Dog chewed cushion on couch
There is no doubt that being a pet parent brings great joy and fulfillment. But that happiness comes at a cost: From parrots and pythons to Persians and Poodles, every pet has a price tag. Carriers and crates, treats and toys, litterboxes and leashes — these are but a handful of the expenses that must be considered for any pet. Knowing what the expected costs are will put you on better footing should an unexpected expense arise. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has compiled an excellent chart of the expected annual costs for the first year of pet ownership.

Food, toys, leashes, cat litter, grooming and veterinary care are just some of the expenses involved in raising a healthy, happy pet. Many pet owners do not fully consider all of the financial obligations involved in pet ownership, including the cost of emergencies and illnesses. When you budget for both predictable and unexpected charges, you are more likely to make health decisions for your pet with your heartstrings, rather than your purse strings.

According to the ASPCA, basic annual expenses can exceed $1,500 for dogs and $1,000 for cats, with average veterinary care accounting for several hundred dollars each year. How many of us plan for these regular expenditures — let alone the cost of unexpected emergency veterinary visits?

From the Beginning

It is important to consider the cost of food, housing and medical care from the moment you decide to add a pet to your family. These costs can vary widely, depending on the type of pet you own. Discussing your family’s lifestyle can help you identify a pet that is a good fit for you, financially and otherwise.

Seeking a veterinarian’s advice before making the initial commitment can also be helpful. Certain breeds of dogs and cats are more prone to specific medical conditions, which can raise your costs. Does your breed of choice have an increased risk of hip dysplasia, intervertebral disc disease or allergies? What about the costs associated with bathing and grooming long-haired cats and dogs? Being prepared for these variable expenditures will allow you to budget more accurately.

Once a pet reaches maturity, regular expenses become more predictable. Figuring out how much you spent the previous year on food, litter, toys, leashes, collars and grooming can help you project costs for the coming year. In addition, your veterinarian will be able to outline the charges associated with your pet’s basic annual medical needs, including physical exams, vaccinations (based on risk-factor analysis and lifestyle), lab work and parasite prevention or testing.

Expect the Unexpected

We hope that our pets will always be 100 percent healthy and that the only veterinary visits will be for well care. Expenses associated with an emergency, an accident or a serious illness often take pet owners by surprise. Expecting the unexpected — and preparing for it financially — allows you to make the best medical decisions for your pet, rather than simply opting for the most affordable treatment.

In addition to unplanned veterinary visits, here are some other types of unexpected costs that should be considered:

  • Carpet cleaning due to accidents.
  • Replacing grass or fixing landscaping where a dog did some digging.
  • Water damage from a leaking fish tank.
  • Replacing couch cushions or other furniture chewed on by a teething puppy.
  • Travel-associated costs, such as pet sitters or boarding facilities.

Budgeting for the Golden Years

As your pet approaches his golden years, your veterinarian may recommend more visits, more diagnostic testing and more medications, as well as nutritional supplements or special diets. All of these recommendations have one goal in mind: keeping your pet healthy through early diagnosis and pre-emptive care.

As pets age, the number of medical problems they develop inevitably increases. Allergies can lead to significant skin and ear problems, for example, or your pet may require a hip replacement or chemotherapy. It is important that the amount budgeted for veterinary care is increased as your pet gets older.

Once diagnosed, a number of the most common diseases seen in older pets, such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, osteoarthritis and cancer, may be controllable through a variety of treatment options that range from surgery to diet changes. Because these conditions usually require lifelong treatment, however, you will need to plan to provide for your pet during these illnesses.

A Helping Hand

Medical savings accounts are a planning tool that allow patients to ensure financial liquidity in the face of human medical need. Health insurance also ensures that our bodies are covered as we get older. A number of similar resources are available to help with budgeting for pet care as well.

By enrolling your dog or cat in a pet insurance program at a young age, you will most likely pay a lower premium and ensure coverage for the majority of age-related changes that may occur. It is important to enroll pets when they are young because once conditions such as cancer or kidney failure develop, your pet may either be excluded from coverage or ineligible for enrollment. Knowing that you have insurance to help with unexpected situations is invaluable in helping to make those lifesaving or life-extending decisions.

The majority of pet owners pay for nonbudgeted pet care items with a credit card. Some veterinarians now accept third-party health care payment plans. These plans frequently offer 12-month interest-free programs to cover larger-than-expected veterinary bills, allowing you more time to pay for your pet’s veterinary care without incurring high interest charges.

The Long Haul

Everyone who owns a pet knows how important a role they play in our lives. Our nonhuman family members contribute so much to our physical and mental well-being. As pet owners, we have made a long-term commitment to maintain our pets’ quality of life, which includes budgeting for their care for the duration. It is important to seek guidance early and often to make sure we choose the right type of pet for our lifestyle and personal budget, and to understand the options available to us to cover the costs of care and other expenses.

After all, there is no doubt that parenting is hard work. Whether your baby has two legs or four (or none), he deserves only the very best!

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