The Cost of Pet Ownership

fostering a petPerhaps you are considering taking the step into pet ownership. Most pet owners will tell you that having a four legged furry friend (or three legged one like Edward Antrobus)is one of the greatest joys in life. Pets have a tremendous capacity for love, fun and forgiveness. You can take a broken, beaten, damaged animal, show it kindness and patience, and have a friend for life. Before you make the decision, you should take a serious look at your finances to detemine if you can truly afford it. The following costs are for dogs and cats, but please do your research even if you want a lizard, bird, snake, pot bellied pig, llama or any other domestic pet  (please don’t pull a Mike Tyson and think a tiger might be fun.)

Basic Needs

The minimum basics any pet requires are food, water, and shelter. According to the ASPCA, medium dogs will need $250 worth of food per year, cats $120. That cost is for basic food alone and doesn’t count toward treats, rawhide chews, or vitamins (some pets have skin conditions!). You might need  stainless steel bowls if your pet chews up plastic. If you are going to leave Spot outdoors for a portion of the day, he will need a dog or cat house, which can easily cost over a hundred dollars.  If your chosen dog that wanders, you might have to get an outdoor run or build a fence. Of course, you could keep your pet indoors. In that case,  cats will have to have a litter box and litter. If you already have a plastic tub,  litter cost is around $150 per year.  If you have a dog indoors, it’s a good idea to have a crate. Otherwise,  Fido migh decide to redecorate your place. A new wire dog crate for a medium dog would cost around $50. You’ll also want to provide a pillow or dog bed unless you want to share, another $10-$20. You can see how the costs add up.

Veterinary Care

Puppies and kittes are just about the cutest things on the planet. Maybe you were  at the grocery store where someone had a box of little cuties for giveaway.  Bloggers love free, so why not?  Remember, puppies and kittens need several vaccines in their first year of life. After that, depending on your local laws, you will need booster vaccines every one to three years. Average yearly cost of vaccines is $150. If you don’t want more puppies and kitties, you’ll need to get your pet spayed or neutered, add another $100. Also depending on your area, you may need heartworm treatment or flea and tick repellent. Since there is really no such thing as a free pet, you should check with your local animal shelter or rescue group.  For an adoption fee, the pet comes home already spayed or neutered with their first round of shots, and you get the joy of knowing you saved a homeless pet.

Just like people, the older your pet, the more expensive the doctor bill. Older pets will need routine dental care every two to three years, cost is around $300. If your pet develops any chronic health conditions like diabetes or thyroid problems, medicine costs can easily run hundreds of dollars per year. You also have to consider emergencies. Over my 14 years as a pet owner, I’ve had to pay for endoscopy to retrieve an eaten hair scrunchie, surgery for two blown out knees, numerous ripped off toenails, kennel cough (we didn’t even go to the kennel!), slipped discs, an autoimmune disorder, an abcessed tooth, allergies, and a broken toe. I have never spent this much for my personal health care over that same period of time. It really is best to have an emergency fund for your pet, just as you would for a human family member.

 You Might Not Think About These Costs

Depending on your pet, you also should figure in costs for licenses, tags, collars, leashes, toys, catnip, obedience training, and grooming. If you like or need to travel, you may have to pay for boarding or a pet sitter. Beware you may also find yourself crossing over into insanity when you feel the need  for pet photos with Santa, electronic water purifiers, rhinestone sweaters,or monogrammed carriers that look like designer purses. You know people buy these things. Have you been to a pet store lately? Novelty items are big business, and I bet most pet owners have made a frivilous impulse purchase at some point. (Yes, one year I bought 4th of July t-shirts for my dogs.)

Ways to Save Money

There are a few ways to save on pet expenses. Just like with regular grocery shopping, you can buy in bulk when food or litter is on sale. Some online retailers offer discounts if you sign up for regular delivery. While I wouldn’t recommend the WalMart brand, you don’t have to buy premium organic food for your pet. A good mid-range food will do just fine.

Most areas offer low cost vaccine or spay/neuter clinics at certain times of the year. However, there is something to be said for having  a good relatonship with your veterinarian. I can and have called mine at all hours.  I can drop one of my dogs off on the way to work if there is a problem, and the office will keep them until I get off  without any extra charge. They might not be so accomodating if I never went in for regular care.

