Here’s how to plan financially for a four-legged family member.
Cost shouldn’t be an obstacle to pet ownership, says Andrea Peterson, the COO of LifeLine Animal Project. “Everybody who chooses to have a pet should have a pet,” says Peterson, whose organization runs the animal services and shelters for Fulton and DeKalb counties. “We want to support whatever that takes.”
LifeLine’s Pets for Life program helps more than 300 people a month in Atlanta with expenses from food to vet care, and it has special funds for emergencies.
Pet cost estimates vary widely. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals suggests an annual average of $1,391 for dogs and $1,149 for cats. Lifestyle site The Spruce Pets offers a range for dogs of $1,500 to $9,900.
Americans spent a record $103.6 billion on pets in 2020, up 6.7% from 2019, according to the American Pet Products Association. Your spending depends on the size and age of your cat or dog, any pet health issues, your lifestyle and choices on such items as toys, food and treats.
Cut initial costs by adopting from a shelter or rescue group. LifeLine charges $85 for a dog, $65 for a cat or $40 for either if the pet is older than 5 or the adopter is over 55. Those pets are spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped, saving approximately $620 per dog or $345 per cat.
A dog will require a collar or harness and leash ($60), a carrier ($50), a crate ($60), grooming tools ($40) and training ($200), the ASPCA says. For a cat, one-time costs include grooming tools ($20), a carrier ($40), a litter box ($20), a scratching post ($15) and perhaps a collar or harness and leash ($15). You can spend much more, such as $600 for a self-cleaning litter box.
Here’s what you can expect to pay annually:
License: Fulton and DeKalb require dogs and cats to be licensed for $10 per year or $25 for three years if they’re fixed or $25 for one year or $60 for three if they’re not.
Food: The ASPCA estimates $300 a year for dogs and $225 for cats. The Spruce Pets suggests $250 to $700 for dogs. The bigger and more active your pet, the more you’ll need.
Veterinary care, vaccinations and preventives: The ASPCA advises planning on $410 for a dog and $300 for a cat, but differing approaches and costs for vet offices produce widely varying prices, says veterinarian M. Duffy Jones, founder of Buckhead’s Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital. The Atlanta Humane Society and LifeLine can save you money with $20 annual exams and vaccines starting at $40. Preventive medications for fleas and ticks cost around $200 a year through vets’ offices and less from outside pharmacies. Budget $100 annually for a dog’s heartworm testing and prevention.
Pet insurance: The ASPCA includes $516 for a dog or $348 for a cat for insurance against accidents and illnesses, when treatments can cost thousands. Jones says it’s a good idea to buy insurance while a pet is young and free of disqualifying conditions. Even better: self-insure by saving money for future catastrophes.
Litter: The ASPCA suggests a lowball cost of $150 per cat
Toys: The ASPCA estimates $37 for a dog and $22 for a cat, though some pets are happy with a used hair ribbon or an old shoe.
Treats: The ASPCA sets aside $60 for a dog and $36 for a cat.
Other stuff: Expect $20 to $25 a day to board a pet while you travel and at least that much whenever someone else walks your dog. Each professional grooming session can top $50. A $10 pet brush for home should last years.
VETS DON’T BITE, SO JUST ASK
Veterinary costs can cause friction between the partners in a pet’s health: the owner and the doctor. The best treatment, Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital founder M. Duffy Jones says, is communication. Ask your vet to detail the costs underlying service fees. Don’t hesitate to request an itemized estimate before getting treatment and ask for further information. Just remember that the doctor is supposed to be an ally, not an enemy. Tight finances? Nonprofits such as the Atlanta Humane Society and LifeLine Animal Project provide discounted services. And Jones says good vets will work with you to make care affordable. Vets are “the MacGyvers of medicine,” he says. “We’ll figure out a way to get it done to give your pet the best care in a way that you can afford.”
LifeLine Animal Project Community Animal Center
Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital
Jack-of-all-trades writer covering almost anything but beauty and fashion at Simply Buckhead; fond of flamingos and sloths.