The subject of whether or not you can afford to have a pet is an emotionally charged one for some people. Those of us who are animal lovers have most likely been one for years, and often grew up in homes with pets. There may be a lot of nostalgia attached to having a pet, as we recall fond memories of beloved pets from our youth.
But Can You Afford to Have a Pet?
Just because you love animals does not necessarily mean that you can afford to have one. Depending on the animal that you get and the health of the animal, the cost of keeping a pet can be very expensive.
Here are my suggestions for things that you need to have in place prior to bringing a pet into your life. I am not suggesting that anyone who does not meet these things get rid of their pet if they already have one. Rather, the aim is to help folks who may be trying to decide if it’s the right time in their life to get a pet.
6 Things You Need Before You Get a Pet
1) A solid emergency fund. You should make sure that you have enough cash socked away to cover your expenses for at least a few months. This is a good idea outside the realm of getting a pet, but it is especially important when you get a pet because they will essentially become a new family member. You will be responsible for their needs, including food and medical care, just as you would be for any other member of your family.
2) The ability to pay routine expenses, including debt repayment, without difficulty. This one is a biggie, because if you are currently struggling to pay for any of your current household expenses then you most likely cannot afford to bring a pet into the mix.
3) Room in your budget for increased expenses. When you get a pet your expenses will rise to cover pet food, toys, treats, vet care, etc. And the last thing you want to do is get attached to a pet and then be suddenly unable to afford it and have to take it to a shelter. That would not be fair to you or the pet.
4) The ability to cover unexpected costs. Pets can get sick just like humans can. You either need to have enough flexibility in your budget to pay for some unexpected expenses, or you may need to start a small pet care fund that you can draw from if and when Fido gets sick. Luckily veterinary care is usually cheaper than human medical care, but still, unexpected things can pop up.
5) Physical space for a pet. Besides money, pets require space. Especially larger pets may need a yard to run and get exercise.
6) Spare time. Pets, especially young pets that may require training, require their owner’s time. If you do not have adequate spare time to spend with your pet (or time to spend cleaning up any messes made by your pet), then perhaps pet ownership is not for you.
Expect the Unexpected
Mr. CMF and I can seriously vouch for the fact that pet ownership can be expensive. We have had pets since the beginning of our relationship, as I had a small dog when we met. However, 2013 was a banner year for us in terms of pet expenses. One morning in April, our younger dog, in her enthusiasm to inhale a dental bone, managed to get a large chunk of it stuck in her esophagus. Thus began a 14-hour ordeal that involved multiple x-rays, a barium swallow, and two different veterinary offices (since our primary vet’s office could not do the procedure that she needed, we had to take her to the emergency vet hospital). The whole day wound up costing over $700 (which was actually less that we had thought it would be considering how much she had done that day).
Shortly after that whole debacle we found out that both of our dogs had two kinds of parasites, which they had apparently picked up at the place where we’d been boarding them when we went out of town. THAT kicked off about a 7 month nightmare of trying to get rid of the damn things. I could not count how many stool samples we had to take in last year. Luckily I was able to negotiate some discounts with the vet’s office later on, AND the vet’s office took mercy on us at some point and started giving us two-for-one stool cultures eventually. Two-for-one stool cultures are way better than two-for-one drinks, right?
Anyway, the point is this: When you decide to bring a pet in your life, you need to be able to expect the unexpected, both in general and financially!
Is there anything else you can think of that you need to have before you get a pet? Has anyone else had the experience of hitting expensive years in terms of pet costs?
DC @ Young Adult Money says
Our cat, which we unfortunately had to say goodbye to a few weeks ago, had a tumor behind her eye that caused her eye to fill with blood a couple months ago. It was a Sunday so we went to the ER and paid an ~$300 bill (btw – I’m impressed the ordeal you described was only $700!). We got to keep her an extra couple months but the tumor took over and led to a couple of major seizures which led to us having to put her down. My wife had this cat for over 20 years so you can imagine how difficult that was. Anyway, it’s very important to have the time and finances for a pet because things can go wrong any given day, and very unexpectedly.
Dee S says
I’m so sorry to hear about your cat! But it’s very true, pets become family members and when they are sick we will often spend whatever it takes to help them get better- which is all the more reason to have a solid financial footing prior to getting a pet!
Michelle @fitisthenewpoor says
I totally agree on the spare time. If you cannot spend a good three to four hours at home every night or day before you go to bed, then you do not have time for a dog. Dogs are pack animals and deserve companionship as much as humans do.
Dee S says
I know, for a while the hubs and I were working something like 10-12 hours a day and we’d be gone for long stretches of time and it really was not fair to our dogs. Thank goodness our schedules are a little more forgiving these days and we have more time for them.
Mortgage Free Mike says
I recently wrote an article on this very topic for ClarkHoward.com and I got some negative feedback on social media.
Truth is, people need to know what they’re getting themselves into.
My rescue dog has had problems from the beginning. Some trips to the vet cost more than $500. I’m not sure most of my friends could have kept her.
However, I had a solid enough emergency fund to survive the health crisis.
In the article I wrote, I linked to a pet costs chart from the ASPCA. It’s not perfect, but it gives a good snapshot of potential costs.
It’s about $1,500 during the first year of adoption for dogs. $1,000 for cats.
Dee S says
I believe it! That sounds about right, although I’m sure we spent more than that last year 🙂
Shannon @ Financially Blonde says
We are now a cat home thanks to the lovely “gift” that my mother-in-law got for my son. I laugh all the time thinking I am going to send her ongoing bills for this “gift.” Because, yes, she paid for the cat, but he has had to go to the vet a few times, we had to buy all of the “start up” stuff and we now have the ongoing expenses of food and litter. I would not give him away for anything in the world, but he is definitely an expense that I wish I had more time to budget for financially before he arrived.