You can find used pet supplies if you are patient and don’t need things immediately. Many cities have thrift stores that benefit animal charities, and these are great places to find used pet goods.

Not spaying or neutering is a really dumb way to save money. Can you afford a litter of puppies or kittens? How about an emergency C-section? What if the pet dies giving birth? Are you ready to bottle or dropper feed a litter of needy newborns plus the emotional toll of losing their mom? Spay and neuter your pets!

However you go about it, you will be spending some money to have a pet. The ASPCA estimates the annual costs for medium dogs is $1150 and $640 for cats. You might come in under that number some years, but if you have a dog or cat throughout it’s lifespan, you will have some emergency bills. I’ve never seen anyone who didn’t.

While serving as a board member of local Humane Society for nine years, I’ve seen every animal situation, good and bad, that you can imagine. Dog and cats, puppies and kittens all deserve to be in a home where they aren’t a burden. When you bring a furry friend home, it should become  member of your family, so put it in the budget, and make sure you account for the cost of pet ownership.

How much are your annual pet expenses? Do you prefer dogs or cats or other?

Written By
Sydney White is a Texas-born stay at home mom who enjoys spending time with her family, bargain hunting and, hiking.


  1. You can’t forget the cost of clean up. I think I spend more repairing and cleaning up after my dog than I do on his food. Few four legged friends will enter your home and not do a number on the furniture and/or floors.

    1. Good point. I think we had to replace carpet sooner than we would have without pets. With two dogs and a five year old, our family room furniture is pretty bad right now. Maybe the next dog I get will be a hairless chihuahua!

  2. Yes, it’s even more sad when they dump Fido off somewhere. Happens all the time. Just take them to the shelter. Hate to say it but even euthanasia is better than starving to death or getting run over.

  3. Back in “the day” when I was a practicing advisor, I had clients who were vets. When the economy gets bad people cut the vet trips first. It seems that ol’ Fido is a member of the family as long as things are good, but he’s the first guy voted off the island when things get tough.

  4. GIRL! I did a post back in May on how much my puppy Murray was costing me exactly and it ended up being in excess of 1400 dollars. And that was through May, I don’t even wanna talk about his vet visits lately since he’s been sick. Definitely not as expensive as a kid, but way more work (and love!) than a plant 🙂

  5. I’m not sure exactly how much I spend on my 2 cats each year, but it is well worth it. You just have to be willing to pay all of these expenses if you want to be a pet owner. I hate hearing about people who get rid of their pets after finding out how much it is costing them.

    For cat litter, I suggest using wood pine pellets sold at a hardware store. For $5 you can get a big bag that will last all month. It’s much better than using the gravel kind. The brand sold here even changed their labeling so that people know it’s not just used for fire starter.

    1. Great tip with the pine pellets. I will pass that along to the people who foster cats for the Humane Soceity. We get broken bags of litter donated from local stores quite often but your idea is much cheaper if we have to buy it. If we ever get a cat, I’ll get your list of tips first.

    1. That’s an average. If his cat is healthy, it might be less. It sneaks up, though, because it’s not a lump sum payment. Never hurts to have a little set aside for emergencies!

  6. We don’t have pets currently but have had in the past. We often would buy bulk food and shampoo them ourselves. Nail clippings though got paid for. They were just too hard to do.

    I think it is good to manage costs but I also don’t like putting a price limit on a life, even if it’s a pet. They bring so much to our lives they are often worth the cost.

    1. We really treat our pets like people. If the vet service improves quality of life and is necessary, we have always said OK. Nail clippings are worth the $8 to have someone else handle that. We have one dog that it takes hours to get every nail when we do it.

  7. I’ve always wanted a dog, either a lab or a retriever. However, two things have put me off so far – vet bills and my availability for proper care.
    However, I’ve often wondered how most lower income earners (not trying to judgmental)can afford one or two or three pets?

    1. They can’t. Our rescue group gets calls daily for food, shots, vet care, and neeed to surrender animals. There are lots of programs for spay/neuter or shots for low income, but no so much for emergency care. We do occasionally get grants, but we have to limit it to $200 per person. Not saying poor people shouldn’t have pets, but if you can’t meet basic needs, foster instead.

  8. I’m not sure – we have an indoor cat, so costs are low – food, treats, and 1 trip a year to the vet. Biggest cost has been the chair she scratched to death – but it was second hand anyways.. 🙂

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