Monday, July 14, 2008


What your pet really costs you
It's easy to forget about long-term costs when you first see that fluffy tail and those big eyes. Educate yourself first, choose the right pet or breed, and learn how to reduce the expenses.

By Liz Pulliam Weston
If you've ever owned a big dog, you know they're expensive to feed.

Lifetime DOG costs:

Food*depending on brand
$55 to $150

Recurring medical expenses*


Toys and treats*


Health insurance*


Total annual expenses

Typical life span
13 years

Setup costs

Total expenses

*Annual expenses

Sources: American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, MSN Money research

The annual totals include food, recurring medical care, litter (if required), toys and treats, licenses (if required) and pet insurance (on which I have mixed feelings).

Setup costs include various gear, training classes for dogs, spaying or neutering, and other initial medical costs, such as worming, basic blood tests and insertion of a microchip ID tag.

These estimates don't include:

The expenses of purchasing or adopting the animal.

Modifications you may make to your home, such as a dog door or gates.

The sometimes extraordinary price tags of veterinary care if a pet suffers an accident or develops a serious disease.

Now, anytime I write about the financial costs of pet ownership, I inevitably hear from outraged animal lovers who say you can't put a price tag on the unconditional love a pet offers.

Perhaps. But those of us who advocate responsible pet ownership -- including the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, which provided the cost figures I'm using in this column -- believe it's important to be realistic about the expenses involved so you can budget appropriately for your pet."Finding the love of your life in a dog or cat body is the easy part," said Stephanie Shain, the Humane Society's director of outreach. "The hard part is slowing down a bit and really thinking about what this involves. . . . Can you afford this pet?"

Unfortunately, it's the folks who don't think about the costs who are doing their pets and themselves a disservice:

Shelters are filled with animals abandoned because their owners can no longer afford them. The nation's mortgage crisis has increased the number of "foreclosure pets," those left behind because families can't find apartments that will accept them or can't afford the increased deposits required. As the economy deteriorates, Shain said, more owners discover the costs of food, litter or veterinary care are too much for their shrinking budgets.

Pet owners pinched by costs may be tempted to shortchange their animals by not getting regular veterinary care, for example, or resorting to cheap foods that can cause health problems.

At the other extreme, pet owners can sacrifice their own financial stability trying to care for pets they can't afford.

If you're deep in debt and struggling to make ends meet, you may long for the comfort of some furry companionship, but now isn't the time to add another pet to your household. Get your finances on track first.

If you're overwhelmed by the expenses of the pets you've already got, Shain recommended contacting local shelters, animal rescue groups and human services agencies, such as food banks, to see what help might be available.