The cost of pet ownership: The good, the bad, and the ugly

This article is part of relationship month at Get Rich Slowly.

As a dental hygienist, my girlfriend Kim meets lots of interesting people and has lots of interesting conversations. Last week while cleaning a patient’s teeth, the topic turned to pets.

“Two years ago, we didn’t have any animals,” Kim told her patient. “We were on the road in an RV. Today? Today we have three cats and a dog. Honestly, I’d be fine with more animals. We love them.”

“We love our animals too,” her patient said. “We might love them a little too much. Recently, we moved. I’d say 90% of that decision was based around our dog. Is that wrong?”

Kim laughed. “It’s not wrong,” she said. “We did something similar ourselves.”

Pets are expensive, Kim and her patient agreed. Are they worth it? Yes. Yes, they are. But as with most things in life, pet costs can quickly get out of control if you let them. It’s important to find a balance between the needs of your animals and your own financial well-being.

For the past two years, Kim and I have been working to find where that balance is for our family.

Meeting Tahlequah

Near the end of our 15-month RV trip around the United States, Kim and I stopped to visit my cousin in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. For a week, we left behind modern life to enjoy the slower pace in this isolated 100-acre creek hollow. We enjoyed the communal meals (during which several families dined together at once). We marveled at the light show provided each evening by the fireflies. (There are no fireflies in Oregon.) And we lavished love on all of the animals: the cows, the chickens, the cats, and the dogs.

Especially the dogs.

A few weeks before we arrived, one of the farm dogs had given birth to a litter of puppies. Kim fell in love with them. “I think I want to take one home with us,” she said.

“Maybe on our way back through,” I said, trying to be the voice of reason.

Kim meeting puppies

Our plan was to turn east toward Memphis, Mississippi, and Alabama. We’d then drop down to the Gulf Coast, cut over to New Orleans, then make our way into Texas. “Dallas isn’t far from here,” I said. “When we get there, then we can decide whether or not we want a dog.”

For the next month, Kim and I spent our evenings reading about dogs. Both of our families had dogs when we were growing up, but neither of us had owned one as an adult. We learned about different training philosophies. We discussed discipline. We discussed costs. We discussed what adding an animal would mean for our relationship as a couple.

“Do you still want the dog?” I asked Kim a few weeks later as we pulled into Dallas.

“Yes, I do,” she said.

After spending a few days with my pal PT (from PT Money), we returned to my cousin’s farm in Tahlequah. Kim’s puppy was still there. “Hello, Tahlequah,” Kim said as she petted the pup. “How would you feel about moving to Oregon?”

Tahlequah seemed happy about the idea. Kim was even happier. She turned to me and smiled. “With this dog, I thee wed,” she said. And that’s how we entered a new phase in our lives.

Puppy Love

We’ve now had Tahlequah (or Tally, as we call her) for 18 months. The experience has been awesome and frustrating at the same time.

Tally is a mutt but she’s 100% hound (a mixture of beagle and mountain cur, the latter of which is the newest registered breed at the AKC). She’s ruled by her nose. If she gets on a scent, her entire brain shuts down and instinct takes over.

Yesterday, for instance, I was walking her off-leash (with permission) through the neighbor’s property. She stumbled upon the spot where the local deer had bedded down the previous night and she was off like a bolt, streaking across other neighbors’ properties (without permission). It took ten minutes to get her back on leash. (Or just now, as I was writing this paragraph, she spotted the squirrel that lives under our house. She’s now barking barking barking incessantly out the window and she will not stop.)

Mostly, though, we love her — and she loves us. Kim and I have become those obnoxious pet parents who take their dog with them everywhere. (We’re not even ashamed of it!)

Driving with Tahlequah

At first, adding a puppy to our lives seemed like a reasonable financial decision. Before we picked her up, Kim and I spent maybe $100 or $200 on puppy supplies, such as a crate, a collar, a leash, and a variety of toys and tools. After we left my cousin’s house, we stopped for a couple of days in southern Kansas. While there, we took Tally to the vet for a checkup and her first series of shots. That vet visit was under $100. (In retrospect, that’s because we were in southern Kansas.)

“This dog isn’t so expensive,” I said. Hahaha. Little did I know…

Pets Are Expensive

Upon returning to Portland in June 2016, the cost of pet ownership began to mount.

  • First, vet visits here are more expensive.
  • Second, once we had settled at home, we began acquiring more dog stuff: toys, treats, and so on.
  • Third, Tally turned into a destructive force of nature.

In under six months, our puppy probably did a couple thousand dollars worth of damage. This is embarrassing to admit, but it’s true. Tally destroyed shoes — including Kim’s favorite pair of leather boots. (Eventually we realized that if we sacrificed one pair of shoes to her, Tally would leave the other shoes alone.) She ate eyeglasses. She devoured my dental retainer. She gnawed on the furniture. She peed on the carpet. She scratched at the doors.

