Pet Owner Diaries: What I Really Spend

pet costsIf you're considering the idea of adding a four-legged member to your family, you're likely picturing a lot of rainy-day snuggling and Instagrams that solicit "awwws" from your friends.

But there is one more practical thing to consider: the costs.

And, by costs, we're not just referring to how much you'll pay to get the animal—there are plenty of other key expenses, from food and vet bills to petsitting.

Granted, every pet is different—and so is every budget. To get an idea of how much an owner should expect to shell out, we spoke to three animal lovers with different types of critters to see how one year of costs break down. Then we asked Elizabeth Sklaver, a CFP® with LearnVest Planning Services, to weigh in on their pet budgets.

Angel the Pug, Silver Spring, Md.

Karen Shakira Kali—along with her wife, Jenn, and their daughter, Doris—have a nine-year-old pug named Angel.

Although Angel eats premium kibble and fresh raw food, their total food expenses are fairly moderate. "It helps that having a small dog means she eats less because I do want to give her good food," says Kali, a 33-year-old urban planner. The cost for treats is even less—Angel is happy to snack on carrots, cucumbers and especially green beans (a treat she's enjoying in the picture at right).

Vet costs, however, aren't necessarily cheaper just because you're little. Angel takes several medications for arthritis, and like many pugs, she's on a regular eye medication—all of which amounts to about $550 a year.

"At least once a year, maybe twice, Angel eats something that she shouldn't," says Kali. Fortunately, emergency assistance calls to the Animal Poison Control hotline (normally $65 per call) are included in the $18 yearly fee that the family pays for the pup's tracking microchip.

The Kalis also spend $600 a year to have pet insurance, which covers 80% of their vet costs once they meet a $200 deductible. "I'm more of a 'we need to take the dog to the vet' person, and my wife is more of a 'let's wait and see' owner. Having pet insurance is a bit of a relief because it means that I can take the dog in without worrying too much about cost," says Kali.

The family gets a break on expenses in other ways, as well: They use recycled bags for cleanup, and Angel isn't really interested in toys. And, when they travel, Kali says that they're fortunate to have pug-loving friends who are willing to dog-sit, which is a big savings. "Although we do bring back presents, give gift cards and send special treats to our friends to show our thanks," says Kali.

RELATED:  Want to Set Up a Budget? Start Here

What Elizabeth Says: "The Kalis are very lucky to have friends that help with dog-sitting. I know from experience with my own two dogs that walking and sitting can be an expensive proposition, so make sure that you know the costs in your area, and budget appropriately. And remember: Even though you may not need help now, a move or a job change could make these services a necessity at some point during the life of your pet.

The ASPCA estimates that the annual costs for a small dog are about $580—and Angel's are nearly quadruple that. However, it's not surprising given that she's aging and has health issues. But I am surprised to see that their pet insurance covers so many of their vet expenses, because most affordable insurance policies ($30 to $50 a month) only cover catastrophes. For that reason, I wouldn't say having pet insurance is a necessity—rather, it depends on your personal preference."

  • Emm

    these numbers are outrageous. We have two cats and don’t spend $$ like this.

    • Leelee B

      You should consider yourself fortunate, and I hope your kitties stay healthy and happy. I have 3 cats, and they are incredibly expensive. One has major dental issues and requires expensive medical treatments through out the year, year after year. All three are long haired and need to be groomed on a regular basis. I spend for 3 cats, including all their special needs almost $500 per month combined. Canadian costs are a little higher, but that is still excessive. I do buy better quality food and litter, but I consider that as preventative. I love them dearly, so I consider the money well, well spent.

  • Cherith Harrison

    what a great and useful piece – as a long-term pet owner of two chocolate labs, I can tell you that you can never underestimate the cost of pet ownership – I recently tallied up my monthly expenses for the now senior lab (the older one died in 2011) and it’s close to $900/month. People should know before they get pets what it will cost – i can’t tell you how many times i’ve overheard a tearful owner at the vets declining treatment b/c they can’t afford it.

