By: Cristina Adams
There’s no doubt that Americans love their pets. And, arguably nobody cares more about their pets than millennials since they now own more pets than any other demographic.
It’s clear pets are truly integrated into millennial lifestyles: dogs go to work, cats are pampered with fancy food, and Netherland Dwarfs (that’s a rabbit) are Instagram influencers with thousands of followers. While only 37 percent of millennials are homeowners, more than 70 percent have a pet, accounting for 35 percent of the pet-owning population in the U.S.
There’s little doubt that having a pet enriches our lives. Who doesn’t want to be unconditionally adored (in the case of a dog) or lovingly ignored (in the case of a cat)? And while numerous studies have found that people with pets tend to live longer, the cost of keeping our furry pals continues going up year after year.
In 2018, according to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent $72.5 billion on pet food, veterinary care, services, and other supplies. That may not seem like all that much compared to the $1.62 trillion and $869 billion that U.S. consumers spent in 2017 on food and beverages and back-to-school purchases, respectively. But the market for pet products and services is growing exponentially and scrambling to meet increasing demand from pet owners, who are willing to spend more than ever in the pursuit of ensuring their pet’s health and happiness.
During the first year of pet ownership, you should expect to spend in the range of $395 to $2,455 on a dog, and $405 to $2,285 on a cat, according to Petfinder. Costs vary, depending on what breed you have and whether you opt to buy from a breeder or adopt from a local animal shelter, the latter of which usually neuters or spays and vaccinates your new pet as part of the adoption fee.
While some pet owners won’t hesitate to pay top dollar for the latest dog chow, many are looking for more budget-friendly alternatives to both the obvious and hidden costs of having a pet. Here are some of the largely unavoidable expenses, along with a few smart ways to save money.
After the initial rounds of vaccines, medical exams, microchipping and paying for a pet license, there’s the cost of keeping your pet in kibble. For dogs, the monthly average ranges from $40 to $60, according to online pet sitting and dog walking service, Rover. Pet owners who prefer to offer their pup organic, grain-free or vegan food will likely pay more. Depending on which brand you choose, prices can range from about $19 for a four-pound bag to $74 for an 18-pound bag. For cats, you can expect to pay $5 to $38 per month. Again, organics tend to be pricier; you can pay anywhere from about $10 for a five-pound bag to $43 for a 10-pound bag.
Unless you have an older pet that needs special food only the vet can prescribe, the food you buy for your pet comes down to finding something they like. Sure, you can spend a bundle at the chic pet supply store, or you can comparison shop at supermarkets and warehouse clubs, or online at sites like Chewy.com that often offer delivery to your doorstep at no charge. Some websites will even email you when your pet’s favorite food goes on sale.
The most important thing you can do to manage the cost of pet ownership is practice preventive healthcare. Keep up with your pet’s vaccination schedule and annual check-ups, and keep them active. Yes, it can be pricey, especially the first year of their life, but anything you can do to maintain your pet’s health early on means less money out of your wallet down the road. If, however, your pet does need prescription medication, don’t forget to ask your vet if there’s a generic alternative. Just like with human medicine, the generic is often less expensive. Sometimes, way less.
Aside from food and vet visits, the time commitment to really caring for a pet may be the most important factor of all. If you really want a pet, you have to be prepared to invest not just money but time to pay attention and play with them. This is especially true for dogs, as they need daily and regular exercise.
While most of us are aware that we’ll have to shell out for vet bills and food, the hidden costs of pet ownership aren’t always as obvious. Here are a few expenses that can take a surprise bite out of your budget.
Got plans to go hiking in Peru? Unless you have parents, amazing friends or next-door neighbors willing to make room for your furry friend while you’re away, you’ll probably have to find a place to board your pet. And that’s not an inexpensive task, for dogs, the national average is about $50 per day, according to Thumbtack; the daily rate for cats is a little cheaper at $20 to $30. You can also try your luck and look for local sitters on sites like Rover.com or DogVacay.com.
Again, this is largely an issue for dogs, which need regular exercise to stay in shape. If you work outside the home or are a frequent business traveler, you may find yourself calling in outside help from neighbors or a site like Holidog. Just know that you’ll probably pay an average of $20 for a 30-minute walk. Of course, depending on where you live, it could be higher or lower.
For dog owners, this depends on what kind of dog you have and how fussy you are about their appearance. The price of professional grooming can be steep, averaging anywhere from $30 to $100 per visit, depending on your location and the type of dog you have. For cats, basic grooming costs are about $10-15 per visit, and anywhere from $45 to $95 for a haircut depending temperament and style, according to Thumbtack. If you’d rather save on this expense, you can take the DIY route and learn to clip nails, brush out snarls and cut fur. However, clipping a cat’s nails is a challenge you may want to forgo.
The safety nets
This is quickly becoming a popular perk, as more employers offer to include it among their voluntary employee benefits. Nationwide, for instance, insures more than 700,000 pets around the U.S., making it the country’s biggest provider of pet health insurance. Whether it’s worth it or not depends on the plan you choose. The average cost for a dog in 2019 is about $44 per month, while a cat costs nearly $28. Geography and breed play a role in the price, but most pet insurance plans run from $25-$70 for dogs and $10-$40 for cats per month.
A pet fund
You never know when a surprise cost will come up. What if your dog eats a sock and needs surgery to have it removed? What if your cat breaks a leg or needs stitches? Just as you should have an emergency fund to cover up to six months of living expenses, it’s a good idea to squirrel away money for pet emergencies.
While having a pet can require a sizeable up-front investment, the truth is that neither dogs nor cats, bunnies nor guinea pigs really care about the trappings of luxury. Do they really need a plush bed or a monogrammed water bowl, when a plastic bowl and old towels will work just fine? Probably not. What they want more than anything else is love, attention and a place to call home. With a little planning, research and budgeting, you can decide if and when you’re ready to make the financial — and emotional — commitment to pet ownership.