“This dog is expensive,” I said.

Apparently, Kim and I are gluttons for punishment. One animal was not enough. Within a month of returning to our condo in Portland, we decided to expand the family. We picked up two kittens from a local rescue. And not two ordinary kittens. Two sickly kittens.

Over the next few months, Avery and Bagheera made several vet visits, both to get their initial checkups and booster shots, and to make sure they were recovering from whatever respiratory infection they’d suffered from as babies. Meanwhile, we discovered the cats could be just as destructive as dogs. Our kittens were hell-bent on shredding anything made of cloth or paper. They peed on the bed. They destroyed the blinds.

“These cats are expensive,” I said.

All Creatures Great and Small

Throughout last winter, Kim and I enjoyed bonding with our three beasts. The five of us made do in our condo. We walked the dog through the park next door. The cats got a taste of the outdoors from our balcony — but they wanted more. In the evening, all of us snuggled together while binge-watching All Creatures Great and Small.

“Maybe we should move,” Kim said one day last March.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“It doesn’t feel right to keep these animals trapped in a fourth-floor apartment,” she said. “They’re wild beasts. They want to be outside. They need space to roam.” I agreed with her.

While the animals weren’t the only reason we decided to move last year, they were certainly a major consideration. As we hunted for houses in April, we looked for a lot where we could let the beasts outside to roam. Eventually, we opted for a one-acre lot in a semi-rural neighborhood. It was a good choice.

This place is like dog heaven. We have a large fenced yard that Tally can use whenever she wants. At least once per day — sometimes twice — we take her on a two-mile walk through the neighborhood. She sniffs and sniffs and sniffs, tracking the squirrels and deer and coyotes. She digs in the ditch to uncover mice and moles.

Meanwhile, the cats love it here too. They’re able to hunt whenever they want. (In 45 days this year, they’ve caught twelve critters.) They like going outside to bask in the sun. There are plenty of trees to climb and dark places to hide. With the cats, though, there’s an element of danger. As I said, there are coyotes here, and we lost Bagheera to them at the end of October. (Yes, I’m aware that many people believe cats should remain indoors. Kim and I believe exactly the opposite. We’re aware of the risks faced by outdoor cats, but believe its cruel to keep them confined inside.)

After Bagheera disappeared, Kim and I had a discussion. How many animals should we have here at our country cottage? “You shouldn’t ask me,” Kim said. “If it were my decision, we’d have a whole farm: goats and horses and chickens and cows. Plus, more cats and dogs.”

I’m not willing to turn this place into a full-fledged farm but I was willing to bring home two new kittens. At the end of November, we added Savannah and Bisbee to our menagerie.

We now share our home with one dog, three cats, and a whole lot of chaos.

Our current crop of cats

Enough Is Enough

Because I’ve been carefully logging every penny I spend, I’m able to see how much our animals cost us. Last year, I spent $1763.25 on the pets. Kim — who does not track her spending — spent several hundred dollars too. My best guess is that we’re paying $200 per month (or about $7 per day) to care for our companion animals. They are not cheap.

Our pet spending (2017)

In the nearly three months we’ve had the new kittens, I’ve spent $1076.83 for their initial examinations and shots. On Monday, we took Tally and Avery for their annual checkups. The dog cost us $376.38 and the cat cost us $404.45.

That’s $1857.66 I’ve paid to the vet in three months. To be fair, I shouldn’t have any additional pet fees this year — barring illness or injuries — but there are still ongoing expenses for food, treats, toys, litter, and petsitting.

“Wow,” Kim said on our drive home from the vet. “That was twice as expensive as I thought it would be.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I hate how much it costs. I mean, I want to make sure our beasts are healthy, but where do you draw the line? How much is too much to spend on a cat? Or on a dog?”

“I’m willing to spend as much as we need to keep the dog healthy,” Kim said. “But we live in the country. Our cats go outside. As much as I love them, we have to be realistic about it. They have great lives, but those lives will probably be short.”

“Well, now that everybody is up-to-date on their basic shots, now that we know everybody is healthy, maybe it’s time to stop doing annual checkups for the cats,” I said. “What do you think about taking them in only if they’re sick or hurt?”

“I think that’s how it should be,” Kim said. “That’s how we did it when I was growing up.”

“Same here,” I said.

Special offer: My brother Tony owns a business that produces animal nutritional supplements, including dog treats. For the rest of 2018, he’s offered to give GRS readers a 20% discount (and free shipping) on orders for dog products totalling over $20! Visit Majesty’s Animal Nutrition and use the promo code tally20 at checkout. (I have zero financial stake in this, by the way.)

