Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about oureditorial standards
and how we make money.
Most devoted pet owners will agree that our furry friends are more than just animal companions – they’re loved like members of the family.
Taking that sentiment into account, owning a dog or cat can be just like raising a child until age 18: costly. Between food, shelter, veterinary bills, toys, litter, grooming costs and more expenses, many newbie pet owners may be unaware that adopting a puppy or kitten will cost you thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars over a well-cared-for pet’s entire lifespan.
If you’re wondering how much that puppy in the window costs but don’t want to get stuck in the financial doghouse, take a look below at our quick breakdown of the total amounts you’ll spend on a dog or cat before bringing one home, and then read on for more details!
The lifetime cost of owning a dog will always depend on the type and breed of the dog, its size, and life expectancy. Generally, the larger the dog, the bigger the budget you’ll need for everything from dog food to basic lifestyle items over time due to its size. The good news is that for most domestic pets, your biggest expenses should be in the first year of the dog’s life, since he or she will need to be spayed or neutered and vaccinated.
These "capital costs" are one-time expenses including (but not limited) to adoption fees, spaying/neutering, and dog carriers and beds -- the types of services that should last your pet its entire life. (If you look to buy from a pet store or private breeder, which we don’t recommend, you might pay an average $800 to $2,000 for a new dog.)
Life expectancy: 14-15 yearsFirst-year costs: $780 (approximately)Lifetime costs: $5,980
According to Petfinder.com, initial costs can vary. Adopting a dog may be absolutely free, or max out at a $500 fee. Your puppy’s first routine vet visit may cost up to $200; licensing, about $25; and dog beds and carriers, about $30 to $50. Spaying or neutering may range from $35 to about $200.
Afterwards, caring for a small pooch is the most affordable option for pet owners on a budget. The ASPCA estimates that after its first year, your annual costs may come to a conservative $400 – about half that of first-year expenses – including $150 for both food and vet care; $50 for toys; $15 for annual licensing and $35 for miscellaneous expenses.
Life expectancy: 11 yearsFirst-year costs: $1,115 (approximately)Lifetime costs: $6,565
A medium-size dog may not have the life expectancy of its smaller canine compadres, but caring for it will cost more money in the long run. ASPCA data notes that you’ll pay about $100 for spaying/neutering and $30 for a first-year license. Dog crates and carriers, at $90 and $50, reflect the average costs of a slightly larger dog. Remember to take into account those adoption fees, vaccination costs and vet exams, too.
Food is where your annual costs for keeping a medium dog begin to add up. Expect to pay about $250 to feed your pet per year. At an 11-year life expectancy, that totals $2,750 on average; that price goes up the longer a pet lives. Overall, with regular care, a medium dog will cost owners just over $6,500.
Life expectancy: 10 yearsFirst-year costs: $1,500 (approximately)Lifetime costs: $7,800
The biggest dogs carry the biggest costs: as puppies, a larger-sized canine will set you back nearly $1,500. Most of those dollars are taken up by the need for more expensive carriers/crates, which you’ll most definitely need to invest in, even if your pup is still pint-sized at the moment.
Annual costs for large dogs may average about $700. Like every other dog, most of that will be spent feeding it (think $350 annually), with medical care a second major expense at about $200 each year.
Don’t forget about grooming costs; these can range from $200 to $400 depending on the breed and size of the dog. One popular family member of mine is a mini Schnauzer who needs regular grooming and primping, but, unlike several of his peers, his hair grows like a human’s, and his beard and eyebrows need trimming to keep him his handsomest.
Take into account other luxury costs that can add up over time. If you’re the type to take your dog to a fancy schmancy pet spa, you may be looking at $90 per visit. Employ the services of a dog walker for your pampered pet? Depending on who you choose, you might shell out $25 per walk, per dog. According to Forbes, for a small dog, that can multiply your total lifetime pet costs to $93,520 -- and that’s just for a small dog.
Life expectancy: 15 yearsFirst-year costs: $640 (approximately)Lifetime costs: $7,640
If you’re more a cat person, you might assume that felines cost less to own than dogs; after all, they eat less, don’t need grooming, and they’re generally the independent sort who does their own thing whenever they choose. The ASPCA notes that your annual cat food costs may total about $120, far less than even the tiniest dog consumes.
Yet as stealthy and secretive as cats tend to be by nature, hidden costs to owning a feline friend can sneak up on you.
Where cats cost a bunch is in kitty litter; in an average year, you’ll pay more for litter than you will for food ($150 annual). The more cats you own, the more you’ll pay for this necessary piece of toiletry. Apart from that, first-year capital costs for cats aren’t very expensive. You’ll shell out roughly $140 for the requisite spaying/neutering and optional declawing (or cat claw caps), plus nominal fees for licensing, vet visits and other supplies, like scratching posts or toys.
One big reason why cat costs climb so high is because of their lifespans. The healthiest cats can live an average of 15 years, and sometimes more. (If yours is anything like Creme Puff, the Guinness Book of World Records holder, it’ll live to be 38 years young – that’s a lifetime total pet care cost rivaling that of birds, who can live for several decades.)
Pets are a lot like cars – the cost to protect them with an insurance policy all depends on their make, model, age, where you live, and the type of coverage you seek.
Monthly dog and cat pet insurance quotes are comparable. For common dog breeds, average insurance costs range from $40 to $50 per month; for cats, $30 to $40 is on par with national rates.
You’ll want to consider pet insurance on a pet-by-pet basis. If your dog or cat has had a history of health issues you’ve struggled to pay for out of pocket, they may be a good candidate to take out a policy. Emergency medical costs for dogs and cats can be comparable to those of a human’s.
Some of the most expensive pet insurance claims we found have included:
$40,606 hip dysplasia on a 3-year-old Border Collie
$25,442 for spay complications
$10,000 gallbladder inflammation on a 12-year-old cat
Cancer treatments in a dog or cat can add up. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, cancer treatments can present pet owners with a bill between $5,000 to $7,000, on average.
Weigh the costs versus the benefits versus the drawbacks. It may be an uncomfortable prospect to consider, but if your pet is suffering from a potentially fatal – albeit treatable – condition you can’t afford to pay with your own dollars, you may have one of two choices: 1. Go into major credit card debt to finance the procedure, or 2. "Economic euthanasia" of the animal, all on account of a lack of money. Neither alternative needs to be considered with the right insurance policy covering your finances and your best buddy’s life. The key, like auto or homeowners insurance, is to shop around for the right policy.
So when it comes to affording a dog or cat, think of the long-term costs. A puppy or kitten may be a nice impromptu birthday or Christmas gift for a child, but remember that pets are not toys, and need to be cared for and fed for years. Examine the ultimate costs over their average lifespan, and develop a pet care budget. You may find that spending more money on better pet food, flea/tick prevention, and DIY grooming habits can save you money in the long run – and provide years of lasting memories with them to come.
Image: Lilo the Husky
Get essential money news & money moves with the Easy Money newsletter.
Free in your inbox each Friday.