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The Ultimate Financial Guide To Getting Your First Pet

Lindsay Tigar  |  August 13, 2021

Congrats! You’re bringing home your new best friend. Here’s how to prepare so that you can give them the most comfortable life possible, and so you never have to stress.

If you’re anything like me, you haven’t been able to get enough of the cute puppy videos on TikTok lately. Those little fur-balls learning to walk on a leash, practicing their bark, and sampling new foods… it’s all too much. Or, maybe you’re more of a cat person, and those sweet kitten meows make you gush each time. No matter what type of fur baby captures your heart, before you bring home one of your own, you need to devote some serious thought to what you’re getting into. Because, yes, becoming a pet parent is one of the most rewarding experiences — but it also comes with a slew of new responsibilities and expenses, explains Dr. Katy Nelson, senior veterinarian at Chewy

Though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how much a four-legged cutie will cost you, Nelson estimates owners will spend between $20,000 and $35,000 over the course of their pet’s lifetime. The exact amount spent will be based on age, location, illnesses, grooming needs, and more. So, is it worth it? The vast majority of pet parents would say absolutely! You just need to be prepared.

“Knowing the costs that come with pet parenting before pulling the trigger on a new puppy or kitten will allow you to give your new furry friend the best possible life and save you stress along the way. It will also help you budget appropriately,” she explains.

Determine The Best Place To Find Your Pet

The first decision you should make is whether you adopt your pup or kitty from an animal shelter, or if you’re going to a reputable breeder. It’s vital to conduct your research in either case. Since many shelters won’t know an animal’s exact breed mix, you should speak with a trainer or vet about the right choice for you if you live in a home with small children. If you’re going the purebred route, Dr. Nelson says you must ask for references from the breeder, visit the property and meet the puppy’s parents. “Any reputable breeder will be more than happy to show off their happy, healthy pups and the place they call home,” she says.  

However, it’s also important to note more than 25% of pups in shelters are purebred or designer breeds, Dr. Nelson says, so you can find a specific type of pup in a shelter, if that’s what you really want. The other 75% are usually lovable mixed breeds that make great companions. And, from a financial perspective, you’ll also be saving significantly if you choose to go the adoption route. “According to the Animal Humane Society, standard adoption fees for dogs and puppies are around $118 to $667, while cats and kittens cost $34 to $276,” she continues. “On the flip side, a purebred dog from a breeder can cost between $500 to as much as $3,000.” (And anecdotally, we’ve heard of people paying in excess of $5,000 for a purebred animal. Wow!) 

Determine Your Monthly Budget 

Before you go through with the adoption, take time to figure out your budget. As a pet owner and entrepreneur Maggy Troup says, just like a car, a pet has to be well-maintained to keep them happy and healthy. 

These ongoing costs include:

  • Food
  • Medicine (heartworm and flea/tick prevention)
  • Grooming 
  • Pet walking or daycare 
  • Routine veterinarian visits 
  • Vaccinations 
  • Toys, treats and other necessities 
  • Pet Insurance (Check out our guide here on the best policies, and how much you can expect to spend!) 

Also, the requirements of your pet will vary significantly depending on the breed. While some dogs require grooming every six weeks, others rarely need to be bathed. Some pups need high levels of exercise to remain active and strong, while others are happy with a few walks a day. And while cats may not need as much hands-on attention, some prefer the company of humans and could feel lonely. This is why you should also take into account your personal and professional commitments before adopting a pet. 

“Do you have long work days? Random meetings that tend to go past the scheduled time? Do you like to go out after happy hour? Do you travel frequently? If you can’t work from home, you might need to consider having your dog attend daycare,” Troup explains. “When my husband and I started talking about dog ownership, boarding was one of the first things he brought up. The cost of boarding your pooch will run you anywhere from $30 to $50/night. If you have someone coming to your house, it can be as much as $100/day. This is commonly an overlooked expense when it comes to pet ownership but an expense you should definitely consider.”

Back To Pet Insurance… 

Just like you have insurance for your home, car, and health, pet insurance offers protection for your four-legged pal. (Our comprehensive rundown details the best policies, and how much you can expect to spend). 

Dr. Nelson is a big fan of pet insurance, starting right from the puppy or kitten days. The cost varies, usually around $25 to $70 for dogs and $10 to $40 per month for cats. “When you look into how much emergency costs can be for sudden illnesses, injuries, surgeries, hospitalizations, the upfront investment is much easier to handle than a possible medical bill of $5,000 to $10,000,” she says. “Make sure to take the time to do your research to find out which pet insurance is best for you and your pet’s needs.” 

Also, Dr. Nelson notes that many shelters and rescues provide cost-effective veterinary care for people with limited funds. “If you are struggling to pay for your pets’ health care bills, there are options such as CareCredit or ScratchPay that will assist you with a short-term loan for pet care,” she adds.

Set Up An Emergency Fund 

While no one wants to prepare for the worst, you can alleviate some potential financial burdens in advance by ensuring you have the financial means to cover an animal emergency, because even the best pet insurance plans will have some sort of deductible that you have to pay. If your pet has an accident or is diagnosed with a disease that requires a pricey treatment, it’s essential that you have funds available. One idea is to consider starting a separate account for medical expenses for your pet that you put money into every month, suggests Steph Sheen, a veterinarian at Fuzzy

“Although this doesn’t help with large bills right away, a savings account can create a cushion for larger bills over time,” she continues. “A savings account can also help with expected medical expenses such as wellness care. If you know what your typical yearly wellness expenses would be, you can budget that out over time.”

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