NEW YORK (AP) — Pets bring joy and companionship, but the costs of caring for them can add up quickly, especially if you’re a first-time pet owner and don’t know what to expect.
Many prospective dog or cat owners only focus on the positive aspects of incorporating a furry friend into their lives. And there are countless reasons why pets are awesome. But it’s also important to have realistic expectations, so you don’t have to deal with sudden expenses that could upset your financial stability.
“It’s important to be able to choose a pet that will best fit your budget and lifestyle,” says Wendy Hauser, MD, a veterinarian who founded her own consulting firm.
When Melissa Chavez decided on a toy poodle named Milo in the summer of 2020, she had an idea of the costs, but she was surprised how quickly they added up. Like many other people during the Covid-19 pandemic, she found her remote work schedule gave her the perfect opportunity to get a puppy.
“I’d never had dogs before, so I think it was all a learning opportunity for me,” Chavez says.
If you are contemplating getting a pet, or are interested in learning strategies to reduce living expenses, here are several things to consider:
RESEARCH THE BASIC COSTS FOR YOUR PET
Initial costs for a dog or cat go beyond the price of adoption or purchase.
First you need to go to a veterinarian for vaccinations or a general health check, which can cost you between $200 and $300. Once home, pets need a bed, food, leashes and harnesses, and grooming products, among other things. While each of these items is relatively inexpensive separately, the costs add up.
On average, the annual cost for a dog is $1,400 and $1,200 for a cat, according to Kerry O’Hara, director of data analytics for the American Pet Products Association, a trade association.
Knowing how much you will need to spend initially when purchasing a pet will help you create a budget.
If you want to know which items are must-haves, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals provides lists of dog and cat supplies for first-time owners.
EXAMINE YOUR LIFESTYLE
If you are a frequent traveler or are away from home for many hours at a time, you may need to invest an additional sum in pensions or childcare.
Lauren Gelber, 44, recently took a two-week family trip and paid about $1,800 toward boarding for her two dogs. Gelber, who lives in Marin County, California, said the price was high because she has two pit bull mixes and her 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 watch their dogs.
“We couldn’t afford boarding two dogs and a two-week trip to Europe,” says Simon, who lives in Salinas, California.
If you don’t want to leave your pet at a boarding house, you could take it with you on vacation, but you’ll have to pay for the flight and hotel fees.
If you work outside the home every day, you may also need to invest in daycare or the services of a dog walker. When Gelber’s children were younger, she often took her dogs to daycare to be walked and socialized. That meant an additional expense of $800 per month.
REFLECT ON RACE
It’s important to do your research on the breed of pet you’re adopting, not only because it will help you determine if it fits into your lifestyle, but also whether or not you can afford it, Hauser says.
“An example is the Maine coons, beautiful cats but with a high incidence of heart disease, so once or twice a year you will have to pay for ultrasounds and cardiology consultations,” he says.
Another example of an expensive breed is French bulldogs, which tend to develop many health problems, Hauser adds.
Gelber had two French bulldogs, each of which had health complications that required emergency care at a cost of four thousand and six thousand dollars. Gelber ended up paying a small fraction of those figures because he had pet insurance, which he purchased knowing that French bulldogs are prone to getting sick.
In addition to medical issues, it is important to consider your pet’s energy levels or whether they require a specific diet, which could be expensive. While Gelber’s pit bull mixes are healthy and have not required as much medical care as her French bulldogs, she does spend more on food and board due to their size.
PREPARE FOR THE UNEXPECTED
A couple of months ago, Milo developed pancreatitis and Chavez had to pay thousands of dollars in the emergency room, which put a strain on his budget for some time.
“I had to limit myself. I would stay home and tell my friends, ‘I’m sorry, I just spent almost three thousand dollars on my dog and I can’t go out to eat,'” he said.
While it’s impossible to know what the future holds, Hauser says there are some things owners can do to limit the chance of health problems. The main one is to take your pet for regular medical check-ups.
“We would prefer to detect diseases at an early stage and manage them 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 for some it may not be worth the cost.
The recent emergency medical bill Chavez paid made her question her decision not to purchase medical insurance for Milo. Gelber has also benefited from medical insurance for her dogs’ emergencies. But Simon, who has had dogs for 25 years, has never hired one and hasn’t needed one.
Whether or not you have health insurance for your pets, it’s a good idea to have savings in case you need them for an unexpected visit to the vet.
FIND HOW TO REDUCE COSTS
There are ways to reduce the cost of owning a pet. Chavez advises first-time owners not to act impulsively and start buying everything they see on the Internet.
“Don’t be influenced to buy things you might not need, because it all adds up,” shares Chavez.
To save some money, she joined Facebook groups in her area where people give away pet supplies. She has gotten things like a carrier, and has also sold or given away items she didn’t need, like a car seat for her dog. Chavez also vaccinated his toy poodle at Petco’s affordable veterinary clinics, which offer vaccines at lower prices.
You can reduce some boarding expenses by asking family or friends to care for your pet. If you need help with specialized food, Pet Help Finder can find food pantries across the country that provide free or reduced-cost food for 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 would just add that you need to know (the cost) before you commit,” Gelber says.