How Much Do Pets Really Cost? Pet Ownership Costs Guide for 2021


So what does it really cost to have a pet? I’ll cover the two most common pets in this article – dogs and cats – though of course many people have other animals like rabbits, birds, and snakes. My neighbor even has a pet pig.

Rent and Other Home Costs

Before you look for a furry new friend, there are a few things to consider. If you rent, you’ll want to check and see if you’re allowed to keep a pet. If so, you may be subject to three different fees (though some landlords do not charge anything extra):

  • Pet deposit – This is in addition to your regular deposit and can be as high as 70% of your rent (so if your rent is $1,000 a month, the pet deposit could be $700). If your pet damages the apartment (scratches, pees repeatedly in a spot), the landlord will use this money to make repairs when you move out.
  • Pet rent – This is in addition to your monthly rent and is typically $50 – $100 a month.
  • Pet fee – This is a one-time fee and is often as high as $300.

Each state has its own laws on what can be charged, so you’ll want to check out local laws.

And before you bring home your furry friend, it’s helpful to think about renter’s insurance. Renter’s insurance can cover you if your pet hurts someone. You’ll want to look for dog liability insurance but note that there aren’t products out there that will cover you it if your dog destroys the apartment. That will be taken out of your deposit.

Related: Is Renter’s Insurance Worth the Cost?

If you own your own place, your biggest consideration will be how your pet might add extra wear and tear. Larger animals can damage hardwood floors or rip up carpeting.

Estimated Cost: $600+ per year

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Adoption Fees

When I bought my two furry friends, I got them at the local animal shelter – each of my kitten’s adoptions cost $100. If I’d wanted to buy a commercially-breed cat, I would have been out of luck. In my state of California, the sale of animals through commercial breeders is illegal (though individual breeders can still operate).

As it turns out, going the shelter route has a few advantages.

First, you’ll save money. The cost to adopt a pet is lower than buying from a breeder. And because shelters often have trouble finding homes for older pets, they are often cheaper. In fact, when my family was first thinking about adopting a cat, I started monitoring the different animal shelters in my area. I noticed that many of the pets had been “sponsored” by the shelter’s supporters – meaning they paid the adoption fee, making it cost nothing for the adopting family.

Second, local veterinarians often have deals with animal shelters. When I adopted my cats, I had a few options of local vets that were willing to see my cat for free for the first visit. Visits with my local vet cost $50 and that’s before the vet runs any tests or prescribes any medicine (like to prevent fleas or protect them against common illnesses). Plus, many shelter animals will have already gotten a bunch of vaccinations and medical care.

Finally, you’ll feel great about helping to rescue an animal in need (though lots of people end up saying they feel like the animal rescued them).

But if you want to get a special breed, you’ll be looking at a much higher price tag. Professionally bred dogs and cats can easily cost more than $1,000. Look for a reputable breeder by asking around for recommendations.

Estimated Cost: $100+ (one time fee)

Essentials on Day One

Before you bring your furry friend home, you’ll want to stop at a pet store to get the essentials.

Dogs

Dogs are pretty simple in terms of what you need:

  • Leash – A leash is essential for taking your new puppy/dog out for a walk and to go to the bathroom. You can get something simple for a few dollars, though more sophisticated ones can cost upwards of $20.
  • Collar – You can’t use the leash without a collar. These typically cost around $10, but if you want special colors or designs, you can spend much more.
  • Dog tag – You’ll want to include personalized information on the collar so that if your dog wanders, your neighbor knows who to call. You can get this online for about $6.
  • Food and water bowl – You can use something simple you have at home or get a dedicated food and water bowl. There’s a huge range of prices for these depending on design, materials, and whether they do anything fancy (like self-dispensing food and water).
  • Food – You’ll need dog food, of course, but I recommend not buying this until you’ve gotten a recommendation from the animal shelter (the shelter will likely give you a day or two worth of food). For more on pet food, see the next section.
  • Baggies – When you walk your dog, you’ll need to pick up their poop. These can be simple baggies, but they are a must-have!

On the lower end (without food), you’re looking at about $25 to get started, though you could easily drop a few hundred dollars on this gear.

Estimated Cost: $50+

Cats

Cats need a few more essentials than dogs to get going, but that’s mainly because you won’t be taking them outside to go to the bathroom. You’ll need:

  • Litter box – Litter boxes can range from very simple and cheap (less than $5) to well over $500 for a box that promises it’s self-cleaning. Experts say you’ll want at least one litter box per cat, so if you have two cats, you’ll want at least two litter boxes.
  • Kitty litter – You’ll need to clean the litter box daily, but you won’t need to change the litter nearly as much. You can buy kitty litter at pet stores or your local grocery store. A bag will cost around $10.
  • Food and water bowl – Again, you can get something super simple (a plastic bowl that you already own would work just fine) or something super fancy. You can even get self-dispensing cat food bowls (which can be great if you’re going to be away from home for a day) for as low as $15 but these can easily go up to $100. Similarly with the water bowl, a plain bowl is just fine but if you want a water fountain for your cat, these can be as little as $20.
  • Scratching post – Unless you want to see your couch ripped to shreds, this is an essential cat tool. Cats need to scratch (if you’re thinking about declawing cats, know that the thinking on this has changed in recent decades. Not only is declawing cats an unnecessary surgery and an added expense, declawing amputates the last bone on each of the cat’s toe). You can buy simple ones for $10 or extravagant ones with multiple layers and places for the cats to hide for over $100.

