The True Cost of Pet Ownership [+Checklist]

Dog sitting on welcome mat that says Home on it

Have you been contemplating adding a new pet to your family? Or maybe you’re like me and can’t remember a time when you didn’t have a furry companion. Regardless of if you already have a pet or are planning to get one, there are several costs involved that you may not be aware of.

I’ve had dogs and cats my whole life, but it wasn’t until I deliberately started tracking our pet expenses that I realized just how many there are and how quickly they add up.

Here are the top costs of owning a pet I’ve experienced.

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Food

The cost of food may seem like an obvious expense, but it’s also one of the most variable ones.

Depending on the type of pet you have, its size, and the quality of food you choose to buy, you could be spending anywhere from $20 a month to $100 or more.

Our first adoption, Duke, was supposedly a lab puppy.

Labs usually weigh in around 50 pounds or so. He ended up topping out at 100 pounds. A few years later we adopted Bandit, a German Shepherd mix who weighs in at around 60 pounds.

I don’t remember the exact cost of their food as puppies, but I know the pet food budget grew as they did and we ended up paying close to $200 a month just in food once the 2 of them were full grown.

If you’re looking to cut down on the dog food expense without sacrificing quality, check out Dog Food Advisor for reviews and comparisons.

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Supplies

The type of pet you’re getting will determine the supplies you need but here’s a list of some of the most common ones:

  • collar, leash, harness, and tag
  • food and water bowls
  • bed, crate, or carrier
  • litter or pooper scooper
  • scratching post or climbing tower
  • cages, habitats, and accessories (for smaller pets)

These expenses will vary, but knowing what the extra costs associated with caring for your pet once you bring him home will help you prepare your budget ahead of time.

Medical Care

When you first adopt a pet, you’ll have a barrage of medical expenses that you may not be expecting.

From the initial vet visit and vaccinations to any preventative care like heart-worm medication and flea treatments, your expenses can quickly add up.

Also, most shelters require you to spay or neuter your pet, though they often include this procedure in your adoption fees.

And those are just the immediate expenses for a healthy pet.

Duke wearing a medical cone around his head .
Duke was always in the cone of shame for one reason or another

When we picked up Bandit from the vet after her spaying, she ended up having distemper.

Within 24 hours she was hooked up to IV fluids and spent a weekend under veterinary care.

I don’t remember the exact cost, but I know it was several hundred dollars we weren’t expecting.

There’s no getting around the expense of veterinary bills, but preparing for them in advance can make those situations a lot less stressful.

Start by budgeting for your initial adoption and vaccination fees as well as any expected checkups.

Also, consider starting a sinking fund for the unexpected visits you’re bound to make.

While there’s not a lot of financial wiggle room with most vet visits, there are some ways you can reduce your costs.

  • Check with your local vet and pet stores to see if they offer free vaccine clinics
  • Order medications and food online
  • Consider purchasing pet insurance

I don’t have a lot of experience with pet insurance and I’ve read conflicting information so make sure to do your research.

Here are some resources to help:

Toys

Most pets like to play. How much and with what is an exploration you’ll get to experience, and an expense you may not expect.

Close up of dog toy hanging by its last thread with the dog in the background waiting to play.
Bandit’s favorite toy to chew and chase.

While I have a tendency to spoil my kids (furry or otherwise), I’ve learned over the years that they tend to gravitate to either one specific toy, or one type of toy.

Some of our pups’ favorites have been balls, nesting toys, and anything that squeaks. Unfortunately, these don’t always last long. You can spend a small fortune replenishing your dog’s toy bin if you’re not careful.

By far the cheapest, most popular, and longest lasting toy I’ve ever bought has been a laser pointer. Not only was it a hit with my cat, my dogs, and even the neighbor’s dog, it’s also the easiest, most durable, and least messy way to play with your pet.

Grooming

Grooming is an expense that largely depends on the type of pet you get.

Assuming your new family member doesn’t bathe itself, you’re going to have to do the job yourself. Shampoos and conditioners range in pricing, but investing in a good brush will save you time and money down the road.

You can also outsource your grooming chores. Survey your new friends at the dog park to get some names so you can shop around. Different groomers have different pricing models. Some price by breed (type of fur) while some price solely based on size.

Have them give you an estimate for your particular pet so you can determine if the cost is worth it.

Boarding/Sitting

We can’t always take our pets with us when we travel, so it’s important to determine how often and when you’ll need to board them or find a pet sitter.

Pet sitting and boarding costs can vary dramatically based on who you use but there are some strategies to avoid this.

If you have family or friends with pets you can try to swap sitting duties. Or if you have neighbors or know some responsible teenagers, you can often hire them for less than an advertised sitter.

Even if you don’t have travel plans anytime soon, it’s a good idea to get some names and price estimates so you can be ready when the time comes.

Licensing

Most cities and towns require some sort of dog licensing.

I’m not sure about other animals, so you’ll want to check with your local authorities to see what’s required.

It’s not usually a lot, but some localities do make it a recurring expense tied to tracking their rabies vaccination. This makes it easy to plan ahead and budget for the expense.

Time

Finally, the biggest hidden expense of having a pet is the amount of time they demand.

Don’t bring a pet into your home and expect it to just play in a corner by itself.

You’ll need to plan for play time, training time, feeding time, bathing time, exercise time, and if you get lucky enough to have a snuggly pet, snuggle time.

When you commit to bringing a pet into your home, you’re committing to giving up a lot of your time to care for it.

There’s a huge reward of love and companionship for making this sacrifice, but if you neglect to factor in just how much care a pet can take, it may cost you.

Picture of the hole our dog Duke licked in the wall
Just one of the holes Duke licked in the wall.

When we first got Duke, apparently we weren’t playing with him enough to keep him from getting bored. His remedy for that boredom was to lick holes in the walls.

Bandit is a chewer, but luckily she sticks to rocks and her toys. While the toys aren’t super expensive to replace, dogs that go after shoes or clothes might present more of a challenge.

Not paying enough attention to your pet can cause behavioral issues that may cost you even more time and money down the road.

The Cost of Pet Ownership is High, But Totally Worth It

Pets are great and I can’t imagine not having the companionship they bring.

But if you’re interested in bringing a furry friend into your home, it pays to be aware of the costs involved up front.

Don’t let the aww factor turn into the doh! factor when pet expenses start stacking up. Be prepared and you’ll be best friends forever.

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The True Cost of Pet Ownership Pinterest pin

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