The costs of owning your first pet

What you need to know about pet care expenses

You’ve decided to take the leap and become a pet parent. But while you might feel ready to make the emotional commitment, have you considered the financial impact?

It’s no secret that pets can put a real bite into your wallet — not to mention your couch cushions or favorite pair of shoes. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), Americans spent more than $123 billion on their pets in 2021, with costs expected to rise as they have every year since 2018.

So, before you jump in with all fours, it’s important to get the full picture of what your new furry family member might cost.

All estimates are based on ASPCA unless otherwise noted.

Upfront fees – the basics

If you opt to adopt, then your initial costs could be zero. But that’s where the free ride ends.

Some adoption agencies do charge fees – up to $667 for a dog or up to $276 for a cat, according to the Animal Humane Society. And the numbers climb from there:

  • Vet and vaccinations: Dog $300 or cat $175
  • Spay or neuter: Dog $300 or cat $150
  • Licensing: $15 (annual)
  • Microchip: $20

 If you decide to get your pet from a breeder, however, you could expect to pay hundreds if not thousands more.

Annual essentials

You’ve probably noticed that so far cats are less expensive than dogs. But when it comes to annual costs, the gap between the two closes considerably.

Here’s what some of the standard essentials cost in 2021, according to the latest data from the ASPCA. Remember that inflation and other market conditions could impact prices.

  • Food: Dog $300/cat $225
  • Routine medical costs (vaccines, wellness visits, etc.): Dog $225/cat $160
  • Preventative medication (heartworm, flea/tick): Dog $185/cat $140
  • Toys: Dog $37/cat $22 (guess it’s true that cats are better at entertaining themselves!)
  • Treats: Dog $60/cat $36
  • Boarding: $25 a day
  • Grooming supplies: $28

 

While the annual dog and cat costs in the ASPCA data are much more aligned, the gap widens once more when you add in optional items. Teeth cleaning is a popular optional expense, at an estimated $500 for dogs compared to $300 for felines. Of course, if you have a cooperative pet, you can do this yourself to keep costs down.

There are also “dog-only” items, such as obedience training and grooming, which can get expensive if your dog is shaggy and needs frequent grooming care. Costs for doggie daycare services – popular for those who work from home and need a break from the barking – can vary widely, from $12 to $38 a day or higher.

A 2022 Rover study of dog and cat owners found a greater range of costs. Cat owners said their upfront costs (not just adoption fees but also toys, litter box and other equipment) ranged from $695 to $3,100, while dog owners said first-time fees swung from $1,050 to $4,480. Annual needs such as food and vet visits cost cat parents $300 to $1,450 per year, compared to $480 to $3,740 for dog owners, according to the survey.

Keeping costs down

The biggest “hidden” cost of pet ownership is emergency medical care. The APPA estimates that emergency surgical visits cost $458 on average for dog owners and $201 for cat owners. These costs can add up fast and sometimes factor into whether owners can pay for life-saving procedures.

Pet insurance won’t cover all the unexpected medical bills, but it can offset some of the bigger ones. A recent U.S. News & World Report study  found that policies range from about $11 to $70 per month, depending on a variety of factors including your pet’s species, breed, age, any pre-existing conditions and even where you live.

Coverage works a lot like human health insurance, with deductibles and copays. And as with human plans, pet insurance can vary based on the level of care, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Types of plans include basic accidental injuries or illnesses, to more comprehensive coverage options such as x-rays, lab fees and prescriptions.

Dogs are once again more expensive. A 2021 study by the North American Pet Health Insurance Association found that the average accident and illness policy premium for dogs is $514.15 ($49.51 per month); cat owners pay only an average of $341.81 per year, or $28.48 monthly.

Costs aside, owning a pet has huge advantages, from companionship to emotional support (not to mention all that unconditional love). Just be sure to do your homework, work the cost in as you create a budget, and crunch all the numbers before you take that trip to the shelter or breeder. (Tools like Petfinder can help you find shelters as well as local resources that may offer lower-cost services). After all, pets are full of enough surprises on their own.


This page and the information contained herein is for educational purposes only. The information is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any product, service, or strategy to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional. Any links to other websites are included for your convenience only. Bread Financial does not endorse any product or service, and is not responsible for the accuracy or reliability of the information, made available through such sites.

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