  • Jen

    I live in Jersey City, NJ and would love nothing more than to get a dog. But with being away at work during the day and paying for a dog walker twice a day, I’m looking at $600 a month (just for the dog walker). We would adopt a dog from the shelter (almost free) but still, at the end of the year with food, vet, etc. included, a dog would cost $9,000 – $10,000. There are so many other things we need to save for and live in the most expensive region of the country that I think we’ll have to wait a long time.

    • Anon

      I also live in Jersey City and work a typical office job (9-5 in the city). For months I debated whether or not to get a dog. After falling in love with one at a shelter, I asked around for opinions; one that I received was that owning a dog is very expensive and I am constantly budgeting. How could I afford it?

      In the end, I did adopt her, and while it is expensive, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. She is worth every penny. (Also, for what it’s worth, do whatever is right for you =) as I was reading your comment, I just saw similarities and wanted to chime in.)

      • Jen

        Thanks for your story. Dogs make us so happy, don’t they? I have friends in JC (we are actually moving there next week from Manhattan) who have a dog walker come twice a day at $30. That’s where I got my estimate. Does that sound right to you?

        • Anon

          $30/day or each time? if it’s per day, that does seem about average. maybe it’s a possibility to have a walker come once per day?

          Again, to each their own. It just seems to me that there is never a “right” time to do things*. I would never have “enough” money to get a dog, so I just decided to somehow make it work. (*in regards to any life-changing decision, for anyone, not just your story)

          P.S. good luck with your move!

          • Jen

            It’s $30 per day. They have a mini daschund and want to give her the chance to get all of her rambunctious energy out and not be lonely. True, how many times you walk them depends on the breed and your ability to provide.

            I totally agree about the right time to do things – part of me wants to wait another 5 years to have kids but I don’t want to push my luck as I’m not in my twenties anymore! ;) Glad that it worked for you and you are enjoying time with your pup. Thanks :)

  • JoyATL

    I really like this article. I think a lot of people don’t understand the cost of owning and properly caring for a pet throughout it’s life. According to my LearnVest budget, I spend an average of $240 a month on my 13 yr old terrier mix and the only thing that surprises me about that is that it isn’t more. None of this is especially extravagant spending except she goes to doggie day care at least 1/2 to one day a week and I board her when I travel for work which is a several of times a year. She takes thyroid medication, plus other meds dogs need to stay healthy. She now has two check-ups a year since she is a “senior” dog.

    I try to plan ahead by keeping a pet expense savings account for those things that pop-up that no one can really predict like the two urinary tract infections she’s had this year. And I bumped up the amount I put in my emergency fund to reflect that I would need to cover her expenses too if I lost my job.

    I plan ahead much more for everything since I joined LearnVest. It helps me take care of the important things in life, get rid of the non-priority expenses, and feel a lot more secure about the future.

  • Jessica

    I have a 13 year old Golden Retriever mix and a 2 year old dwarf rabbit. The costs for an aging dog are up and there and I wouldnt skimp on food nor medicine for him but you can save costs on the bunny. Living in NYC fresh vegetables can get mighty expensive, I cut cost by growing my own cilantro, parsley and other herbs as well as lettuce. The big money saver for me was litter box training my bunny. Not only does it save me money but I can still get him the best litter available but I go through bags as quickly and I can take him anywhere with me; he is a frequent visitor to my job especially during the summer, it makes him a happy bunny!

  • aeroldy99

    The difference in cost between cats and dogs is large enough that cats are moving ahead in preference. That plus the increasing demographic move to larger cities is most likely responsible for this trend. If you only want a dog, it will cost a lot more but most are willing to give up other things to have that pet. If not, cats are indoors and quite easy to train and maintain, their costs are a lot less even with a healthy diet. You still need to entertain them so they won’t resort to mischief to get your attention. They will chase crumpled receipts all over the house, play in paper bags and lurk in boxes. Don’t know if you want a cat? Try fostering one through your local cat rescue agency, they will help you choose one that is suitable for your lifestyle.