Having a pet can be an amazing experience. Nothing beats snuggling up for a nap with a fuzzy cat, or coming home to an excitable puppy who has been WAITING FOR YOU ALL DAY!!!
But pet ownership isn't all kitten kisses and puppy love, and before you adopt a furry friend, you need to be sure you're ready for the responsibility that comes with keeping an animal alive and happy. Every year, thousands of animals are returned to shelters by people who weren't adequately prepared to make the adoption in the first place, and sadly, most of the cats and dogs who get returned won't make it out of there alive. If you're going to bring an animal into your home, you need to be in it for the long-haul, and be prepared to make a significant emotional and financial commitment to this creature.
Seriously, I cannot guilt trip you enough about this: there is nothing sadder than giving a vulnerable animal a home and then taking it away because you "bit off more than you could chew." If you want a good cry, check out this piece from The Dodo on the lame excuses shelter workers hear people when they give up their pets--they're all pretty heartbreaking.
So now that you've decided you'll stand by your pet no matter what (don't make me link you to even sadder articles on shelter life), let's crunch the numbers. Pets are a serious financial undertaking, so you need to budget accordingly before you take the plunge into parenthood. I'm going to focus exclusively on cats and dogs in this post, so if you're looking to get another kind of pet, like a bird, ferret, rabbit or lizard, make sure to do your own research before heading to the pet store.
How much does a cat cost?
Adoption Fee -- $60-$100*
Adoption fees can vary depending on the shelter, the age and general health of the cat, and how many veterinary services have been provided prior to the adoption. Most shelters will charge more for kittens, and less for older cats who have health problems, and most provide standard veterinary care (vaccinations, spay/neuter surgery/microchip insertion, etc) for every cat before they're adopted.
*You can also adopt a cat through a breeder, but their fees are significantly higher ($500-$1,000). See my note on how to pick a reputable breeder below in the section on dog breeders.
Spay/Neuter Surgery & Vaccinations -- $100-$150
You don't have to adopt a cat from a shelter, of course. Maybe a stray will capture your heart, or maybe a friend's cat will unexpectedly deliver a litter of kittens. In these cases, you'll need to pay for spay/neuter surgery and initial vaccinations yourself.
Litter Box -- $5-$30
You can get a standard litter pan for about $5 at PetSmart or Petco, but unless you have a basement or secluded place to put it, I recommend pricing up and going with a lidded box. Having a cover helps keep unsavory smells at bay, and a small entrance-way makes cleanup easier, because your cat won't be accidentally kicking litter over the side all the time.
Collar & Tag -- $10
This might not seem necessary if you're planning on keeping your cat inside, but if he gets lost, you'll be glad you invested in it.
Grooming materials -- $8
Trust me. You're going to want a brush for your cat. Fluffy cats can get mats in their fur that you have to cut out, and short haired cats shed more than you could ever imagine. If you'd like to keep your home from becoming clogged with cat hair, you should brush your cat a few times a week.
Pet Deposit -- varies
Some apartment complexes charge a monthly cat rent (anywhere from $10-$50), some ask for a lump sum up front (usually around $200), and some don't charge anything, but you need to find out what you need to pay BEFORE you adopt a cat.
Food -- $20/month
Pro tip: buying in bulk saves a lot of money, as does putting your cat on a regular feeding schedule. You might think you're being nice by keeping their bowl constantly full of food, but this might lead to overeating, weight problems, and dietary issues. Talk to your vet to see how much food your cat really needs.
Litter -- $12/month
Once again, buy this in bulk if you want to spend less.
Vet visits -- $200/year*
A healthy cat needs a checkup about once a year, which typically run about $60-$70 per visit, depending on the vet. But accidents happen, so keep about $200 in budget for emergency vet visits.
*Keep in mind that serious stuff, like emergency surgery or long-term health problems, is going to cost a LOT more than this. If you don't have an emergency fund you'd be willing to dip into to help cover your pet's medical costs, you probably should think twice before you adopt an animal.
Toys -- $15/year
Cats are easily amused. Sure, they might love that squeaky toy mouse, but they're also just as content playing with a ball of crumpled up paper. Definitely invest in 2-3 fun toys for your feline friend, but don't feel like you need to spend a fortune on fancy cat toys that they might never touch.