Cutting the Cost of Pet Ownership

Kim and I have decided that, in effect, our cats only have catastrophic health care coverage. (Although I’m worried that this could be a false economy. We’ll see.) Meanwhile, we’re discovering ways to cut the cost of pet ownership — especially on the everyday stuff. For example:

  • We’ve been drying dry dog food and dry cat food from Amazon via their “subscribe and save” program. About once every three months, we need an extra bag of food. When we do, I buy it at Costco.) We also buy treats via Amazon.
  • We’re buying wet cat food at the local Wal-Mart, which seems to have the best prices.
  • We’ve learned to buy our pet toys at the thrift store, not the pet store. Two weeks ago, for instance, we bought Tally six or seven stuffed animals (stuffed animals intended for kids, not for dogs) and paid less than $20. Once garage sale season begins, we’ll explore that route too.
  • When we can remember, we buy cat litter in bulk at a local pet store. It’s way cheaper than buying smaller packages.
  • When possible, we’re paying people we know to take care of our animals when we’re gone. Not only is this better on our pets, but it’s less expensive for us.

Thankfully, Tally’s destructive nature has diminished as she’s become a teenager, which saves us money. She hasn’t shaken it completely — she ate my best hat a few weeks ago — but mostly she’s learned what she can chew on and what she can’t. (More importantly, Kim and I are very vigilant about leaving stuff where the dog can get to it.)

We would love to hear experiences from other pet owners. Do you have animals? How much do they cost? How much do their annual vet visits cost? Do you have pet insurance? Why or why not? If you do have it, how do you feel about it? What other tips do you have for keeping the cost of pet ownership low?

On a semi-related note, here’s an amazing story about a woman who adopted an older dog — only to discover it’s the same dog that she had to give up when she was a girl.

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There are 52 comments to "The cost of pet ownership: The good, the bad, and the ugly".

  1. Eileen says 15 February 2018 at 05:55

    I don’t have cats, but don’t they need annual (or bi-annual) shots for general prevention and health? Rabies (particularly if they are outdoor)?

    I’m presume with 4 pets, you probably have a pet sitter at home as opposed to boarding. The reason I mention is that pet boarding places require certain shots in order to be boarded.

    Yes, pets are expensive. We have one dog and I’m amazed at the costs of a healthy dog. I think my dog got flu shots for a few seasons before I did, lol.

  2. Adam says 15 February 2018 at 06:46

    I work in the animal health field — so thanks, indirectly, for my employment!

    When we got a rescue dog in 2012, my company was owned by a nationwide vet chain. So we got free vaccines and significant discounts on other products and services. It was fantastic. That gravy train dried up back in 2015, though; so it goes.

    Gus is a 60-pound shepherd/golden mix. It was tough going for the first few months (we lost a rug and some baseboard trim), but we crate-trained him and found the right kinds of toys and it worked out pretty well. Now he’s a 7-year-old with plenty of energy outside and plenty of relaxing inside. Except when the mailman or UPS driver comes by and his hindbrain takes over and it’s BARK BARK WOOF WOOF WOOF GROWWWWWWWLLLL for a few minutes.

    I highly recommend these things: …Gus hasn’t had a dental procedure since ’14. Periodontal disease is a big deal, and dental procedures — since they involve anesthetic — are unavoidably expensive and involved. Last year we switched to a new vet and she was astounded at the condition of his teeth. It’s all due to that toy. He gnaws off occasional plastic shards to vacuum up, but totally worth it.

  3. Carly says 15 February 2018 at 07:01

    We had, and then dropped, pet insurance, and I regret it. It seemed pricey, at $480ish a year, but we’ve had our dog ten years, and in the last two years we’ve probably spent almost $10,000 on his health (he had pancreatitis twice in a year). IIRC the pet insurance would have covered 60-80% of the costs. Basically we would have spent $4,800 on insurance, plus another $3000-4000 on his care…but we would still be ahead by $2000-3000.

    There’s no way to predict these things but we do regret cancelling it…something to consider.

    • J.D. says 15 February 2018 at 07:14

      Yeah, when I think about pet insurance, I think about getting it for the dog. She does dog things, and dog things often lead to injuries. In the past month, for instance, she’s stepped on glass twice and cut her paw. Both times, the cut has been small enough that we didn’t need a vet visit. (We happened to see the vet this week the day after her last cut, so that cut got looked at anyhow.) But I can imagine situations that might require much more care.

      • carly says 16 February 2018 at 07:17

        I think if you don’t do pet insurance, I would take the money that would have gone to pet insurance and put in a separate account. I wish we had done that instead of just assuming we wouldn’t need it. For the first 8 years that was true, but as the dog has crossed solidly into big dog “elderly” years, more and more things pop up that cost money. He’s on special food, he needs anti-inflammatory meds AND shots, etc. He’s lucky he’s so damn cute.

  4. Honey Smith says 15 February 2018 at 07:10

    Don’t most rescue organizations require you to promise to keep cats indoor-only?

