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A Financial Guide for New Pet Owners

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At around 10 weeks of age, our golden retriever puppy, Bailey, caused us a bit of a panic. After several moderately successful days of training, one afternoon Bailey had seven to eight accidents, all within the span of an hour. I was convinced Bailey had a urinary tract infection and called our vet, who squeezed us in for a same-day appointment.

Related: 30 Least Expensive Dog Breeds

One hundred and seventy-five dollars later, I learned Bailey did not have a UTI. In her excitement of being a puppy, Bailey just drank a lot of water, and then let it all out, all at once, all over the house. And so began our first unexpected expense of being a new pet owner.

According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), pet owners spent nearly $96 billion on their pets in 2019. From veterinarian visits to food to grooming, in a national survey, pet owners reported spending as much as $1,400 per year for dogs and $900 annually for cats.

New pet owners might be curious about how this will break down monthly. Keep reading for a better idea of where you will probably spend your dollars and ways to keep costs down.

Last updated: April 16, 2021

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Adoption: Saving Dollars and Lives

If you adopt from a shelter or rescue organization, you’ve already saved.

“Adoption fees can range from nothing at all to a couple hundred dollars, depending on the facility you’re adopting from and where you live,” said Hannah Stember, PR manager with Best Friends Society, a nonprofit that operates the nation’s largest sanctuary for homeless animals. “They are also great value as the fee covers an initial exam, vaccinations, spay or neuter surgery and a microchip.”

In addition to saving through lower fees than pet shops, Stember said, “(W)hen you adopt you save not one, but two lives—the one you adopted, but the one made space available for at a shelter or rescue group.”

Best Friends notes you should expect to spend between $50 to $200 for routine veterinary and vaccination updates on an annual basis.

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Veterinarian Visits: Vaccines and More

If you bought a pup from a breeder or received one from a friend/family member that had a litter, anticipate 3 to 4 vet visits for initial exams and vaccinations.

As an example, Bailey visited the vet four times, with each visit costing between $120-$220, depending on what vaccinations and additional tests (such as a parasite screen) were done.

Microchipping can cost around $25-$45. If the initial process didn’t include registering the chip, plan for another $20 to sign up at various organizations that store the microchip information or register at a free site such as foundanimals.org.

Spaying or neutering will be another medical decision to make with your vet. Anticipate spending around $300, which should also cover anesthesia, bloodwork, additional monitoring and exams.

The ASCPA and/or local animal shelter have more information on low-cost microchips, spaying and neutering.

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Additional Monthly Medical Treatments

Viruses, parasites and other infections can occur before a pup or kitten is vaccinated, causing distress in your pets and your wallet, so take care to follow your vet’s guidelines to avoid these in the first place.

Flea medications run around $20 per monthly oral treatment. Purchase them online in three- or six-month packs. Your vet will recommend the best course of action for your individual pet, based on breed, size and other considerations.

For dogs, a monthly heartworm pill will set you back another $10-$12 monthly.

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Should I Get Pet Insurance?

It’s doubtful families in the ’80s or ’90s carried pet insurance, but the trend is changing. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), the number of pets insured in the U.S. has been increasing at an average annual growth rate of 22% since 2015.

The NAPHIA reports the average premium in 2019 for the U.S., covering accident and illness, was $48.78 per month for dogs and $29.16 per month for cats.

Pet insurance comes in handy for accidents, major surgeries or newly discovered illnesses, but plans do not cover preexisting conditions.

Keep your premiums lower by adjusting the deductible and percentage that is covered. If you decide not to purchase pet insurance, you’re not alone. About 2.82 million pets were insured in 2019 — compare that to the 84.9 households in America that own pets.

Read: These States Have the Cheapest Healthcare Costs

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Food: Wet or Dry? Boutique or Generic?

Your vet will help you choose what’s best, especially for allergies or digestive issues, but there are overall guidelines that apply across the board.

Dry food is more cost-efficient than wet. Many pets do perfectly fine on a diet of kibble, however wet food provides additional hydration and is better tasting.