TOTAL FIRST YEAR CAT COSTS -- $1,035*
How much does a dog cost?
Adoption Fee -- $50-$400
Adopting a dog from a shelter is the cheapest option up front, but be aware that some shelter dogs have been through both emotional and physical trauma (like abuse and abandonment), and may require additional love, training and medical care.
Breeder Fee -- $500-$3,000
On the flip side, if you decide to go with a breeder, always do your research beforehand. Make sure you're picking a reputable breeder who you're positive isn't running a puppy mill on the side. For more information on how to identify a responsible breeder, please refer to this pamphlet from the Humane Society.
Spay/Neuter Surgery & Vaccinations -- $200-$300
This will vary depending on the size and breed of your dog, but most shelters and some breeders will take care of this for you, and will include the cost in the adoption fee.
Crate -- $30-$125
No, I'm not saying you should keep your dog cooped up all day, but you might want to train your dog to sleep in a crate at night, or at least have it around for when you have parties or need a bit of peace and quiet. And most dogs actually like the coziness of curling up in a crate.
Baby Gates -- $30-$60
If you want to keep your dog out of certain areas of the house, you'll want to invest in baby gates before you bring home an excitable puppy.
Food & Water Bowls -- $10-$20
Dogs get VERY excited when food is around, so you're going to need two sturdy bowls to hold their food and water. Ceramic and glass bowls might be pretty, but they can break easily. If you don't want your doggie to accidentally eat a shard of her old food bowl while she feasts, invest in some heavy-duty metal bowls.
Collar, Tags & Leash -- $40
You're gonna need these to take long, luxurious walks with your new pup! Get a leash that's 4-6 feet long, and make sure to get tags that have your phone number and address on them in case your dog gets lost.
Training Classes -- $100
Unless you're a master dog whisperer, it will do you well to invest in some training classes for your dog. No one wants to be around a dog that can't sit, stay, or get off the couch when necessary, and this is especially important if you have children in the home.
Food -- $20-$30/month
This can vary depending on how big your dog is. As always, buying in bulk helps keep food costs down.
Vet Visits -- $250/year*
*Again, if your dog needs any emergency care or has serious health issues, this number is going to be a LOT higher. If you don't think you can afford a $2,000 emergency vet bill, please don't get a dog.
Toys & Treats -- $100/year
Unlike cats, dogs are usually SUPER into their store-bought toys, and they go through them quickly. Make sure you always have a few bones, balls or chew toys on hand for your dog to entertain herself with.
TOTAL FIRST YEAR DOG COSTS -- $1,843*
*Estimated by the ASPCA/not including breeder fees.
Additional pet costs (you might not have considered)
Sure, you've got the basics covered, but there are a few other pet costs that you may not have considered:
Babysitting & Boarding -- $20-$60/night
One thing to think about before you get a pet is how often you plan on going out of town. Cats are a little easier to deal with than dogs in this regard, because you can usually leave them on their own for one or two days and they'll be fine with a big bowl of food and water. But if you have a dog, or if you're planning on going away for more than a weekend, unless you have a very enthusiastic friend who will do it for free, you're going to need to pay someone to look after your pet.
Damage Repair & Replacement -- varies
Animals are adorable, but they can also be destructive little buggers. My cats went through a phase of clawing up the doorways in my old apartment (pro tip: stop this behavior by sticking double-sided tape to the places where your cats usually scratch, they hate the stickiness and they stopped immediately after I tried this), and I ended up paying for this mischief in the form of a significantly reduced security deposit. Animals are really good at ruining things, so if, for example, your dog likes to chew up leather shoes, or your cat is super into peeing on the couch cushions, keep this in mind when arranging your budget.
Grooming -- $100-$400
If you have a huge fluffy dog, or a particularly mat-prone cat, you're probably going to need to hire a professional to keep their coats clean and free of tangles.
Professional Dog Walker -- $12-$20/walk
If you're thinking of getting a dog and you spend most of your day at work, you're going to need to hire a dog walker to keep your living room accident-free and your pup happy and healthy.
Special Dietary Needs -- varies
Some animals, like people, have food allergies. Some need special food for weight management, kidney issues or urinary tract problems. These foods tend to cost more than the regular bargain stuff, so make sure you have enough in your budget to cover any unexpected dietary needs your new furry friend might have.
This article first appeared in Brad's Deals.