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Pet Costs: The Price of Ownership and How to Cut Expenses » Build a Budget that Works for Your Goals » Pet Costs: The Price of Ownership and How to Cut Expenses



While you are making your budget don’t forget to include your furry or feathered family members too. Besides food, there are lots of other pet costs to consider. Not to mention if there is an emergency and you need to go to the vet.

Here is a comprehensive list of pet costs and some ways to reduce them so you and your pal are not stuck in the dog house with credit card debt.

Costs to Know Before Adopting a Pet

It’s easy to throw away all common sense when a kitten is purring against your neck or a rescue dog puts his head on your knee. You must have this new pet, and money may be the last thing on your mind. Pet ownership is expensive. So how much will it cost to add a furry family member?

The average annual cost of owning a dog is $4,512, according to a survey of 1,000 dog owners by USA TODAY Blueprint. Survey respondents were polled on the costs of veterinary medicine, food, boarding, pet insurance, doggy daycare, and more. Owning a cat can run closer to $1,150 per year.

1. Adoption fee

It may seem like adopting a pet should be free, since you’re helping a homeless animal. However, a rescue or shelter incurs many costs for the animal’s care to ready a dog or cat for adoption.

Pet adoption fees generally range from $50 to more than $350, according to pet online pet supply store Chewy. But that fee usually covers veterinary costs for vaccinations, spay or neuter and often a microchip. Those are all services you won’t have to pay for yourself, which makes the adoption fee a bargain.

2. Annual exams and other veterinary costs

Vaccinations and a spay or neuter may have been included in your adoption fee, but you’ll still need to stay on top of your pet’s health care with annual veterinary examinations and vaccinations against rabies, Bordetella and other illnesses. You may also need to get a heartworm test for your dog annually, which typically costs $35 to $75.

What if your dog gets a hot spot or your cat’s eye swells overnight? That’s at least a hundred bucks, maybe more. Serious illnesses or accidents requiring emergency surgery can cost thousands of dollars for veterinary care. You also need to be aware that your pet may develop a chronic condition, such as arthritis, which can lead to higher, ongoing costs.

3. Microchip

If the rescue or shelter didn’t implant your dog or cat with a microchip that an animal shelter or vet can scan to locate the owner, it’s worth the $45 average cost of a microchip to improve chances of a happy reunion should your pet slip out the door or dart from the yard during a storm or fireworks celebration.

To get a better price on a microchip, check with low-cost spay and neuter clinics or take your pet to a weekend pop-up vaccination and microchip clinic, featured regularly in many cities.

4. Heartworm, flea and tick prevention

Unless you want to risk your cat or dog getting heartworms, an expensive, painful and potentially fatal disease to treat, you’ll need to give your pet a monthly dose of heartworm preventative, which can cost anywhere from $60 to upwards of $200 annually, depending on whether you have a dog or a cat and its size. Your vet may also offer a heartworm prevention shot that lasts six months for about the same cost.

Dogs and cats that go outside also need flea and tick preventatives. You may be able to save on cost by giving your pet a brand that includes combined heartworm, flea and tick prevention.

5. Crate or pet carrier

If you need to housetrain your new dog or puppy, you’ll need a dog crate. It’s also a good idea to crate a new dog while you’re away until you’re certain the dog isn’t destructive. You don’t want to add the cost of a new sofa to pet expenses because your anxious mutt chewed up the old one while you were out.

Depending on size, dog crates cost anywhere from $25 to $150 at a pet store or online retailer. To save money, search on Craigslist or another online marketplace instead, where you can snag a quality used dog crate for $20 to $40. Make sure you disinfect and sanitize any used crate.

6. Pet food

The days of picking up a box of Little Friskies at a convenience store have disappeared like cat fur in the wind. Today, pet owners can peruse pet store aisles filled with cat and dog food ranging from basic sustenance to no-grain, organic or raw foods that cost more than you spend on weekly groceries. Pet food and treats can cost anywhere from $250 to $700 annually.

7. Pet sitting or boarding

You may be able to leave your kitty with a big bowl of food and water overnight, but you can’t leave your dog to fend for himself while you’re on vacation. You’ll have to board your dog or hire a pet sitter to come a few times a day to feed and let out or walk your pet.

Boarding and pet sitting costs vary greatly but you’re looking at $20 to $60 a day, depending on services. To save money on pet sitting, exchange pet sits with trusted friends or neighbors.

8. Everything else

Squeaky toys, tennis balls, laser lights, comfy beds, blankets, cat litter and cat trees add up to at least a few hundred dollars annually. Can you afford all the expenses of a pet? If not, save your money so you’ll have enough to adopt eventually.