    • J.D. says 15 February 2018 at 07:15

      They do, but I’ve only known one person who ever stuck to that promise. In our case, neither place we adopted from required that pledge. (The first rescue did strongly encourage it, though. And at that time, we thought the cats WOULD be indoor-only…)

  5. Joe says 15 February 2018 at 07:11

    We have 3 cats and we’re down to one now. She’s 17 so she might be gone soon too. We only take them to see the vet when they’re sick. That usually means they’re ready to go. She’s an indoor cat and she’s fine with it. We spend around $200/year on food and kitty litter.

    I’m from Thailand and people think of pet differently there. They are pets and they are more like partners or servants. Dogs are used to protect your house from prowlers. Cats are helpful to keep pests out. If one dies, then you can get another.
    In the US, they’re treated more like kids. People are much more attached to their dogs here.

    • J.D. says 15 February 2018 at 07:19

      Joe, to me there’s even been a difference between when I was a kid growing up in Canby forty years ago compared with today in Portland. Not sure if it’s a time thing (meaning the cultural attitude toward pets has shifted since the 1970s) or if it’s a location thing (meaning people treat animals differently in the country than in the city) or both. I suspect it’s both.

      • Brandon Cronan says 15 February 2018 at 11:21

        J.D. I would propose that it’s part of a large, worldwide, science-based, cultural trend that realizes animals are more than simple biological automatons put on Earth to be used as tools and for consumption by humans. They share with us humans similar evolutionary ancestors, and because of this they share similar biological structures, including nervous systems and brains.

        I think it’s obvious to most dog owners that dogs have feelings. They feel pleasure when you rub their belly, they feel pain when they get hurt. They get anxious when you’re not around. They make conscious decisions based on past experiences. They communicate a lot of this verbally as well as through body language.

        You’ve made some big, expensive decisions in the interest of the animals that you love and that are close to you. I would absolutely do the same thing if I was a dog owner, and I wouldn’t think twice.

  6. Angela L. says 15 February 2018 at 08:21

    I’m down to one rescue cat at this point. I had two previously but had to put one down a couple years ago due to cancer. When I first rescued my cats I looked into pet insurance but, at that time, there were a lot of prohibitions with pre-existing conditions. And since mine were rescues with various issues, most of their subsequent illnesses wouldn’t have been covered. I don’t know if that’s changed in recent years since this was more than a decade ago. I do still hear about people who have pet insurance and have to argue with the insurance company about every test or procedure and it taking a long time to get reimbursed.

    For my purposes, I decided that my emergency fund would be used if special expenses came up for pet care. Unfortunately, this has come up for me. But it’s nice to have already made that decision and know that the money is there.

    Regarding your cats seeing a vet: Is there no rabies vaccine requirement where you live? The vast majority of localities require pets to be vaccinated for rabies. Just something you might want to check if you haven’t looked into it. I live in Boston and am required to get rabies and distemper vaccines for my cat. This year my cat was due for both (distemper is every 3 years) and the visit and vaccines cost $119. Plus, since you live in a rural area, there is a pretty good chance your cats could get rabies from a tangle with a wild infected animal. In my mind, an annual check-up and rabies shot is cheap prevention for a painful and cruel disease that’s easily preventable. Just my two cents.

  7. Tina in NJ says 15 February 2018 at 08:29

    A few years ago, my daughter got a guinea pig. Not much later, the critter was put down next to my sewing. And promptly ate a straight pin. We raced him to our vet, which had recently converted to 24-hour status. Fortunately for Bubblegum (the pig), the pin was lodged in his cheek pouch and hadn’t gone into his tummy. They gave him a whiff of gas to relax him so he wouldn’t fight them, then presented us with pin (in a test tube) and a bill for $300. Could have been worse, I guess.

    • Tze says 05 March 2018 at 00:54

      Tina, that’s a shocking amount for a small procedure! Then again, prices do seem very different in every country. For $300 I got intensive surgery for my guinea pig (removal of cancerous womb and after care) in Germany. We’ve also had a similar situation like yours that set us back only $75.
      But a friend who lives in Norway pays $300 just for a regular check on a critter, so…in that case, you got the better deal. 😉

      We’ve owned several guinea pigs and despite their size, they really can put a strain on one’s budget. People have scoffed at some $200+ medical bills and the fact we get them cremated instead of being destroyed (which is what literally happens when leaving deceased pets at the vet), saying we could have bought a couple dozen more pigs for that money (right, as if people would actually change their pets like paper party plates!).

      We did, in one case, have one pig put down because she needed to have all teeth removed and be hand-fed (which she hated) every 2 hours for the rest of her life. That was the one case where money and time were the reason to let a pet go. Having one of us give up their job and sharing pet care night shifts just wasn’t an option. Still, not an easy decision.

