The cost of adopting a pet

Amy Fontinelle

By Amy Fontinelle
Amy Fontinelle is a personal finance writer focusing on budgeting, credit cards, mortgages, real estate, investing, and other topics.
Posted on Aug 17, 2020

Adopting a pet can cost next to nothing, or set you back thousands of dollars. But the cost of adopting a pet goes far beyond what you pay the day you bring your companion home. The lifetime cost to properly care for a cat or dog is easily more than $10,000.

In the United States, 63.4 million households own a dog, and 42.7 million households own a cat, according to the American Pet Products Association, the leading trade association in the pet industry.1

Your pet will depend on you for its health and well-being, so it’s important to prepare financially, just as prospective parents do when adding a child to their family.

Adoption costs

In general, expect to spend $50 to $500 (sometimes more) to adopt a pet. The cost depends on several factors:

  • Breed: Purebreds or high-demand breeds can cost more.
  • Age: Middle-aged and senior pets can cost less.
  • Included services: Spaying/neutering, vaccines, medications, exams, and microchipping increase adoption costs (but will be a bargain compared with paying them yourself).
  • Shelter/rescue organization: Some pass along more costs to adopters than others depending on how much they receive from fundraising and donations.

During annual Clear the Shelters campaigns nationwide, you may be able to adopt a pet for a reduced price or for free. But be wary of pets offered for free or for sale through websites and even pet stores. Getting a pet through these channels could mean supporting an unethical animal breeder, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It could also mean getting a sick pet.

Breeder costs

The cost to purchase a purebred dog — or, less commonly, a cat — from a breeder can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the breed.

Buying a pet from a breeder can be controversial:

  • Advocates, such as the American Kennel Club, say breeders offer the best way to know what you’re signing up for in terms of a dog’s size, activity level, and temperament, and that responsible breeders take excellent care of their dogs, socialize them well from birth, and carefully match dogs to homes.
  • Opponents, such as the Humane Society and PETA, say that supporting the market to purchase pets contributes to irresponsible breeding and animal overpopulation while leaving shelter animals vulnerable to euthanasia.

Many purebred animals do end up with rescue organizations and even in shelters, so you may be able to get the breed you want, save money, and save an animal’s life by adopting.

The American Kennel Club, Humane Society, and ASPCA offer guides on selecting a trustworthy breeder if you’re considering that option.

Other initial costs

Here’s what else you can expect to pay for when you first get your new pet.

  • Pet license: Some localities charge a one-time or annual fee of around $10 or more for a pet license.
  • Microchipping and engraved tags: Pet identification ($40 to $60) will help others return your pet to you should it ever get lost. (Related: Living mutual: The lost pet)
  • Collars, leashes, and harnesses: Dogs and sometimes cats need these items to help you keep them safe outdoors. Expect to spend $5 to $10 for a collar, $10 to $20 for a leash, and $15 to $25 for a harness.
  • Crates, carriers, and beds: Crate training develops a sense of security and safety in dogs. Small pets may need a carrier for secure transport in cars and on planes. Budget $30 to $200 for a crate and/or carrier, depending on size and quality. A pet bed ($10 and up) will give your furry friend a comfortable place to sleep and relax.
  • Scratching posts, toys, and chews: Dogs need safe and healthy chew toys for stimulation. Cats need scratching posts to stretch their bodies, maintain their claws, and mark their territory. Pet owners need to invest in appropriate outlets for these natural behaviors, and replace used items as needed.

“Pet owners frequently underestimate the damage that their pets can do, both to household items and their pet toys,” said Gilad Rom, a dog owner and the founder of Huan, a company that makes smart tags to keep pets safe. “You might find your new puppy chewing your expensive sofa or your kitten scratching your silk curtains. Pets also damage their own things, like their toys or beds. The cost of replacing these items will mount up.”

Training 

Stephanie Mantilla is an animal trainer at Curiosity Trained, where she trains domestic cats and dogs through positive reinforcement that enriches their lives. She said that behavioral training is an important upfront investment for pet owners.

“By starting early and training manners, your pet doesn’t have the chance to develop destructive behaviors and habits,” she said. “Those are a lot harder and more costly to fix down the road.”

Mantilla said pet owners should ask trainers about their backgrounds to avoid inexperienced trainers or trainers with a style not aligned with your aims. Pet-store trainers can range from barely trained to experienced zoologists.

Budget $400 to $1,000 for four to six weeks of classes with a skilled and experienced trainer.

Ongoing costs

Betterpet, a vet-run pet advice site, says dog owners can expect to spend $2,175 annually to keep their companion healthy, while cat owners can expect to spend $1,385. Cutting corners on your pet’s daily needs often leads to costly problems later, so it’s important to budget carefully for ongoing costs.

