Our pets are priceless to us, but they certainly aren’t priceless to our wallets. Pet care costs are often underestimated and can put a surprising dent into our budget.
The ASPCA website has a helpful chart of minimum expected costs for humane care for most common pets – dogs, cats, rabbits, guineas pigs, fish, birds and other small mammals. It breaks out the “capital” costs such as spaying/neutering, initial supplies, houses/cages/tanks, and training classes and the “operating” costs such as yearly expenses for food, toys, licenses, and medical needs.
Annual costs range from $875 for a large dog to $35 for a fish. Remember, these are the minimum costs that are considered humane. Any large dog owner will tell you the annual food costs alone can approach $875.
How can you save money and maintain a happy, healthy pet? Here are a few ideas:
- Food – Pet food can be a sizeable expense. The ASCPA chart lists surprising ranges – a large dog is expected to consume a minimum of $235 per month in food, but a rabbit comes in second with $190 in food.
The best way to save money on food is to not overfeed. Many of us overfeed our pets (and perhaps ourselves), but this is bad for your pet as well as your pocketbook. Overfeeding fish is perhaps the most common reason for their deaths. For dogs, resist the urge to leave bowls constantly filled with food and to use treats excessively during training.
Keep in mind that the cheapest food is not necessarily the best – a midrange-priced food could contain fewer additives and keep your pet full and healthy with a lesser portion. Conversely, there is no reason to overpay for a specialized food unless that is what your pet requires.
- Preventative Care – Just as with people, preventative care will cost a lot less than emergency medical services or treatment of disease. Check-ups are an essential part of maintaining your pet’s health and preventing large-scale expenses down the road.
Using dogs for an example, failure to vaccinate can lead to ailments such as parvovirus, which can rack up over $1,000 in medical bills through IV fluids, medications, and other monitoring and treatment steps in the pet hospital. Overfeeding and/or a poor diet can lead to gastric torsion and a bill in the $400-$600 range. Failure to keep ears clean (the dog’s, not yours) can lead to a $300-$500 ear canal ablation.
For active pets such as large dogs, make sure they get adequate exercise. Take them for a nice long walk; that will be good for both of you.
Insuring your pet may make sense (although probably not for your rabbit or fish), and could save you money in the longer term if you go to greater lengths in end-of-life care. As unpleasant as it is, you should have a family discussion about the extent of care you are willing to pay for in the later years. For example, canine radiation therapy for cancer treatments can run in the range of $2,000-$6,000 and the total bill can approach $10,000. Trying to make these emotional decisions during a crisis often leads to greater expense without necessarily being the best action for your pet.
- Compare Prices – From veterinarians to food to supplies, there are many options. Prices for food, toys and medicines vary considerably, so shop around and consider online vendors – although you must be very careful when comparing medicines that the dosages are equivalent. Do some research to find a veterinarian that you are comfortable with and that charges reasonable rates. Price comparison is also useful for boarding and grooming services, although you can save even more by grooming your pet yourself and reducing the number of boarding situations. If you have to board your pet frequently, you should consider whether your lifestyle is suitable for pet ownership.
Our pets can keep us grounded and cheer us up after a tough day. They deserve to be treated well – and with some extra effort, you can have both a happy and healthy pet and a happy and fat wallet.