On the other hand, if you have enough money to give a homeless pet a healthy, loving home, get on down to your local animal shelter or rescue group and add a new feline friend or canine companion to your life.

9. Make sure your property is pet-friendly

Thirty-three percent of first-time home shoppers were looking due to wanting a dog, according to a study from SunTrust bank. Only 25 percent said they were looking because of marriage and 19 percent because of a future child.

There are a few steps you can take to make the home-buying process easier for you and your dog.

  • Make a reasonable timeline: Getting your credit score in shape and securing a loan takes some time, so get started as soon as possible.
  • Pre-qualify for your mortgage/loans: pre-qualifying for a loan can help you get an offer in before everybody else, in addition to forcing you to figure out what you can afford and can pay for in the future.
  • Stay organized: Don’t let your finances fall into disarray due to your move. Make sure you organize everything to easily fetch documents when needed.

Having a pet in tow means you’ll pay more at lease signing – and maybe more overall – than other tenants. According to the survey, nearly 80 percent of renters polled said they paid a pet deposit up front. Many renters are also asked to pay “pet rent” – a monthly fee for as long as you live at the property.

“The average pet deposit is $300 to $500, and pet rent is usually $25 to $50 a month,”  says Kevin Ortner, CEO of Renters Warehouse. “In rare instances, I have seen pet deposits in excess of $1000.”

To make sure you’re getting a good deal, ask about pet deposits or fees before you sign the lease. Also, compare with other landlord’s prices to make sure you’re not overpaying. And if you can, find a landlord who doesn’t charge pet rent. Many don’t.

There are also a few things to consider before signing your lease. Make sure your landlord includes your pet fees written in the lease. And if you’re thinking of adding another furry member to the family, discuss it with your landlord before signing the line.

Ways to Cut Pet Expenses

When it comes to pet expenses, you don’t have to keep coughing up money faster than a cat claws up a new sofa. Follow these tips, and you’ll have money left over to pay toward debt or deposit in emergency savings.

The key to saving money on pet expenses is to always be on the prowl for a good deal. That way, you can still splurge on your furry friends when you can’t resist that catnip mouse or fancy dog sweater.

Search for free initial exams

I took both my dogs one year to get annual vaccinations and check-ups at a local veterinarian that advertised a free initial examination, which typically runs between $40 to $60. It’s generally good to stick with a vet you trust. However, I had four dogs at the time, two of which were elderly (and costly), that I took to my regular veterinarian. The $100 savings allowed me to stay on top of canine healthcare for all my pets.

Take advantage of mobile and low-cost clinics

I only like to do this when my dogs are young, such as under five years old, older dogs need a thorough annual exam. While you won’t receive an exam at many of these clinics, you can get vaccinations, microchips and heartworm and flea preventatives at low cost.

Don’t buy medication at the vet

Veterinarians who sell medications and supplements directly usually charge a big mark-up. Ask the vet to write a prescription that you can fill at a pharmacy for a lower price. To save even more, sign your cat or dog up on prescription savings programs like the ones offered by Walgreens, Kroger, Rite-Aid, and Walmart.

Participate in focus group studies

My friend Carmen received free dog food for six months by participating in a focus group wanting her opinions on a company’s dog food. Sign up with local marketing companies, and even if you don’t snag free dog food, there’s a good chance you’ll be selected for another focus group that pays cash for your opinion.

Exchange pet sitting with a friend or neighbor

In-home pet sitting or boarding runs anywhere from $20 to $60 per pet, per night, so this can turn into a big additional expense when you travel. Choose someone you trust who doesn’t vacation more than you do, so it’s an equal exchange.

Shop for crates on Craigslist

Don’t spend $40 to $150 on a dog crate or cat carrier when there are dozens listed on Craigslist on any given day for anywhere from $10 to $50. I’ll never buy a new crate again. Be sure to sanitize the crates and carriers, even if they look clean, with a ratio of vinegar or bleach and water.

Watch for coupons

Recently, I saw a coupon for a free nail trim at a local vet and saved $15. Keep an eye out for coupons in the mail, local pet magazines and grocery and pet stores.

Buy stuffed animals at yard sales

I got tired of watching $12 stuffed monkeys and hedgehogs I handed over to Toby get ripped limb-from-limb in ten minutes. Now, I buy most of my stuffed animal dog toys anywhere from 25 cents to a dollar apiece from yard sales where sellers are getting rid of stuffed animals their kids have outgrown.

Comparison shop online

Before you buy pet food, supplements or heartworm and flea preventative, check Amazon, 1-800-Petmeds and other online peddlers for the best deal. You’ll be surprised at how much prices vary. Don’t forget to figure in shipping costs.

