Pets quickly become a part of the family with their unconditional love worth any amount of money. You must be sure you can afford one.
Benefits outweigh the costs
Pets are expensive but the benefits may outweigh the costs. Before committing to add a new member to your family it is important to consider the financial side first.
• It’s no secret that goldfish will cost a lot less in the upkeep department than a golden retriever. That’s why there are 139 million freshwater fish kept as pets.
♦ Dogs and cats always have a special place in our hearts. Also, our wallets.
• Petfinder estimates that the cost of a dog or cat in the first year alone will be just over $1,000. You have to consider things like adoption fees, supplies, food, basic vaccinations and routine veterinary fees, not including toys.
• Ongoing costs will be food, routine vet bills and supplies. These are estimated to run around $500 per year for a dog and $450 per year for a cat. This assumes no major illnesses or accidents.
♦ The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates the annual cost to be in the $1,000 range.
You can save on pet food by avoiding fancy specialty brands, using ever present coupons and shopping online. You will still need to plan for yearly veterinary visits.
The same as with people, routine physicals can help catch something early and help avoid costly treatments down the road. Keeping up-to-date on vaccines is a preventative measure but also a requirement in most states.
How to find an animal
Unless someone gives you an animal, you will have to pay to get it.
♦ Adopting a pet from a shelter typically runs from $20 to $350. Most shelter dogs end up there because their owners couldn’t afford to keep them or their landlord would not allow them to stay. Others are abandoned or lost animals picked up by animal-control. If they are not rescued many will be euthanized.
♦ Adopting an animal from a rescue organization typically costs from $150 to $400. These places often take pets from shelters to save their lives. Rescue places cost more because they have already invested in the animal to prepare them for a new home. Most will already have been vaccinated and spayed or neutered. It is also common for many of these animals to already have a microchip.
You should not expect these animals to come to you in perfect condition. Many will still have some ailments like ear infections or intestinal problems that you will need to treat after you bring them home.
With patience and a little love these problems can be overcome.
♦ You can buy from a pet store but many animal rights groups say this is not a good idea. The animals often come from puppy mills or kitten factories. A number of states have banned their retail sale.
Dogs may need training that you may not know how to give. Some rental agencies and condo associations require certification for doggy training.
Private classes with a trainer run from $240 to $600.
If you have to work long hours or travel for your job, there will be times when your pet will be alone. Pet-sitting and day cares can help, but the cost can add up quickly.
♦ Pet-sitting in your home is generally best for cats and nervous or aggressive dogs.
Pet sitters typically charge $20 to $65 a day. The low end is just a 25-minute check and feed stop. Walking the dog raises the price. And if the sitter has to stay overnight the cost jumps to $50 to $75. If you have more than one animal or it is a holiday, expect to pay more.
Pet day care
Pet day cares are run much like day cares for children. Sociable dogs generally do well, boarding with other dogs. Boarding costs very widely depending on the conditions.
• Typically pet day cares are from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm. Simple boarding runs from $12 to $26 per day while doggy-spas can run $55 a day. Many offer monthly rates.
Overnight stays range from $25 - $85 a night.
The cost typically includes one or more feedings, playtime with staff members and periodic walks for pets to do their "business." Additionally, pets receive several rest times throughout the day.
Most facilities offer both an indoor and outdoor play area where dogs can socialize.
• Many day cares charge an application fee, which can run anywhere from $3 to more than $30. Additionally, most facilities charge an extra fee to owners who pick up their pet late. This cost is typically calculated by the hour — and many will charge you for a full hour, even if you are just a few minutes late.
• Many day cares will pick up and drop off your dog for an additional fee. Cost for this service ranges from $5 to $10 each way, but may save you money if you always arrive late to pick up your pet.
Home owners insurance
Dogs are particularly worrisome for home owners insurance because dogs bite. Check with your home insurer to see what impact a dog may have on your coverage and premium.
♦ Dog bites and other dog-related injuries to people accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners-liability claims paid out in 2016.
• Pit bulls and Rottweilers have had the highest number of dog-bite fatalities.
People worry more about these costs than the day-to-day cost of pet ownership. But if your pet is healthy and takes very few risks (stays indoors) these costs are manageable.
♦ Depending upon your pet’s age and condition you should plan for a basic wellness check. In the past bi-annual was common but these days most vets are suggesting annual visits. It coincides well with routine vaccinations.
• Average cost of a physical exam is $45-$65
• Average cost of vaccines per shot is $15-$28
During a routine preventative care or wellness visit, your pet will have a thorough physical exam in which the vet will check your pet’s hearing, vision, teeth and gums, heart function, respiration, skin and coat, musculature, and more.
• Most vets will push routine blood work which is less important in the early years and much more important as your pet ages. Blood work runs from $85-$110.
Overweight pets cost more. Overweight pets are at greater risk of developing serious health conditions like diabetes. Like people they need to be monitored more closely and more often.
• Overweight pets will be encouraged to eat a prescription diet food sold by the veterinary clinic. Because it is special it will cost more than the pet store version.