      I don’t think there’s a standard ‘normal’ for what people should spend as a maximum, it comes down to what one is willing to sacrifice, be it in money or time. If it’s worth it, do it.

      Coming back to the start of JD’s post:
      A country where vet costs are much lower can be a very good reason to move. 😀

  8. Barb says 15 February 2018 at 08:46

    I’ve been a life long pet owner, and I was surprised to see how much more dogs cost compare to cats. I spend as much on my dog in one year as I did on each of my cats for the entire 10 year life span. The dog food and treats cost more, and not only do they cost more but the dog eats more than the cats did. The main cost difference is the boarding/house sitting. The dog cost between $20 and $35 per day for day or overnight boarding, and in contrast the cat cost about $15 every other day or so while I was on a trip.

  9. JoeHx says 15 February 2018 at 09:26

    I have a dog and my wife has a dog. We actually started dating because we both were (are) obsessed with our dogs. I sent her a message on the dating site because she mentioned her dog in her profile.

    They can be expensive. Their yearly vet visit is about $300 each. Then there’s food and toys. Boarding can be expensive too if you need to leave town without them. Thankfully we normally can get my in-laws to watch then for free.

  10. Debbie says 15 February 2018 at 09:58

    I have two cats: one a 4 year old DSH tabby rescue, the other, a Tonkinese (12 years old) from a breeder. Both are largely indoor cats but do go outside into a large fenced patio. Last year, I spent an average of $231 per month while in 2016, it was only $81 per month, $63/mo. in 2015, and $58/mo. in 2014. The difference: a lot of vet bills when the rescue cat developed Irritable Bowel Disease. Additionally, the two decided that they don’t like each other and I’ve had both tested and have tried various drugs for anxiety. Fortunately, a friend and I trade cat-sitting when we vacation. I have never had pet insurance and figure that if it gets too much more expensive than it is now, the cat will just go to cat heaven. I love my pets but they are pets, not children.

  11. lmoot says 15 February 2018 at 10:11

    This is why I don’t own cats or dogs.

    They almost always come with expensive end-of-life care. Surgeries, procedures, medicines, specialized diet’s, etc.

    I have parrots. They are long lived, but tend to succumb quickly to illnesses, which they don’t show signs of, as a survival trait, since they are technically wild animals.

    Morbid, but cheap. Financially and emotionally. I hate to see an animal suffer long term.

  12. Kristen says 15 February 2018 at 10:22

    I have a Tally dog too! Her name is short for Talladega, Alabama, which is where she came from. She seems to think I have done her a disservice by moving her to the cold midwest so she primarily hibernates from November-March and then basks in the sun and sprints the rest of the year. I spent about $2,000 last year between Tally, my cat, and many foster dogs and cats that I took in until they were adopted. It’s worth every penny to me 🙂

  13. Chloe says 15 February 2018 at 11:14

    Yes! we were shocked at how much it has actually cost us having a dog. We do our monthly expenses with a category for the dog and one for our son, and often the dog costs more than the kid! (although our son’s food is lumped in with all the groceries). The dog is only 18mths old, and the first year was definitely more expensive with all the initial shots, neuter and we did a lot of training classes too, so the costs should go down significantly now.

    We have found that it can get expensive to pay for someone to look after the dog when we go away, it definitely adds up. If we’re just going to be gone for a few days over a long weekend then we will usually pay for someone to look after him in their home. But if it is for longer, like a week or two then we get a house / dog sitter to come and stay at our place. It is free (we use and the dog gets to stay at home too. It’s a bit more work to get the house tidy and ready for guests, and to provide a manual etc. for them, but the savings add up.

  14. Paul Hessels says 15 February 2018 at 11:21

    By all means, let your cats outdoors. But don’t feed them; make then find food on their own. Otherwise it’s not a level playing field for the 1 *billion* wild birds that cats kill every year.

  15. Dave @ Accidental FIRE says 15 February 2018 at 11:32

    I have fish in my Koi pond. They are a one time cost and require nothing more than some algae killer here and there. A $14 bottle lasts all summer.

    Of course I can’t really play with them either. But they are very calming to watch.

  16. Frogdancer says 15 February 2018 at 12:01

    That shot of you and the dog in the car FREAKED ME OUT for a second… until I remembered that you’re in America and you have the steering wheel on the other side of the car!!!

    • J.D. says 15 February 2018 at 12:34

      Haha. That’s hilarious, mainly for the image I got of Tally driving the car. It would be bad news. “Look! Over there! A squirrel! We’re going off-road to get it…”

  17. Lizzy says 15 February 2018 at 14:47

    I love animals, but you are right; they can be very expensive. I paid tens of thousands of dollars at the end of my three dogs’ lives. Plus we paid over a thousand on one of our rabbits! I loved them all as family though, and would so it again.

