[ The Money Side of Lifeā„¢ ]

Pet Detective: The hidden costs of owning a pet

By Jeremy Da Rosa on November 1st, 2009 •

Not all pets are created equal, and total expenses and time required to care for your chosen beast are often overlooked in the pet shop. Investigating ownership costs prior to bringing a pet home can save money and headaches, before it's too late and you have to get fixed.

Must love dogs

An American Pet Product Manufacturers Association (APPMA) survey says that 39% of U.S. households have at least one dog. As an owner, you'll have a dog's share of goodies to buy.

  • Purchase prices for purebreds can range from a few hundred to four thousand dollars for puppies with perfect pedigrees. Mutts, like off-brand products, are much cheaper and just as friendly.
  • The APPMA survey indicated an average veterinary bill of $219 per dog owner each year (generally, the smaller the breed, the longer the lifespan, so extrapolate accordingly).
  • Large dogs obviously pack away more food than their smaller cousins, so be prepared to pay for that Great Dane.
  • Budget for toys, care materials (bath supplies, nail clippers, brushes), and a good vacuum to clean up hair and casualties of puppy enthusiasm.

Try not to overlook random doggie expenses, even if you have a loving layer of slobber on your new glasses.

Cats – more than a Broadway musical

If you prefer sass and independence, you're not alone. According to the APPMA survey, 34% of U.S. households own cats. Feline friends typically cost less than canine compatriots, and still provide a degree of companionship.

  • The APPMA annual vet bill estimate is $175 per cat.
  • Prices start around free if you don't want a purebred.
  • Since cats are roughly equally sized, there's less of a disparity in prices for food compared to dogs. Expect to shell out $120–$200 each year for kitty cuisine.
  • Kitty litter and accompanying materials cost around $70 – $150 per year.
  • Medicines and other care items, toys, scratch posts, and spay/neuter costs are among the expenses that many new cat owners are unprepared for.

Don't let their aloofness fool you. Cats might think they're better than their canine counterparts, but they need just as much care as man's best friend.

For the birds

Granted, you probably won't be cuddling with a parakeet in front of the television, but for the space-challenged person, a feathered flier might be exactly what the doctor ordered.

  • Prices for birds can range from around $15 to hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
  • The initial supplies needed include a cage, care items (wing scissors, nail clippers, etc.), food/water dishes, perches and toys. Budget at least $250 for initial costs.
  • Don't be fooled into thinking birds require less time than dogs or cats. They need just as much attention to be healthy and happy.
  • Larger birds (parrots, macaws, etc.) can live for decades, so consider your future plans when choosing a species.

A feathered friend can keep you company while watching cooking shows, but don't overlook these costs just because Polly says "bacon."

Fish in a barrel

If you aren't one for pet personality, but want something to watch, fish may be the way to go. Of course, don't rush out and buy a bucketful without consulting your local aquarium expert.

  • To do it right, you'll need to budget for tons of aquarium accessories that are essential to maintaining a healthy tank. These supplies, along with a 29-gallon start-up aquarium, can run around $550. There are ways to cut corners on these costs, but depending on the fish you get, there are some things your aquarium just can't live without.
  • For beginning fish owners, stay away from saltwater tanks. They require more time, space, care and money.
  • Decorations are a must! You can find reasonable prices on gravel, sunken ships, glass marbles, and those plastic plants fish love, but it's easy to get carried away.
  • Fish prices, as usual, will vary depending on size and species, and reasonable options abound.

Don't let the lack of physical fish contact fool you into thinking the responsibility will also be minimal.

The Bottom Line

Three million to four million cats and dogs are euthanized each year, according to The Humane Society. Before you buy a pet, be sure your budget and lifestyle can support your decision. To learn more about pet care, start-up costs and pricing, check out peteducation.com and hsus.org.

Sources: hsus.org, nymag.com, petco.com, npr.org, catcustomer.com, peteducation.com