Prices vary from economical brands such as Costco’s Kirkland Signature or Pedigree (around $27 for a 36-pound bag on Amazon) to the natural-based Blue Buffalo ($50 for a 30-pound bag). Higher-quality (and higher-priced) brands can be found at local pet stores or online.

By the pound, dry cat food brands are priced similarly, though as cats require less food per day, the kibble will last longer.

Get a discount in price and free shipping by subscribing to an e-commerce store, where the food is automatically shipped to your home on a regular cadence of your choosing.

Find Out: How Much Money You’ll Spend on Food in Your Lifetime, by State

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Top Gear

The APPA estimated cat owners spent around $31 on toys annually and $58 on treats, on average. For dogs: $48 on toys and $76 on treats, on average. If this sounds low as a new pet owner, remember you probably needed to start from scratch.

In addition to the expenses mentioned so far, plan to spend at least $150 on basic cat needs including a litter box and litter, bed, carrier, toys, scratching post, food, water bowls and treats.

Basic dog expenses will include food and water bowls, crate, bed, toys, collar, leash and more, and probably will set you back at least $200.

Personalized ID tags can be purchased for a few dollars from Amazon, and check with your city about pet licensing requirements. In Seattle, for example, the cost to license a spayed/neutered cat for one year is $26, $37 for dogs.

A monthly subscription box, like BarkBox or Meowbox, will deliver a box of goodies, including treats, toys and other gear, every month. BarkBox ranges from $22 to $29 per month and Meowbox charges $23 per month. One advantage of these boxes is as your pup or kit tires of a toy or runs out of a treat a new box is on the way.

Read More: Best Subscription Boxes To Start in 2021

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Grooming

Grooming prices start at around $30 for a bath and brush, with prices varying depending on breed and size. Cat grooming starts at around $40. Prices increase as you add amenities like haircuts, nail trims and ear cleanings.

If you have the patience, try grooming at home. Nail clippers start at $10 on Amazon or splurge for the nail grinder that starts at $20. For the price of one or two trips to the groomer for a wash and cut, you could purchase basic grooming tools, including brushes, grooming gloves and clippers. Don’t forget the shampoo and wipes (as low as $7 each).

If handling your pet’s nails isn’t your thing, many groomers offer walk-in appointments for nail trimming and ear cleaning, ranging from $5-$10 a visit.

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Boarding and Day Care

When you can’t take your pet with you, there are kennels and animal boarding options to consider. Kennels start at around $40 per night. Additional amenities such as hikes, playtimes, treats or cuddling will double this amount.

Day care has also become a popular option to provide an opportunity for dogs to socialize and expend energy while you are working or otherwise occupied.

Rates are around $500-$600 per month or drop-in rates of $30-$40 a day.

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Puppy Kindergarten

Both pups and humans will require some amount of training. Go the inexpensive route by borrowing or buying books on dog training. Several TV personalities like Zak George have YouTube channels you can follow to get the same tips you would learn from a professional dog trainer.

If you prefer in-person training, expect to spend at least $200 for five to six sessions of obedience school, which will get you and your pup through the basic commands.

For busy parents or dogs who need extra attention, a board-and-train program will train your pup for two to six weeks, depending on the behavior issues. Tuition for these specialty programs starts at around $900 per week.

Budgeting 101: How To Create a Budget You Can Live With

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Expect the Unexpected

Dobby’s humans installed a new cat door to cater to her indoor/outdoor habits. Total cost, including labor since they needed to buy a new door that would accommodate the cat door: $840. Dobby is still getting the hang of actually using her door.

After replacing the living room couch (which may have been damaged by a household of cats and dogs), Moo’s mum swears by this pheromone spray to avoid the destruction of her new furniture and Jasmine’s parents second this.

Maisy spent much of the summer dealing with a still undiagnosed ailment, and her parents spent over $3,000 trying to figure out how to combat her digestive issues.

Until your pet acclimates to their environment, there are going to be incidents and accidents. As you come to know your newest family member, you’ll figure out how to accommodate their needs. Patience, understanding, and some extra cash will help to get through the first year of pet ownership. Rarely is it not worth it. Eighty-four million pet households can’t be wrong.

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