Grooming

Dogs need their nails trimmed monthly, and many breeds benefit from regular brushing to minimize tangling and matting. Dogs may need their fur trimmed as often as once a month, and dog owners may want to bathe their canines monthly to reduce dog odor. Dog-grooming costs can range from almost nothing to $100 per month depending on the dog, your preferences, and your grooming skills.

Cats groom themselves and usually don’t need professional grooming, with the exception of some long-haired breeds.

Food

A 12-pound dog might eat 1½ cups of dry food per day, while a 100-pound dog might eat 7 cups per day. Feeding a large dog, then, can be four to five times as expensive as feeding a small dog. Most cats are similar in size, so their food costs vary less. Most cats eat ¾ to 1¼ cups of dry food per day. Budget at least $10 to $20 a month for pet food. Pets with medical conditions, which can develop in even the best-cared-for pets, may require pricier prescription food.

You’ll also need food and water dishes for your pet. Budget at least $5 per dish; you’ll want several.

Your veterinarian, not the internet, is the best source of information about the healthiest food for your pet; high-cost specialty food that sounds great to humans can lack nutrients cats and dogs require, leading to expensive health problems such as heart disease.

Sanitation

If you adopt a cat, you’ll need a litter box ($10 to $20). Additionally, expect to spend $10 to $20 on cat litter every month.

Dog owners will need poop bags to clean up after their pets on walks; the bags cost a penny or two apiece. Puppy parents may need pee pads ($0.15 to $0.20 per pad).

Veterinary care

“All pets have the potential to get all of the same health conditions that humans get, from seasonal allergies to cancer,” said Leslie Brooks, DVM, a veterinary advisor at betterpet. Treating these issues can be expensive and ongoing.

Each vet visit will include an exam fee ($50 to $100). Blood work, urinalysis, stool samples, X-rays, other diagnostic tests, and medications will add to that cost. In 2016, dog owners visited a vet an average of three times and cat owners visited a vet an average of 2.4 times, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. But even young, healthy-seeming pets need annual checkups.

Some breeds are much more expensive to own than others because of a propensity for certain health problems. In dogs, these can include hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, cataracts, and autoimmune thyroiditis. Domestic cats often develop lower urinary tract disease, chronic kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.

“The most unfortunate thing I see is when a pet parent has a sick pet and they aren't able to provide treatment due to costs,” Brooks said. “Unfortunately, sometimes this leaves the pet parent with choosing between relinquishing their pet, putting the pet down, or letting it suffer.”

Pet insurance can help make sure this doesn’t happen for as little as $25 per month. Consider adding at least $1,000 to your emergency fund to cover unforeseen veterinary expenses and pet insurance deductibles. Emergency vet bills can cost thousands. (Related: Don’t have an emergency fund? Get one)

Dental cleanings can cost hundreds of dollars per year and are important for keeping your pet comfortable and healthy. Also, vaccination isn’t a one-time event when your pet is young. Pets must stay current on vaccinations not only for their health, but to gain access to doggie daycare, parks, and boarding and grooming facilities, Brooks said. And there is flea, tick, and heartworm prevention medication to consider. Vet visits also tend to become more frequent and more expensive as pets age.

Incidentals

Depending on your living situation, there could be other expenses to consider.

Apartment dwellers are sometimes hit with pet deposits or higher rent bills. Homeowners insurance is sometimes affected for owners of some types of dogs.

If you plan to be out of town for periods of time, pet sitting, walking, and boarding expenses have to be considered. Or, if your companion is coming with you, pet airfare and other travel costs have to be taken into account.

What happens if your pet outlives you?

Obviously, you hope your family will step up. But the best way to make sure your pet will get their needs met is to name a pet guardian in your will and leave money for your pet’s ongoing care.

If your estate plan includes a life insurance policy, the policy benefit can help ensure that the necessary funds will be available. You can even set up a trust for your pet.

Conclusion

Adding a pet to your household means adding a member to your family; it isn’t a decision to make casually. If you want to give pet ownership a test run to see if it fits your lifestyle, fostering a cat or dog temporarily may be an option. Whether you fall in love with the animal or discover that pet ownership may not be right for you, your fostering work will help socialize that animal to make it a great pet for someone else.

Yes, the expense and time required to give a companion animal a great life are considerable. But millions of pet parents think it’s worth it for the affection they receive in return.

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American Pet Products Association, “2019­--2020 APPA National Pet Owners Survey.”

The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual and its subsidiaries, employees, and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from your own tax or legal counsel. Opinions expressed by those interviewed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of MassMutual.