Pet food coupons

You’ll often find coupons directly on the manufacturer’s website. For example, Purina offers coupons on dog and cat food. You can also sign up for coupons from Halo, Blue Buffalo, and others. Don’t be too much of a cheapskate when it comes to pet food, though. Poor nutrition is a recipe for costly health problems down the road. Check out food reviews at DogFoodAdvisor or PetFoodTalk to make an informed choice, then search for coupons.

Save Money on Pet Food

Dogs cost dollars – Americans spent more than $103 billion on their pets last year, so says research by The American Pet Products Association (APPA). That’s a lot of coin.

“Today more than ever, pet owners view their pets as irreplaceable members of their families and lives,” says APPA president and CEO Bob Vetere, “and it’s thanks to this that we continue to see such incredible growth within the pet care community.”

This is especially true when it comes to buying pet food; feeding our furry friends added up to more than $42 billion last year. If you’re looking to spend less while feeding little Spot, here are some saving tips.

Shy away from big-name brands

Buying from pet food marketing giants may give you peace of mind, but if you’re on a budget you may be better off searching for nearly identical bargain brands.

The key driver for increased pet food spending was premium food and treats – but just because your go-to brand is expensive doesn’t mean it’s more nutritious than other, more affordable brands. Compare labels and ingredients and consider making the switch.

Be cautious if your pooch has health issues or allergies. If they’re young and healthy but you’re still hesitant about buying cheaper pet food, consult your veterinarian.

Or, search for deals

You don’t have to sacrifice your favorite brands to save a few bucks, but you need to actively scope out pet food deals.

Keep an eye out for your pet store’s coupon list, and subscribe to their email newsletters for weekly deals. You can also sign up for membership programs at pet stores to earn back rewards and get exclusive offers.

Pet brands can have deals, too. Before throwing away your pet food packages, check inside and out for manufacturer’s coupons. Also check out your favorite brands on social media for discount codes, coupons, and other offers.

Your vet may have some free products to give out to patients. During your next visit, ask about coupons and food samples.

Buy in bulk

Buying large amounts of food usually saves you money compared to the smaller bags. I like to take advantage of my Amazon Prime membership by getting the bulk puppy food. Just make sure you’re comparing unit prices to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

That being said, make sure your pet will actually eat the food first. If you’re switching them to a new product, start with a single small-sized bag to see if they like it before hauling a large bag home. A picky pet won’t care about how much food you bought – if they don’t like it, they won’t eat it.

Measure serving sizes appropriately

Feeding pets more than their serving size means you’ll need to buy more frequently. If you’re giving Fido two cups when he only needs one, you’re buying food twice as much as you really need to.

Plus, overeating raises health concerns. Pet obesity is gaining for the seventh year in a row, costing Americans tens of millions of dollars each year. The overfeeding may seem like only a few dollars wasted at the moment, but in the long run, the costs add up.

During your next trip to the vet, ask how much you should feed your pet per serving. Then, keep a measuring cup on hand to make extra sure you’re giving out the right portions.

Online Pet Product Scams on the Rise

Did you know that pet-related scams now comprise around 25% of online scams reported to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker?

That’s according to a July warning from the BBB, which reported more than 3,300 inquiries and 119 complaints filed by consumers in 29 states for one online retailer alone that claims to “specialize in high-quality, affordable pet products.”

Customers alleged that they never received pet products ordered and paid for online. Now that Americans are spending more time at home for remote work, more people turn to online retailers for delivery of pet food, supplies and other products.

Only buy from reputable online retailers

When ordering pet supplies online, search for and review the company’s business profile at Ordering from popular online retailer sites such as, 1-800-PET-MEDS is a safe bet, but don’t rule out smaller pet supply businesses struggling to survive during the pandemic. But check them out thoroughly at the BBB and read online reviews of the company first.

Verify contact information

The BBB recommends checking the online retailers’ website for a physical address and phone number to contact with issues or questions. Make sure that location actually exists and call the number to check whether it’s responsive before ordering pet supplies online.

“Check for an “About Us” page and whether listed information contains generic details or a full brand history” advises the BBB.

Make sure the domain is secure

Look for a secure website domain, one that begins with “https:/” to ensure that hackers can’t steal your credit card number and other personal information offered when you order. A secure site will also include a “lock” icon on the purchase or shopping cart page, according to the BBB.

Also check out the site’s privacy policy terms and conditions to find out what type of information the business requests when you order and what the company does with that information – selling it to third parties, for example.

