Hidden Costs of Owning a Dog or Cat

It’s interesting to see how blind we often are to expenses that are tied to emotional attachments. Some people “love” their sports team and wouldn’t think twice about multi-thousand dollar season tickets. Not to do so wouldn’t even occur to them. To call financial cost a secondary concern would be giving it way too much credence. Others can’t bear the thought of life without their elite-model sports car, or another sort of possession. I have noticed that a vast majority of pet owners (specifically dog and cat owners) fit into this group of people who will always have pets to matter what their cost because their emotional attachment is so strong. Now I’m not one of these frugal gurus who will tell you to destroy every possession that brings you comfort in the name of an escalating investment portfolio. Instead, I just think everyone should make informed decisions about how much proverbial bang they are getting for their buck. In the case of dogs and cats there are several expenses that the average owner pays and often forgets, these are referred to as hidden costs. I think there are a lot of people that will look at the numbers below and make the informed response of, “My dog/cat is worth so much more than that,” and that’s totally fine! I just found it interesting to figure out how much most people actually do spend on their pets, and to hear peoples’ reactions when it was put down on paper.

Before we get into some of the costs that pet owners take on without really thinking about them, let’s take a look at some of the annual costs of owning a dog and a cat, with some one-time costs thrown in as well. I myself have no pets, so I’m going on general numbers given to me by a friend:

hidden pet costsFood: Dog $250 Cat $150
Recurring Medical: $150
Toys and Treats: $50
Collar/Leash: $20
Spay/Neuter: $200
Crate/Carrier: $100-$300
Pet Insurance: $400
Miscellaneous (scratching post, litter box, fence): $50-$200

 

As you can see, in your first year of ownership $1000 is not an unreasonable number, and it may even climb substantially over that. After the first year some of those capital costs won’t have to be spent annually, but a carrier doesn’t last forever either. I find that when you are passionate about something it is easy to consciously lose track of the costs involved. I am this way when thinking about my addiction to football. Upgrading my TV package just seems natural, no matter what the monthly cost if it allows me to watch my team more often!

Even those numbers make a saver like me cringe, but think about the things that are not included in that list. For example, what about the furniture your cat and/or dog tears to shreds? If you are fine with keeping worn furniture for a long time it might not really have any effect on your pocket book since your resale value would be almost nothing anyway, but if you ever want to re-sell furniture you have no value there, and if you put any stock in having newer furniture, then you’ll have to replace the old sofa and chair more often than if you didn’t have a pet. On a similar note, think about the broader value of your house. It’s pretty well established that having a house cat or house dog will lower the value of your house and make it harder to sell. That is why every home sale show or guide will tell you to vacuum, put the food dish away, and have someone else take care of your pet for a time while you show your home. A home that has no evidence of a pet being there is simply worth more. Just in selling your home alone, a pet might cost you $5K or even $10K.  The same reasoning can also be applied to your vehicle if you allow your pets in there too.  Also, it eliminates some buyer interest altogether because of guys like me that are allergic to certain pet dander.

The final hidden cost is time and energy. That sounds like a terribly dispassionate way to refer to a “member of the family” for some people, but it is true. Some days you may want to use your leisure time to walk the dog or groom them, but other days you likely won’t. To be considered a good pet owner you still have to go do these little “chores” when you could be doing something else productive. This little opportunity cost is often ignored as well.

I’m sorry if I offended pet-lovers out there (I know they are a strong group), but I just want people to be aware of the real cost that comes with the beloved little kitten or puppy they see in the window. Most people are able to factor in the cost for a bag of food into their budget, but are the other costs really common sense? Are these numbers at lease close to the average in your experience? Does it affect your immediate emotional response at all?

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About Kyle

Kyle is a high school humanities teacher by day, and freelance personal finance author by night. He has been published in academic journals, and has also co-authored the book "More Money for Beer and Textbooks". In his free time Kyle likes to limp up and down a basketball court and pretend to be a tough guy in a boxing ring.

13 Responses to Hidden Costs of Owning a Dog or Cat

    • Yup, I’ve heard the same thing as Lance about pet insurance!

      I think your estimate about the first year of pet expenses is pretty right on, but I think subsequent years can be just as much, especially the medical part. Heartworm pills, flea and tick prevention, plus vaccines run me upwards of $250 yearly.

      And you didn’t factor in boarding or a pet sitter… unless you never go on vacation without your pet!

  1. I agree! In fact, I did not want another dog after our last one died. My wife and son convinced me and we adopted (3rd time) a dog. You talk about all the costs, but you must include all the things you get from having a pet. They are absolutely priceless!

  2. You are right – pets are very expensive. But once we have them very soon we start thinking of them as part of the family – I bet different members of your family are expensive from time to time; I know this is the case wtih me. My children are my main liability, sure – but if you ask me to think of them in this terms this will be terribly reductionist.

    We had a dog; she was a border collie – cleverer than many colleagues of mine. She knew more about sociology and philosophy os science than my colleagues as well when I was finishing my PhD. Not to mention that she was the only one who listened to my continuous ramblings :). Worth her weight in gold, she was!

  3. I think here in my country India no insurer is offering pet insurance so insurance cost $400 can be removed and rest of that list would be applied as it is so here it would be $600 if anyone thinking about owning a dog or cat as a pet.

    Thanks for this article T.Man !

  4. Yeah, forget pet insurance.

    Your food estimate is way off. My two cats go through a large bag a month — at $38 a pop that’s more than $400 annually — that mostly ends up in the litter box. Speaking of which, you also overlooked litter at $9 a bag twice monthly for an extra $200+.

    Of course for me, the decision to get pets wasn’t affected in any way, shape or form by a budget, rather by a want to have a pal around the house at all times.

  5. Our cat is well worth the money we spend on him… but it’s the damage he causes that pains us the most. The scratches in our leather couch, the pulls on our clothing, the scratches on our wood furniture. I know he doesn’t do it on purpose… but it sucks when he damages our sofa – because he’s chasing his tail yet again!

  6. It is expensive to own a dog but I think the companionship outweighs those costs if you are living alone. That being said-I don’t plan on getting a dog for a while. We had to put my childhood dog down a bit ago and he was amazing!
    Chase

  7. Good article that should be read by all potential pet owners.

    Expenses can increase as pets age. That’s not always realized when a cute new kitten or puppy enters one’s life. Geriatric pets may need special and more costly types of food. And, medical costs may soar. Our Lab, at eight years old, required surgery to manage Laryngeal Paralysis, a condition common to older and larger dogs. That surgery controlled, not cured, the condition and bought our dog a few more years. The assessment, surgery, hospitalization, and so on, totalled around $6,000.00. We chose to pay. The alternative was euthanization.

    Also, if a city-dweller owns a dog, then an addition under the annual expense column is the dog licence.

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