  18. Kristin says 15 February 2018 at 15:35

    I’m pretty upset about the difference in how you treat your cats versus the dog. While I can understand allowing your cats outside, I had an indoor/outdoor cat growing up, I’m very concerned about idea that your cats don’t deserve to have an annual vet check-up. Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but it sounds like you are going to have indoor/outdoor cats but are not going to get them their annual vaccines which includes distemper and rabies, nor provide them with protection against fleas and ticks. I have to say that it seems negligent, not only to your cats but any other cats they could come in contact with over the course of their lives, who could be exposed to a disease that your cats might pick-up including FIV. Since you state that you are completely willing to spend “whatever it takes” to keep the dog healthy, but the cats are not worth that kind of care, maybe you should reconsider having cats and stick to only the dog. Unless you are willing to give them the same consideration as the dog, its not fair to them to have a lesser life than the dog because you don’t think they are worth it. Yes pets are expensive, and to me worth it. I think if you aren’t willing to provide for them all with the same level of care, when you can obviously afford it, then maybe don’t bring them into your lives at all

    • Karen L says 16 February 2018 at 15:36

      I agree with what Kristin said, and I was disappointed in your choices regarding the cats. I always thought you were a cat person, JD.
      We keep our cats indoors as we promised to the rescue group (and would have done so anyway). Most of the people we know with cats keep them indoors.

      • Liz says 17 February 2018 at 18:14

        I was coming here to say the same thing. If you’re not willing to provide pets with at least the required annual vaccinations and medications to keep them (and others) healthy, it’s better not to have them.

        (Speaking as a cat owner who has twice depleted an emergency fund for surgery, but doesn’t have a dog because they cost too much.)

    • Debbie says 17 February 2018 at 19:38

      Agree. If the cats are going outside then they need annual visits and shots. If you do not want to spend the money then do not adopt the cats. There should be no difference between how you care for your dog and how you care for your cats.

    • Elizabeth says 20 February 2018 at 08:18

      Not to pile on too much criticism, but this resonates with me as well, and seems to be indicative of the false belief our society has that cats are less social, loving pets than dogs (or somehow expected to fend for themselves more). I have a dog and two cats, and my older cat (13 now) is significantly more affectionate than my dog. She begs for attention, comes when called, and constantly wants to cuddle. While it can be good for cats to get outdoor stimulus, the trade-off of cat care and dog care in this post seems a little hypocritical to me…Either they’re all just animals whose time will come when it comes, or they’re all part of the family and deserving of the level of care that involves, which includes proactive preventative care. Cats are extremely good at hiding pain, so without regular check-ups, they could be suffering more than necessary when they are injured or sick. Just something to consider.

      On the insurance note, I’m so grateful that I decided to get pet insurance 4 years ago. I get great customer service, no issues with claim payments, and it gives me extreme peace of mind. I never want to be in a situation where I have to choose to put a pet down for financial reasons when they could recover and maintain quality of life with appropriate treatment. I use Trupanion, btw, and they’ve been fantastic.

  19. Jennifer says 15 February 2018 at 15:42

    Almost 17 years ago, one of our first cats cost us $750 for her last few hours at the emergency vet (kidney failure). Our gallows humor for unexpected expenses is “well, it’s cheaper than a dead cat.” Or not. That would be, what, about $2000 now?

    We “self insure” the cats and Chihuahua. We adopted them as mature animals at the humane society, and intend to give them a comfortable home as long as they are feeling good. When an animal gets sick, we discuss how we will handle the inevitable when it comes. A bacterial infection requiring antibiotics? Sure. Diabetes with daily insulin? Maybe. Cancer requiring surgery and chemo? Probably not.

    Perhaps when our kids are grown and independent, we’ll get back into the “pets as children” mindset. Not for a few years yet, anyway.

    • Jennifer says 15 February 2018 at 15:44

      By the way, our local humane society and animal control center provide low-cost immunizations and spay and neuter surgery to anyone who wants to go that route instead of using an independent vet.

      • J.D. says 15 February 2018 at 16:11

        Interesting. I didn’t know that! I’ll have to check out the Humane Society to see if they’re more cost effective. The main issue is they’re on the complete other side of Portland.

        • Christine says 15 February 2018 at 21:47

          The multnomah animal shelter has a deal with Good neighbor vets, a mobile vet operation. If you are renewing your county license, you can get a free rabies vaccine and checkup and $10 for each addl shot (parvo, bordatella, etc). The GN vet also sets up in various pet stores around town on weekends for cheap vet care. Won’t be much good in an emergency, but a cheap way to get routine meds and checkups.

  20. S.G. says 15 February 2018 at 17:15

    I commend you for bravery. Talking about pets is loaded with even more landmines than talking about kids. After all kid care doesnt run the gammut from “i have a dry place for him to sleep, otherwise he’s on his own for food and confort” to “pets deserve more care than kids because they have the same moral value as a human but are more helpless”.