Watching what you feed your pet will help your pet stay healthy, keep weight in check and save you money at the same time.
High Vet bills
The vast majority of pet owners deal with routine annual veterinary care which costs between $200 and $300 annually.
♦ It is the unexpected events such as accidents, injuries, and illnesses that can cost a lot more. Costs that few pet owners are prepared for both mentally and financially.
If your overweight cat shows signs of diabetes, it could easily cost over $300 just in testing for your vet to properly diagnose. Treatment can become quite costly especially if frequent visits to the vet are needed.
If your dog fails a $45 heart worm test, you now have treatment costs of anywhere from $400 to $1,000.
A common problem like an ear infection costs $100 to $250 to treat.
If your dog eats something he shouldn't, you'll be looking at a vet bill of about $1,550 on average to get it out.
How to cope with the unexpected
Consider creating a special savings account to cover your pet’s annual vet bills plus incidentals.
If you start saving while your pet is young, by the time he or she suffers an affliction typical of old age, you will be financially prepared to handle those unplanned diagnoses as well as any other unexpected medical problems that occur along the way.
PetAssure used to offer a simple discount plan. You paid a membership fee and received a discount at participating vets pretty much immediately.
♦ A cat used to cost around $79 per year and a dog is around $99 per year. This deal is now gone.
PetAssure now tries to make tie-ups with companies as a form of company benefit. The cost is right up there with basic pet insurance.
For folks not associated with a specific company, PetAssure offers a plan called Mint Wellness Plan. You pay your vet bill up front and ask for reimbursement. There are three plans.
The cheapest is $18 per month with a maximum reimbursement of $350 per year. A savings account might be a better choice.
Some veterinary practices offer third-party healthcare financing or healthcare credit cards, such as CareCredit. Depending upon the amount and your credit rating you may qualify for a zero interest plan.
These plans are credit card based plans so they will have stipulations that must be followed closely to avoid large interest rate charges. Still this type of financing may be more cost effective than paying a regular card.
Many people would rather not have to decide between their bank account and their pet’s health. Planning for the worst case may mean buying pet insurance.
♦ Pet insurance could be a safety net. It also provides a peace of mind and that is hard to place a value on.
Only about 1% of pet owners buy health policies for their pets.
There are about two dozen companies offering a variety of policies, some are good and some are poor. Most cover only cats and dogs, but Nationwide also sells policies for birds and exotic pets.
♦ A key point is to enroll your pets while they're young and before they've been diagnosed with any medical conditions.
These policies are not so expensive in the early years but as your pet ages the premiums for almost all of them jump up. The premiums for older pets increase to the point that most people cannot afford the policies.
• The average person drops this insurance after 3 to 4 years of rate increases.
It is best to think of these policies as emergency accident coverage rather than illness coverage since most serious illnesses develop over time and occur more often in pets over the age of 6.
Six is the magic number.
♦ You can wait until your pet is older to buy pet insurance but it will cost more and insurers will do everything possible to avoid paying large claims using pre-existing conditions and medical history as a reason for denial.
• Your older pet will have a much longer medical history for you to prove and the insurance company to scrutinize.
♦ The cost of a policy varies based on the age of your pet, its breed, where you live and the type of coverage you select. But a policy with broad coverage typically costs about $30 to $150 a month for a dog and $10 to $50 a month for a cat.
Most plans cover both accidents and illnesses but usually don't cover routine exams and care, such as annual checkups, dental cleanings and vaccinations.
Accident-only policies, which cover injuries but not illness and can be considerably less expensive. You will need to read the policy benefit very carefully to see what is and is not covered.
♦ None of these policies will cover pre-existing conditions, and some exclude exams or hereditary and congenital conditions, such as hip dysplasia, often seen in some large dog breeds.
Some conditions that are covered may be considered pre-existing if they develop up to a year after you enroll. This part is very difficult to find explained in the policy.
• As with your own health insurance, if your pet is healthy throughout the year, you may not recoup the cost of your premiums. But if your pet suffers from an ongoing health condition or has an accident, the coverage may pay for itself.
When shopping for a policy, carefully review what's covered and what's not. The insurer should clearly spell out the details, including any limitations or exclusions.
♦ Avoid wellness add-ons. Many insurers push add-ons for wellness, preventive, and elective care. It sounds like a nice complete package.
The additional cost for wellness coverage compared to what is actually reimbursed makes this type of add-on too expensive.
• You need to be sure to understand deductibles, co-insurance and maximum limits. Higher deductibles yield lower premiums but also less chance you will receive any reimbursement.
• Many plans have maximum yearly limits, some have maximum lifetime limits or maximum event limits. These details are often overlooked when people buy pet policies.
♦ It would be best to ignore the horror stories and boasting about huge reimbursements found on almost all pet insurance review sites. Some are true but the industry does not make money if they are common.
The Pet Health Insurance Association reported that in 2017, the average annual premium for “accident and illness” coverage was $516, while the average claim paid was $278.
A lot of coughing but few hairballs to show for it.