Use caution with email and social media ads

Be “especially cautious” when it comes to unsolicited emails and ads you see on social media sites, especially if the “great deal” is too good to be true,  warns the BBB. There’s a good chance that $10 “luxury dog bed” for sale in the ad may not be what it seems.

Read the fine print before making any purchase to rule out hidden costs or unwittingly signing up for a recurring monthly charge.

Pay with a credit card

The BBB recommends making online purchases with your credit card, since the card offers additional protections in case you run into problems with your order. That way, if the products you receive are damaged – or you never receive the order at all – it’s easier to  dispute the charge.

Gift cards, prepaid card and debit cards don’t generally offer the same protections on purchases that you receive when you use a credit card.

Keep a record of the order

Make sure you thoroughly understand the company’s return and refund policy and keep a copy of the order confirmation or email until after your package arrives.

Overpriced Veterinary Costs and How to Avoid Them

Did your last veterinary bill make you want to hiss, arch your back and climb the back of the nearest piece of upholstered furniture? If it makes you feel any better, you’re not the only one paying high veterinary costs.

Every six seconds, a “pet parent” is faced with a veterinary bill for more than $1,000, according to Petplan, a pet health insurance provider. Pet emergency costs can’t always be avoided, and in those cases, veterinarians are worth every penny. They simply save lives.

Prescription drugs

Next time your veterinarian says your dog or cat needs antibiotics, painkillers or any drug that you can get at a neighborhood pharmacy, don’t buy the pills from the veterinary practice, which likely marks up the cost to make a profit.

Ask the vet to write a prescription so you can get the same drugs at a cheaper price from your pharmacist instead. Save even more by joining Walgreen’s Prescription Savings Club for pet drug discounts on generic or brand-name medications. You can even get a pet medications discount card to save on pet meds at Walgreens, CVS, Rite-Aid, Walmart, Costco and other pharmacies.

Supplements and vitamins

Nobody wants their creaky, old dog to struggle to stand or walk. You may want to buy your pet glucosamine or other joint supplements that your vet suggested. But don’t buy them at the veterinary clinic, where the price is usually marked up, when you can buy online for much less.

For example, glucosamine supplements for my dog cost $120 when I bought them from the vet. Next time, I went online and got the same brand for around $80. When shopping online for supplements, purchase only from reputable vendors to ensure quality.

Heartworm and flea preventative

Heartworms can kill your dog or cat, so it’s wise to give your pet a monthly dose of heartworm preventative. It’s a good idea to give your pet preventatives for fleas and ticks, too. The problem is, these products can be expensive, especially when you buy them all at once.

Some vets have discount coupons from the product manufacturer or offer special bulk prices. At the same time, if you compare prices at sites such as 1-800-PetMeds, Chewy and other online pet product sites, you can probably find lower prices, especially when the company throws in a discount coupon to sweeten the deal.


This one can be tricky, since you don’t want to skip annual examinations at the expense of your pet’s health. However, you may be able to come out ahead on cost if you stay on top of annual exams at the vet but get your dog’s or cat’s vaccinations elsewhere.

Many cities have low-cost spay & neuter clinics that also offer discounted vaccinations, a huge savings, especially when you own multiple pets. Also keep an eye out for good deals on vaccinations at weekend mobile clinics that spring up around town.


When you get a microchip implanted in your dog or cat, a scanner at the vet or an animal shelter identifies its owner so you can have a tearful yet happy reunion with your little fluff ball. Microchipping isn’t expensive, typically running between $25 and $50, but that doesn’t mean your veterinarian won’t gouge you for more.

Even on the low end of that range, multiple pets can run up the bill. For the best prices on microchipping, get the chip implanted at local animal shelters, rescue events, low-cost spay & neuter clinics or pop-up microchip weekend clinics.

Pet odor eliminators

While you’re waiting to pay your vet bill, stay away from displays tempting you to buy odor eliminator products like candles, sprays and bottles of enzyme cleaners. Remember, your veterinarian isn’t a retail store so can’t get the lowest prices to pass along. As a result, you’ll probably pay a significant markup.

Instead of grabbing that $15 scented candle, take time to shop online and at local pet stores to save on pet odor eliminator products. For the best prices, buy in bulk.

 Leashes, harnesses and other accessories

Your veterinarian doesn’t make most of his or her money from pet accessories such as leashes, harnesses and collars. But the vet needs to make some profit, and unlike retail stores and pet product sites that buy huge quantities at wholesale prices, vet clinics typically charge more.

Take time to shop online and compare prices while on the lookout for coupons, discounts and free shipping. Or support your local pet store and buy accessories when they’re on sale or discounted with the store’s rewards card.

There are plenty of good deals out there if you just take time to sniff them out.

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