    I’m not going to talk about where i am on it as I’ve seen too many flame wars. But i will suggest you check with your local pet stores. Many have monthly vaccination clinics which are a fraction of the cost. I’d do that with the dog too as “checkups” don’t really do much.

  21. Sheila says 15 February 2018 at 21:07

    I have to agree with Kristin about treating your cats the same way you treat your dog. Being inside/outside cats, they need vaccinations that inside cats don’t need to stay healthy. It’s a small expense compared to the suffering they could experience. It seems cruel to let them suffer with, for example, dental issues if you don’t deem that catastrophic. Preventive care is, imo, cheaper than emergency or catastrophic care. At one point, we had four dogs and three (inside) cats. Once a year, I’d load up five crates for the 5 small pets and the 2 large dogs and get check-ups for all. Feeding good quality food helps keep them healthier, especially their teeth.

  22. Emily says 15 February 2018 at 21:56

    I had a beloved cat that became diabetic and I stepped up to daily insulation shots. I didn’t mind the monthly cost, although the lab tests to determine the correct med amounts was hundreds of dollars. But I was absolutely trapped as far as travel went, as the injection had to be administered daily at the same time. Once I paid a responsible neighbor (I thought) and she wandered over hours after the correct time. I was pretty upset with her.

    Some time after that cat passed I adopted two more and it quickly became apparent one cat had diabetes. I took him to the vet to be put down, although she did promise to try and find another home. Diabetic care is not something I will do again. It totally restricted our lives.

    • Sally says 10 May 2018 at 14:28

      You might have a cat feeding issue as well as a cat lifestyle issue that you could improve upon if you’ve had two cats develop diabetes. Check out for tips on feeding and for environmental enrichment tips.

  23. Sandy says 16 February 2018 at 02:35

    Two things –
    1) Have you tried a chuck it with your pup? That thing saved my life with my hound shepherd mix. She will run full out for the ball (I use two because she never learned to retrieve) and it helps get rid of the crazy energy and destructive puppy behavior. A tired dog is a good dog!
    2) A lot of pet stores have have vaccination dates where they give shots for both pups and cats. I am not sure of the value of a pet checkup but I am sure of the value of the vaccines. It does cut your costs down.

  24. Andy says 16 February 2018 at 07:45

    I love all the great videos; Tally is such a destructive little sweetheart!

    We also moved for our dog, from a 14th floor condo in the heart of the city to a suburban house with a fenced in yard. The quality of life improvement for all of us was huge!

    Our experience has also been that our dog can get pretty expensive. She only destroys the occasional thing, so most of our cost has been in boarding her when we leave town (about $40 per night) and in vet costs. The worst vet cost was when she got heat stroke on 4th of July and we had to take her to the emergency vet. I think that was somewhere in the $750 range for a bunch of tests and giving her fluids beneath the skin (results in a hilarious little camel hump for a couple hours).

  25. MrFireby2023 says 16 February 2018 at 11:33

    A couple of years ago we had an i for Cat and he was only 2 years old and the best car we’ve ever had. He had a blockage in his urethra that required a $2000 surgery. I put him down. I was very sad but that’s way too much $ for a cat when there’s millions of cats that need a home. I regretted my decision for about a year but I recently replaced his absence with a calico kitten and I’ve never looked back.
    Saving that $2 grand was painful at the time but in the long run it wasn’t a bad decision.

  26. Maria says 16 February 2018 at 12:29

    I have two relatively young and healthy indoor cats (5 and 6 years old). Combined for both cats, we generally spend $100 to $120/month on maintenance expenses (home made cat food using a veterinarian-developed recipe, unscented clay litter, occasional incidental expenses). We also self-insure them at a rate of $80/month (combined) that accumulates in our budget. That number is based on averaging about 4 years of data on vet expenses (including one multi-day adventure involving an emergency vet, and dental cleanings for both cats). So far, it seems to be working.

    I urge you to reconsider skipping annual exams. Outdoor cats have more exposure to diseases than do strictly indoor cats. For the good of your cats and of others, vaccinations (rabies, FIV, FeLV, etc.) need to be kept up to date. My kitten I got when I was 6 was outdoor/indoor (and hell of a fighter). He got FIV when he was 8. I wasn’t interested in putting him down and I wasn’t going to let him infect the neighboring cats, so he became an indoor cat overnight. It was an adjustment (to say the least), but I had that cat in good health through college before he finally succumbed to a respiratory infection.

  27. Kristen says 16 February 2018 at 13:21

    Why not build a big outdoor catio with a kitty door, so the cats can enjoy the (occasional) northwest sun (and maybe poke around a few bushes outside) but still be protected from predation, AND not be devastating to the local bird life, etc.

