The simple truth about pet-ownership economics
When Nichole Mayer, 29, married her boyfriend last August, they already had a family in place: two bulldogs, Bella and Winston. "We joke that they're our kids," said the San Diego resident. "They need a lot of looking after, but they give you so much love."
Mayer isn't alone. A record number of Americans have pets—about 68 percent of U.S. households in 2012, or 82.5 million, according to the American Pet Product Association (APPA). And, trendwatchers say, our emotional bonds with our pets are growing closer. Increasingly, we feel that Fido and Fluffy are part of the family.
But as with other family members—like children—providing for them can be expensive.
Of course, doggy school costs a lot less than college, and you won't have to worry about clothing your cat. Still, the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) calculates that you'll spend at least $1,580 for a medium-sized canine pal in the first year and $1,308 for the feline variety, with minimum outlay of $695 and $670, respectively, for every year thereafter. Those totals include spaying and neutering, vaccinations, food, treats, toys, training, licensing, leashes, other supplies and routine veterinary care and medicines. They do not include the cost of boarding or sitting, which can be significant, depending on how much you're away from home.
"You'll spend at least $1,580 for a medium-sized canine pal in the first year and $1,308 for the feline variety."
The cost of pampering
As a nation, our spending on our beloved animals has risen almost 10 percent in the last two years to $55.5 billion, according to APPA estimates, fueled in part by our desire to pamper our four-legged friends with luxury services and products, including grooming, pet hotels and holiday and birthday gifts. (And most of our pets are four-legged. The most popular: dogs, owned by 46.7 percent of the population, and cats by 37.3 percent.)
Health-care spending is up, too. The ASPCA says annual recurring medical expenses start at $160 for a cat and $230 for a medium-sized dog, plus health insurance for around another $200 a year (though it can cost more). But what's not reflected in their calculations are the often daunting expenditures that can pop up when your pet becomes injured or ill.
Keeping Fluffy in shape
While veterinarians say the best way to avoid or minimize expenses over a pet's life span is to invest in preventative care, pet owners have been making fewer visits to the vet, according to the Association of Veterinary Medicine (AVMA). It calculated that while dog visits to the vet went up 9.2 percent from 2006 to 2011, the percentage of households not taking their dogs to the vet at all increased by 8 percent. Households never taking their cat to the vet were up by a startling 24 percent, with cat visits overall down by 4.4 percent.
"So many diseases are preventable with relatively little cost upfront," said Dr. Kimberly May, AVMA's assistant director of communications. "Getting teeth examined and cleaned regularly will prevent serious dental problems—and overall health issues—down the road. Vaccines are available for deadly diseases like canine parovirus and distemper. And checking for heartworm is significantly cheaper for you—and much better for your dog—than treatment."
The rapid evolution of veterinary medicine in the past five to 10 years has put upward pressure on the price of pet care. Vets can now treat almost all the same problems in animals that we experience as humans. But the price of tests and procedures can be eye-popping. Simply removing a foreign object from a cat's stomach or intestines, a frequent issue, can run close to $2,000. Treating cancer or replacing a joint—two conditions more common in pets now that they're living longer—can multiply that figure. Radiation therapy for a dog, for example, can range from $2,000 to $6,000, while a hip replacement could run close to $5,000.
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