Budgeting Smart Spending

5 Surprising Expenses That Come With Getting a Pet

Written by Beth Trach

Thinking about adding a furry, feathered or scaly companion to your family? Pets can definitely enrich your life and be a lot of fun, but — spoiler alert! — they’re also pretty expensive. You’ve probably already given a lot of thought to how much time you can spend with your new animal friend and where you’ll have them sleep, etc. But if you haven’t priced out the full cost of adopting a pet, you could be in for a serious — and often unpleasant — surprise.

It’s crucial for your bottom line that you know what you’re getting into before you invite a living creature to share your life. If you don’t, you could end up taking on more debt than you ever planned. Even worse, you could end up having to re-home a cute creature you fell in love with if you can’t afford to care for him well.

So what should you be tallying up on your puppy or kitten budget? It all depends on the animal, of course, but don’t overlook these important expenses as you crunch the numbers:

  1. Food and Treats

Okay, so it’s not exactly surprising that your pets will need food, but what could be shocking is just how much they’ll consume — and how much it costs. Students from the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School estimate that the average dog eats up $435 in food each year — not including treats! In fact, over its lifetime, a dog the size of your typical Lab will cost you over $6,600 in food and treats alone.

The cost for cats and other small pets can be significantly less, and if you skip the treats, a cat will only eat up $182 at the grocery store each year. Other animals may eat less, but remember that the more niche your pet is, the more expensive its food may be. Talk to someone who has the animal you’re considering and ask how much food they eat per day or week. From there, you can price out your meal budget for Fido or Fluffy.

  1. Preventive Care

Just like a person, an animal will stay healthier if you give them an annual check-up at the vet. This office visit will help make sure your animal is healthy and growing well. It will also likely result in suggestions for medications to prevent illness. Things like a rabies shot are a no-brainer, but you’ll also likely need to supply your pet with other meds like heartworm pills or flea and tick applications.

The grand total? $389 a year on the meds alone! An annual veterinary checkup might only be between $45 and $55 for the most basic visit, but adding on screenings, teeth cleaning and other items can quickly jack the price up to a couple hundred dollars each year.

  1. Pet Health Insurance

If those vet bill numbers just about gave you a heart attack, you might think about pet insurance. This is like health insurance for animals, and it can help smooth out the road if your pet has a catastrophic illness or is in a serious accident. Like any other form of insurance, though, it’s crucial to shop around and examine exactly what benefits you’ll get for the money. Consumer Reports found that for relatively healthy animals, only one plan actually ended up paying out more than it cost. Of course, if your pet ends up with cancer or a chronic illness, you’re likely to benefit from the policy.

  1. Emergency Funds

Don’t forget that your emergency fund — you do have an emergency fund, right? — needs to cover your expenses for three to six months if you should lose your job or suffer a debilitating illness that keeps you from earning income. If your annual expenses are going up by several hundred dollars courtesy of that new furry friend, your emergency fund needs to expand accordingly. Do you have extra cash to cover your pet, too? After all, if you lose your job, your animals will still expect to eat. Good luck explaining the concept of “tightening your belt” to a creature who doesn’t wear one.

  1. Splurges

We live in a culture that encourages us to treat pets like tiny children who never grow up and move out, so you’ll probably be stunned at your urge to spoil your animals rotten. If you find yourself feeding your favorite carnivore slices of Kobe beef or springing for organic carrots for your bunny, your bills are going to skyrocket. The same is true for all those cute animal toys, accessories and Halloween costumes you see out there. Unless you have iron willpower girding you against taking part in “pet parent” culture, you’d better pad your budget to accommodate a few frivolous purchases, too.

The Grand Total

Of course, your mileage will vary with the costs listed above depending on whether you choose a high-energy working dog or an exotic snake that needs a steady supply of live food. If you’d rather ballpark your estimate, here’s some food for thought: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spent $528 per year on their pets in 2015.

Of that total, pet food took up nearly half of the animal budget, clocking in at $230 per year. Veterinary costs came in second at $133 annually, while pet supplies and other services like grooming and boarding rounded out the remainder.

To put it in perspective, it’s always wise to hit up your trusty investment calculator. If you were to put that $528 per year into an investment account that yielded 7% interest annually over the next decade, you’d walk away with over $8,300. That’s not bad — especially since all you have to do is divert your doggie dollars into an index fund and wait.

Still, if the lure of unconditional love and an overload of cuteness are too much to resist, there are always other ways to cut your budget and pad your savings account. Just be sure that you can afford the real cost of your animal before you commit to opening your home to a menagerie.

Your turn: are pets worth the cost, or would you rather bank the cash? Fire away in the comments!

About the author

Beth Trach

Elizabeth Trach is a writer and editor living in Newburyport, MA. She also sings in a band, grows almost all her own food, and occasionally even cooks it. You can catch up on all her adventures in frugal living and extreme gardening at Port Potager.

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