Just like with a dog, if you get the cheapest gear, you’re looking at $30 to start.

Estimated Cost: $75+

Food

There’s a ton of variety here, so you’ll need to consider what type of food you want to feed your pet. The size of your animal will also dictate how much you need to buy.

When I switched to an all-raw diet for our cats – it helps make their poop smell less bad – I saw an immediate difference in their health and on my wallet. Per cat, I was spending $50 a month. That was at least double what I’d paid with a combination of dry and wet food.

If you’re looking at dog food, this is typically priced per pound – so get some estimates on the amount of food your dog will eat to make a monthly budget. Again, there’s a huge range in costs depending on whether you want dry food or a more specialized diet.

Estimated Cost: $50 a month

Toys

Balls, stuffed animals, laser pointers – these are all things that can help keep your fury friend engaged and happy. But while you can throw down hundreds on these toys, you don’t need to spend a lot here. Look online for dog trainers to see what fun and cheap activities they recommend. And for cats, providing them with a place to perch up high (and monitor what’s happening in each room) will go a long way.

Estimated Cost: $25

Training

While this would be money poorly spent on cats, if you’re a dog owner, you’re going to want to sign up for a puppy training course. You can join a class with your dog for $200 – $600 (for a six week course). If a class setting isn’t your thing, you can hire a personal dog trainer to work with you one-on-one, though you’ll be looking at a much higher hourly rate. You can even hire a dog trainer to do it for you, though many dog trainers say their courses are as much about training humans to interact with dogs as they are to train the dogs themselves.

Estimated Cost: $400

Pet Sitters

This is a big one for me – when I travel, I need to know my pets are okay. My local vet had boarding services, but I wasn’t keen on having my cats in a kennel all day, so I looked into pet sitters. In my neighborhood, pet sitters typically ran about $20-$40 per visit, so a one week trip would cost me an additional $140 in pet sitting fees alone.

If your animal is on a special diet where they eat twice a day or you have a dog that needs to be walked frequently, it may be worth it to look into a pet sitter that stays at your house while you are gone.

If you need help finding a pet sitter, I found a decent pet sitter from Rover in the past.

Estimated Cost: $150 per week of vacation

Keeping them Healthy

The first time I went to the vet when my cat had a flea problem, it cost well over $300. Each time I saw a vet, it cost $50 per cat – and that was before the vet ran any tests or gave my cats any medicine.

This is the area that is probably the biggest unknown. Most pets will need to see the vet at least once a year, so I’d budget at least $200 for that. But if your pet has bigger problems – they get hit by a car, they develop a cancerous lump, they get diabetes, you’ll end up paying a lot in terms of treatment.

Pet Insurance

If you are concerned about an unexpected veterinary bill or just want to make routine checkups a bit less expensive, look at your pet insurance options. One thing to keep in mind is that unlike human health insurance, pet insurance doesn’t work the same – there’s not a network you need to consider. Instead, you’ll pay your bill at the vet and then submit a claim to the company. In practical terms, this means you’ll either need cash on hand or a big enough credit limit to put it on your credit card.

Embrace

If you want a fast quote for your pet, then Embrace is a great way to get started. The company provides “Nose-to-Tail” insurance coverage – in other words, accidents, illnesses, breed-specific and genetic conditions, cancer, and dental illnesses. They also cover prescription medicines. Embrace offers a wide range of reimbursement limits and annual deductibles. Read the full Embrace review.

Pumpkin Pet Insurance

If you are looking for pet insurance that includes preventative coverage, check out Pumpkin. They specialize in cats and dogs and have three different policy deductible levels. They even have discounts for multiple pets. Another great feature about Pumpkin is that they cover behavioral treatments – most other companies do not. Read the full Pumpkin Review

Estimated Cost: $200+ a year

Lemonade Pet Insurance

Launching its pet insurance in 2020, Lemonade’s insurance provides coverage for dogs and cats as low as $10 per month. Although dental coverage isn’t included, if your pet’s teeth receive damage or need extraction, it can cover the costs. If you bundle your home or renter’s insurance with Lemonade, you can receive a 10% discount.

Estimated Cost: $120+ a year

Yearly vs One-time Costs

Have you been tallying up all those costs?

The one-time costs you’ll have include:

  • Adoption – Estimated at $100 at your local animal shelter.
  • Essential gear – Estimated at $50 (dogs) and $75 (cats) at the LOW end. You can easily drop hundreds on this gear.
  • Puppy (or dog) training – $400.

That’s $550 for dogs and $175 for cats.

You’re ongoing costs include:

  • Food – Estimated at $600 a year but will be more or less depending on the size of your animal and the type of diet you choose.
  • Healthcare – Estimated at $200 for a routine vet check-up, but illnesses will quickly make this number skyrocket.
  • Rent – Estimated at $600 a year for a pet rent alone (this does not include one-time fees for deposits or pet fees)
  • Toys – Estimated that you’ll be eager to get your furry friend at least $25 worth of toys a year
  • Vacation – Estimated at $150 a week.

That’s $1,575 a year in ongoing costs.

Bottom Line

Furry friends add so much to our lives but can end up being a big part of our monthly budgets. Make sure you run the numbers before visiting the local animal shelter to make sure you can commit to a lifetime of fun (and vet bills) with your newest family member.

Want to know more?

Look up applicable laws on renting an apartment with a pet by finding your state here. And here’s a list of pet deposit laws for each state.

Here’s more on why California doesn’t allow commercial breeders.

Why is declawing cats a bad idea? The animal humane society breaks it down here.



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