Dee S says
Oh my gosh! Did she at least ask you before she got him the cat? It’s definitely something that it’s usually better to think through in advance, since pets can get expensive particularly if there are lots of trips to the vet.
I’m glad you brought up spare time. Pets deserve I time. I always feel so guilty for leaving my dog to go to work each day. I make sure to give her lots of TLC when I get home every day. Most days that means time for a walk and playing with toys. It doesn’t sound bad, but when you’ve had a long day at work or the weather is crappy, you can really dread that walk!
Dee S says
I hear you. We generally really like walking our dogs, but if you’re too tired or the weather is terrible it’s hard to motivate yourself to do it!
Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life says
I am not willing to sacrifice my limited resources of money or time for a pet.
Dee S says
Nothing wrong with that! I think too often people may not think through all those things before they get a pet and then too often the pet gets put up for adoption.
I’m glad everything ended up turning out all right for your dog! That’s so scary. Pets do cost a lot, both in time and in money. Training a puppy can be exhausting. I know a lot of people that try and take a week or two off of work to make sure pets get situated okay, especially if there is already another pet in the house. I love my cats, and I have saved up enough to cover unexpected vet visits if need be.
Dee S says
I know, puppies are adorable but there can be a lot of training time involved. We are looking at probably spending a lot of time training our dogs not to eat stuff off the ground once the weather gets warmer. We are hopeful that this training will help prevent any further parasite issues in 2014!!!
Dear Debt says
Ugh, this is why I don’t have a cat 🙁 I just want to be a cat mommy! Hopefully when I’m debt free.
Dee S says
There’s another one of the silver linings of becoming debt free!!
Brian @ Luke1428 says
#6 is huge…we got two dogs instead of just one three years ago…purely an emotional decision. After three years, we realized we do not have the time to take care of both of them adequately and give the attention they deserve. So we made the tough decision to put one of them up for adoption (which was successful).
Dee S says
Oh, that is a tough decision, but it sounds like it was for the best. We love having two dogs since they can keep each other company, but we got them at different times so that we did not have to do all kinds of training with two dogs at once.
Ryan @ Impersonal Finance says
I think the ability to pay routine expenses and unexpected expenses is huge. I see way too many people get a pet only to be shocked at how much a routine vet visit costs, let alone an emergency vet visit. Some people think food will be the only expense, and spend obscene amounts on toys and treats, without thinking that money would be better set aside to make sure their animal could have the care it needs (not if, but when it needs it).
Dee S says
Those vet visits can really add up (especially if your pet is sick)! I totally agree that you need to have some money set aside for not if, but WHEN pet illnesses happen!
I LOVE our dogs, and we have never regretted adopting either of them, but they are quite expensive. Every year they cost us at least a couple thousand dollars with vet bills, their healthy dog food, incidentals, grooming. I think the thing that surprised me most when we got pets was how often they need the vet. We adopted older dogs so I guess that’s why!
Dee S says
I agree, older dogs tend to need the vet more, but crazy freak accidents can happen to any pet (or any human for that matter!) It’s important to be prepared for that financially.
DEBt DEBs says
Very good post! I can totally relate. We lost our dog over a year ago and this is one of the reasons we have not got another dog yet. The other is ‘perfect dog syndrome’, in that, he was the perfect dog (in our eyes) and we cannot replace him. We are starting to weaken but your post has me thinking again. Other than having the room, I cannot answer yes to all of the other points yet.
Oh, BTW, to add to medical expense horror stories, my daughter paid $5K for back surgery for her dachshund. Yep, it can be that expensive!
Dee S says
Oh my goodness! Dogs with long backs tend to have back problems like that; our Lhasa apsos also have long backs and they have back spasms sometimes, but nothing that has required surgery to this point.
I am totally agree with you, many people forget that keeping a pet is quite expensive. Not everyone can afford daily diet of pet and the visit to a vet. I was very eager to have a pet but when I visited pert shop and they told me about the expenses. I decided not to keep pet till I earn good enough.
Dee S says
The routine pet expenses aren’t too bad, but vet bills can really add up! And it is definitely more challenging to go out of town when you have pets, as you have to find someone to care for them and that may add cost as well.
KT Monay says
I have been very fortunate getting mexed breeds dogs and cats from the local shelter. The cos is under 100.00 and comes with everything, shots, spay/neuter, deworming etc. Those previous pets all lived long lives with very little cost towards vet bills. I also picked the right pets for my life style. At the time I was working 14 hour days so I opted for adult older “couch potato” type dogs who were happy laying around in the air conditioning and waiting for me to run home between jobs for a potty break and then get my time once I finally got home for the night. My currant dog was also older when I got her and although I have had her 5 years with little vet bills she recently was diagnosed with failing kidneys. That diagnosis and short term treatment has cost me in the neighborhood of around 2200.00. It is worth every penny and now I wlll keep her comfortable and spoiled until she is ready to go to heaven and have no regrets spending the money on her. I saved meticulously just for this type of emergency. I’d much rather have a dumb phone and money in the bank to treat the most beloved creature in my home.
Dee S says
I hear you! We absolutely adore our two little Lhasa apsos, and keeping them healthy is a financial priority for us. But we have to make sure that there is enough money in the emergency fund to cover surprise vet visits, because without that there would have been a few months when we would have gotten ourselves into credit card debt otherwise.