with inputs like species, age, breed, and reimbursement level.

DIY Treats

Like packaged people food, packaged dog treats can contain preservatives, unnecessary fat and calories, and chemicals. They can also run up a hefty receipt at the pet store. Keep your pet happy with homemade treats. Look to Pinterest for DIY recipes using wholesome ingredients like oats and peanut butter that you can buy in cheaply in bulk.

Smile Spot

If you catch a whiff of continuous bad breath from your four-legged friend’s don’t ignore it. Revolting bad breath can be a sign of other health issues. And, harmful bacteria in unhealthy gums and teeth could make their way into the bloodstream internal damage which would lead to medical emergency trips to the vet or long term complications requiring medications. Your tail-wagging friend could also need teeth pulled if things such as periodontal disease takes hold. By talking to a vet and reading up on the best dental care you can complete at home, you can give your budget (and your pet) something worth smiling about.

Cut the Kennel

A quality kennel can run around $25 or more a day for your fur baby to have a place to stay while you’re away. Get together with your other pet-loving friends and form a care group where you take turns caring for one another’s pets when away for a menial agreed-upon rate or other bartered favor.

A+ Care

If you live near a veterinary school, they likely offer a clinic staffed by students which will offer medical care at a lessened price point than established clinics. Students, eager for good marks and references, operate under licensed veterinarians while you give them the opportunity to improve their skills. Plus, university-associated clinics often have access to new treatments and technologies.

Furry Finance

Even if you do take active steps to reducing the costs you’ll still need to budget for at least the essentials—food, litter, dental and health care, grooming—every month. Include this in your personal budget and review it with a trusted financial professional. If you’re considering getting another pet on top of any animals you already have, it’s a wise idea to ensure your monthly personal budget can accommodate it.



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