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Pets are our faithful companions, but the costs to care for them can add up

NEW YORK (AP) — Pets provide joy and companionship, but costs can add up quickly, especially if you’re a first-time owner and don’t know what to expect.

Many prospective dog or cat owners only focus on the positive aspects of bringing a furry friend into their lives. And there are countless reasons why pets are great. But it’s also important to have realistic expectations so you don’t face sudden expenses that could hurt your financial stability.

“It’s important to be able to choose a pet that is going to fit your budget and your lifestyle the best,” said Dr. Wendy Hauser, a veterinarian who founded her own consulting company.

When Melissa Chavez decided to get a toy poodle named Milo in the summer of 2020, she had an idea of the costs but was surprised by how fast they added up. Like many others during the pandemic, she saw her stay-at-home schedule as a perfect opportunity to get a puppy.

“I’ve never had any dogs before, so I think everything was a learning opportunity for me,” Chavez said.

If you are considering getting a pet, or looking for ways to cut costs, here are some things to consider:

RESEARCH BASIC COSTS FOR YOUR PET

Initial costs for a dog or cat go beyond the fee to adopt or buy them.

First, you need to visit a veterinarian to get them vaccinated or do a routine wellness check, which can cost around $200 to $300. Once you get them home, pets need a bed, food, leashes and harnesses and grooming supplies, among other things. While these items are fairly inexpensive individually, they can quickly add up.

On average, you can expect to spend $1,400 a year for a dog and $1,200 for a cat, according to Kerry O’Hara, chief insights officer at APPA, the American Pet Products Association, a trade group.

Knowing how much you will initially need to spend when you get a pet will help you budget.

If you want to know know which items are a must, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals offers dog and cat supply checklist for first-time pet parents.

TAKE A LOOK AT YOUR LIFESTYLE

If you are a frequent traveler or are away from home for many hours at a time, you might need to spend some extra money on boarding or daycare.

Recently, Lauren Gelber, 44, went on a family trip for two weeks and paid around $1,800 to board her two dogs. Gelber, who lives in Marin, California, said the cost was high because she has two pit bull mixes and her dog hotel charges more for large dogs.

When Sharon Simon, 64, and her husband want to go on vacation, they ask their adult children to look after their dogs.

“We couldn’t afford to board two dogs and go to Europe for two weeks,” said Simon, who lives in Salinas, California.

If you don’t want to board your pet, you could take them with you on vacation, but you will have to pay for the pet’s flight and any hotel fees.

If you need to leave your house every day for work, you might also need to invest in daycare or dog walking services. When Gelber’s children were younger, she used to take her dogs to daycare so they could be walked and socialized. That added around $800 a month to her expenses.

CONSIDER THE BREED

Doing research on the breed of pet that you will adopt is important, not only because it will help determine if they fit your life but also whether you can afford them, Hauser said.

“An example are Maine coons, they are amazing cats but they have a high incidence of heart disease so you are going to have to pay for ultrasounds and cardiac consults once or twice a year,” Hauser said.

Another example of an expensive breeds is French bulldogs, which tend to develop many health issues, Hauser said.

Gelber used to have two French bulldogs who each had their own health complications that required emergency care at a cost of $4,000 and $6,000. Gelber ended up paying a small fraction of those amounts because she had pet insurance, which she got knowing that French bulldogs are prone to getting sick.

Aside from medical issues, it’s important to consider the energy levels of the pets or if they require a specific diet that could be costly. While Gelber’s pit bull mixes are healthy and haven’t required as much medical care as her French bulldogs, she does spend more on food and boarding because of their size.

PREPARE FOR THE UNEXPECTED

A few months ago, Milo suffered a case of pancreatitis and Chavez had to pay thousands of dollars in the emergency room, which affected her budget for a while.

“I had to limit myself. I was just staying home and telling my friends ‘I’m sorry, I just spent almost $3,000 on my dog, I cannot go out to eat,’” she said.

While it’s impossible to know what the future will bring, Hauser says that there are some things pet parents can do to limit the possibility of health issues. The main one is consistently taking your pet for wellness checks.

“We would much rather detect diseases early and manage them and have the pet live a longer, better quality life than to put out a fire,” Hauser said. Two important things to keep track of are dental care and weight, she added.

Pet owners can also get health insurance, though some feel it’s not worth the cost.

Chavez’ recent emergency bill made her second guess her decision to not get pet insurance for Milo. Gelber also benefited from pet insurance for her dogs’ emergency bills. But Simon, who has had dogs for 25 years, has never gotten pet insurance and has not needed it during that time.

Whether you have pet insurance or not, it’s good to have some savings in case you need to pay for an unexpected vet visit.

LOOK FOR WAYS TO CUT COSTS

There are ways to cut the cost of caring for pets. Chavez recommends that other new pet owners not get impulsive about buying everything they see online.

“Don’t get influenced to get things that you might not need because it will add up,” Chavez said.

To save some money, she joined Facebook groups in her area where people give out pet items for free. She’s gotten things like a pet carrier but also sold or gifted things that she ended up not needing, like a car seat for her dog. Chavez also got her dogs’ vaccines through Petco’s affordable veterinary care clinics, which offer vaccines at a lower cost.

You can cut some daycare costs by asking family members or friends to take care of your pet. If you need help with pet food, you can search pet food pantries around the country at Pet Help Finder.

Regardless of how much they have spent on their dogs, Chavez, Gelbert and Simon agree they don’t regret having them in their lives.

“The cost is 100% worth it, they are members of our family. I would just say you have to know (the cost) going into it,” Gelber said.

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The Associated Press receives support from Charles Schwab Foundation for educational and explanatory reporting to improve financial literacy. The independent foundation is separate from Charles Schwab and Co. Inc. The AP is solely responsible for its journalism.

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