While you can’t put a price on the companionship a pet provides, you do still have to pay the bills, and creating a realistic budget for your pet’s needs is an important part of responsible pet ownership. Having a long-term financial plan, as well as a safety net for the unexpected, will see you through whatever life throws at you. To keep your family in the black when it comes to affording a lifetime of care for your pet, here is some expert advice when it comes to dollars and cents.
- your homework
- put it on paper
- spend money on quality dog food
- put safety first
- check your travel plans
- forget the vet
- put off preventatives
- forget to plan for emergencies
- assume you’re getting an angel
- put off important decisions
Before you bring home that new dog or cat, you need to do some research into his breed to make reasonable assumptions as to the health of your pet and the costs that could go along with it. Have your heart set on a toy breed? Their little mouths make them more prone to dental disease, so be prepared for frequent cleanings. Want to add a German Shepherd to your family? Keep in mind their propensity for hip dysplasia, a commonly inherited genetic condition. While just about every breed of dog or cat can be predisposed to hereditary and chronic conditions, you can improve your chances of getting a healthy pet by selecting a responsible breeder or adopting a mixed-breed pet, who often have less of a chance of developing diseases common to a particular breed.
Many people underestimate the true cost of adding a pet to the family. Talk to friends and family who have pets and ask them what their biggest expenses are and what they spend more on than they thought they would. Make an actual budget with line items for both one-time costs like purchase price or adoption fee, spay/neuter surgery and microchipping, as well as annual expenses like vaccines, flea/tick and heartworm prevention, and also grooming. You can’t stick to a budget if you don’t have one; take the time to put it on paper, and you’re much more likely to spend wisely.
There are so many different products on the pet market, you can find both bargain and luxury versions of just about anything. But the one place you should truly invest is in a quality diet for your dog or cat. Pet food is one category in which you truly get what you pay for. Spending a little extra on a balanced, complete, high-quality diet may set you back a few extra bucks in the short term, but over the life of your pet, your dog’s or cat’s improved health will save you money on medical bills. Resist the urge to splurge on designer beds or clothing, and put the money toward the best food and treats you can afford. A good-quality dog food will set you back up to $600 per year, while cat food can cost up to $400.
While you’re tallying costs to keep your pet healthy, add a line in the budget for the things you’ll need to keep him safe. Number one on your list should be a microchip, so that in the event you are ever separated, you have a very good chance of being reunited. Pet microchipping runs about $45-$70 and should be done by a licensed vet. You also need to invest in a good-quality safety harness or carrier for car trips. Many states now have seat belt laws for pets, and keeping your best friend secured in the car will protect him in case of an accident, and will remove distractions from you while you’re driving. You’ll spend anywhere from $20-$100 for a good harness or carrier, depending on the size of your pet.
Thinking of adding a pet to the family? If you’ve got a vacation planned in the future, don’t forget that Fido or Fluffy will need his own accommodations. Whether you bring your pet with you, or leave him behind, there are expenses to consider. Pet-friendly hotels usually require a deposit – often non-refundable – of $25-$100 for your pet to stay in the room with you. If you choose to board your dog or cat at a kennel, a week could cost $175-$500 for a dog and $105-$300 for your feline friend. Another option is an in-home pet sitter. Rates vary across the country, but on average, expect to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 per night.
One of your non-negotiable annual costs is going to be yearly wellness examinations by a veterinarian (twice-yearly when the pet becomes a senior) – be sure to budget for it. Early detection of disease gives your pet a better prognosis and more options for treatment, and doing a full work-up each year is your best bet for finding problems early enough to treat them. Whether you get a dog or a cat, plan on spending anywhere between $150-$400 for a dog and about $100 for a cat on yearly exams and vaccines.
Both dogs and cats need year-round parasite prevention, whether they are indoor or outdoor pets. Some people skip doses during winter months to save money, but bugs don’t take a break from biting just because you stop administering the medication. For dog owners, plan on spending $70-$150 annually for heartworm prevention, and $135-$250 for flea/tick medication (depending on the size of your pet). Cat owners should set aside about $180 for parasite prevention.
One in three pets needs unexpected veterinary care for an accident or illness each year. Don’t underestimate the value of pet insurance for affording medical care for your pets. Unlike a savings account, which will only yield as much as you have put into it to date, investing in pet insurance can give you access to tens of thousands of dollars worth of coverage as soon as you sign up. Pet insurance helps take the risk out of pet ownership. By paying a monthly premium you can budget for, you have the financial security to make health decisions for your pet based on what your veterinarian recommends, rather than whether you can afford the cost of the treatment. Average annual premiums for dogs are about $600, and for cats, $144.
When you bring home your little bundle of joy, don’t just assume that because he is cute he is going to be perfect. One expense many new pet owners neglect to budget for is their behavior and training. And again, this is an upfront investment that will pay dividends down the road. Basic dog training classes cost in the neighborhood of $150-$200 for a six to eight-week class, and keep in mind that if your dog develops any problematic idiosyncrasies like resource guarding or dog-aggression, you may need to consult a private behaviorist for further help.
The last thing anyone wants to think about when they get a pet is the day that pet will leave them. But our pets don’t live forever, and there are end-of-life costs to consider. Many veterinary facilities are now hospice care, and the services they provide can come at quite a price. Cremation costs money, too: $50-$300 for a cat and $50-$500 for a dog, depending on its size. Setting some cash aside for these costs before the emotions of the situation take over will help avoid unnecessary stress on the family during a very sad time.
Budgeting for a new best friend can give you a realistic picture of how prepared your family is to take on a new financial responsibility, and will help avoid costly surprises in the future. Take the time to think ahead – by doing the math now you’ll be on track to take the best care of your pet for many happy, healthy years to come.