How to Budget for a Pet

How to Budget for a Pet article image.

For many of us, a house is not a home without a pet to love and care for. If you're craving the companionship of a four-legged, feathered or finned friend, however, it's important to consider the cost before you bring home your new buddy. Many people adopt a pet without fully thinking through the day-to-day expense of pet ownership—not to mention potential medical care expenses if a pet is injured or becomes ill.

How much does it really cost to own a pet? Read on to find out the basic costs of owning a pet, how to plan for them and how you could reduce them.

What Does It Cost to Own a Pet?

Dogs and cats are by far the most commonly owned U.S. pets: 69 million households include a dog and 45.3 million have a cat, according to the American Pet Products Association. How much should you expect to spend bringing home a cat or a dog? The ASPCA estimates the initial, one-time costs of getting a dog at $1,030 and a cat at $455. This includes:

  • Spaying/neutering
  • Microchipping
  • Initial medical costs (exams, vaccines)
  • Pet supplies (collar, leash, bed, litter box, cat carrier, grooming tools)

The ASPCA's list doesn't include the fee for adopting or buying your pet. The average price of a puppy from a breeder is $1,300; for a purebred kitten, expect to pay a breeder $750 and up.

Adopting a pet from a shelter generally costs much less than buying from a breeder. According to Petfinder, an online database of adoptable pets, adoption fees often cover costs pet owners would otherwise pay themselves. This may include spay or neuter procedures, a veterinary exam, flea and tick treatment, microchipping, vaccinations and collar. Adoption organizations may charge hundreds of dollars for all this, but many charge much less, and some reduce or waive fees during special events or for adopting older pets. Adopting from someone in your community is a free option, though they're unlikely to perform the tasks an organization would.

Once your pet is home, expect to spend an average of $1,391 per year on a dog and $1,149 on a cat. These costs include:

  • Pet food
  • Routine medical costs (exams, vaccinations)
  • Preventive medication (flea, tick and heartworm)
  • Cat litter or puppy pads
  • Licensing fees
  • Toys and treats
  • Pet insurance
  • Grooming supplies
  • Collars and ID tags

Optional costs:

  • Pet boarding: If you travel often, you'll need to board your pet or pay a petsitter.
  • Dog day care: If you work long hours, you may want to hire a dog walker or put your dog in day care while you're at work.
  • Homeowners insurance: Your insurance carrier may raise your homeowners insurance premiums if you have a dog breed it considers dangerous, such as a pit bull or Rottweiler, on the premises.

Special costs:

  • Dental care: The ASPCA puts the yearly average pet owners spend on this at $500 for a dog and $300 for a cat.
  • Professional grooming: Getting your dog's coat professionally cared for costs an estimated $300 annually.

How to Plan for Pet Care Costs

How much should you set aside every month to ensure your pet is properly cared for? The estimates above are a starting point. Pet care costs can vary widely depending on location and by provider.

See what nearby vets charge for an office visit and investigate prices for other services you're likely to use such as grooming or boarding.

Once you have an idea of how much your pet might cost, make a budget that takes your new family member into account. Even if you plan to get pet insurance, you should build some money for non-routine veterinary care into your emergency fund to cover insurance copays and any costs that insurance doesn't cover.

How to Save Money on Pet Ownership

There are plenty of things you can do to reduce the cost of getting and owning a pet.

  • Adopt a mixed breed instead of buying a purebred animal. Mixed breed animals have less risk of genetic disorders. If you have your heart set on a specific breed, look for an affiliated rescue group instead of going to a breeder—animal breeders may not always be operating with the animal's best interest in mind. You'll find rescue groups seeking homes for Siamese cats, English bulldogs and more.
  • Choose a lower-maintenance species or breed. In general, smaller animals cost less to care for than bigger ones. Some breeds are more prone to chronic conditions; for example, German Shepherds are predisposed to hip dysplasia and Himalayan cats often have breathing problems.
  • Spay or neuter your pet. It helps prevent uterine, ovarian and testicular cancer. Low- or no-cost spay and neuter services are available in many areas.
  • Keep your pet healthy. Feed your pet a healthy diet, help them maintain an ideal weight, care for their teeth and protect against fleas and ticks to better protect against health problems in the future. Animal shelters and other organizations often hold low- or no-cost pet vaccination clinics.
  • Prevent injuries. Pet-proof your home to reduce the risk of pets choking, falling or otherwise injuring themselves.
  • When in doubt, visit the vet. It may sound counterintuitive, but getting suspicious symptoms checked out before they become major problems can save you money in the long run. The cost of having a wound cleaned out is cheaper than treating an infection, for example.

Is Pet Insurance a Good Option?

What if your pet is injured or becomes ill? Emergency vet costs can be astronomical, and treating a pet for cancer, for example, can easily run $10,000 or more. Pet insurance can protect your bank account from these financial blows.

Pet insurance generally comes in three forms: accident and illness; accident-only; and wellness, which covers preventive care like vet visits and vaccinations. In 2020, the average annual pet insurance premium for an accident and illness policy was $594 for dogs and $342 for cats.

When shopping for pet insurance, carefully evaluate the coverage and benefits. Illnesses may be defined differently by various insurance companies. The price of pet insurance is based on several factors, including your pet's species, breed, age and general health; the amount and type of coverage; the reimbursement level (plans generally reimburse a percentage of your costs); and your deductible. Depending on the insurer's criteria, your pet may even be ineligible for coverage, especially if the pet is old.

To save on pet insurance, you can:

  • Increase your deductible. This is the amount you pay before the insurance coverage kicks in. Just make sure that if you raise the deductible, you can afford to pay it.
  • Lower the reimbursement level. This may cause the insurance provider to reduce your premium.
  • Modify your coverage. On average, accident-only pet insurance costs less than half the price of accident and illness insurance. You may also be able to purchase cancer-only coverage or take a similar a la carte approach.

Pet insurers may or may not use your credit score to help determine your rates as some other insurance providers do. While maintaining a good credit score is always wise, it probably won't make a big difference in the price of pet insurance.

Regardless of Cost, a Pet's Companionship Is Priceless

Caring for your new family member may require some financial sacrifices, but the slobbery puppy kisses and sweet kitten purrs will usually make it all worthwhile. Sadly, many animals end up in shelters because their owners can't afford their care any longer. Going into pet ownership with a realistic idea of the cost helps ensure you can give your pet the "forever home" they deserve.