    Finding a good vet is worth a lot. Our vet doesn’t have a super fancy clinic, and she cares very deeply for the welfare of every animal. Her prices are fair and she won’t recommend testing or checkups that are not needed (for instance, she recommended skipping one particular vaccination for our older dog who pretty much stayed home all the time, because of concerns about her immune response to the vaccine after some other health issues. We talked through the risks and made the decision together).

    Lastly, I am a firm believer that providing good quality food to your pet more than pays for itself in fewer vet visits. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure… An hour or so spent on the internet Googling pet food quality and risks can provide a good basic education about this issue.

  28. Mel says 16 February 2018 at 23:10

    “Cruel to have a cat indoors”

    Besides choosing to shorten a domestic animals life by quite a lot ( getting hit by cars, attacked by neighborhood dogs, poisoned, cat fights etc ) Any idea how many small animals and birds cats kill?

    “oh but its natural”

    No. No, it isn’t. Cats are basically introduced to an area and mostly left unchecked. They are not part of a ecosystem. Ask Australia how great cats are.

    That view about cats obviously gets under my skin. All my cats have lived long and happy lives indoors. Safer for them, safer the local wildlife.

    • J.D. says 17 February 2018 at 07:45

      I’m well aware of this stance, Mel, and I respect it. But I also disagree with it.

      • Sally says 10 May 2018 at 14:35

        I’m a veterinarian and I agree with JD. Keeping cats indoors their entire lives brings about many health problems. There are pros and cons to both exclusively indoors and outdoors cats, but to say ALL cats MUST live only indoors their entire lives is not fair to the intelligent cat owner who can create a safe situation for outdoor cats. I also wonder if it’s better to live 12 years being bored, stressed, and obese indoors or 5 years being excited, engaged and fit outdoors. Obviously, everyone will have their own answer. It’s a modern ethical dilemma.

  29. Sarah says 17 February 2018 at 12:50

    I have five cats that I saved from outside. They’ve all had various health problems, the worst that my cat Wenny cannot have ANY dry food or his bladder becomes inflamed and he can’t urinate, which is incredibly dangerous. My vet wanted to put him on an expensive dry food(which is incredibly dangerous for cystitis) like my other cat with food allergies.

    All the vet visits were expensive, but I realized that with proper nutrition, I could cut down on vet visits. My cats are fed an all wet-food diet now, and they have all lost weight and are much more active. Wenny’s cystitis is gone and Wallace’s food allergies have cleared up.

    I agree about only taking cats in when they’re sick. At first, I was taking mine in for yearly boosters, but with my last kitten Zoro, I decided to vaccinate only once. My vet was very upset, but from all the research I’ve done, there is no need to keep re-vaccinating. The cat’s immune system doesn’t forget the diseases vaccinated against after just 1 year! Also, too many vaccinations can lead to kidney disease and cancer.

    My sister has a cat who is 18 and is incredibly healthy. He was only vaccinated when she got him and as a requirement to move into the apartment she’s in.

    For the people who are worried about rabies, you can have a titer blood test done to see if your animal still has antibodies. That’s much safer than vaccinating blindly.

  30. Mercy says 17 February 2018 at 16:33

    We had an adorable golden retriever that we got when he was 6. For much of his life we had pet insurance and that worked well because he got a physical every 6 months and shots were covered too. He was 12 when one day a tumor, that we didn’t know he had, ruptured. The vet said he needed surgery but the chance of survival was 20%, although looking at the vet’s expression I knew he wouldn’t survive. However, so my husband could live with himself I agreed to a surgery that cost $6000, and our dog didn’t make it. Somehow, when it came to our pet, I couldn’t say no.

    Many people later told us that you have to decide in advance what you will spend to save a pet.

    • Tze says 05 March 2018 at 01:21

      That’s good advice, Mel. I was surprised to read how many readers here mentioned going through possible scemarios before/after getting a pet. It can probably help one to be more at peace when having to make that decision.

  31. Ron Cameron says 17 February 2018 at 20:10

    We plan to go “animal free” after our beagle dies someday. We’ve never traveled without having to pay someone decent amounts of money to take care of them, and we’ve never stayed “an extra day” anywhere as that would mess up the animal sitting. We look forward to that freedom some day, but I think it’ll be short lived as I can’t imagine not having a dog for very long.

    Quick note on changing dog food: Do it gradually. We also order most of our food and get a “quick fix” at Costco on occasion. Try to slowly blend from one to the other when making a change, otherwise they may get sick. On your floor. And in your bed.

  32. Mike @ NinjaBudgeter says 23 February 2018 at 11:51

    Great article, a good, balanced look at the cost of pet ownership. I would be happy not having any pets and just eliminating the cost altogether, but my wife is a horse-lover. Definitely one of the most expensive animals you can own!

  33. Blake Smith says 01 March 2018 at 06:28

    Thanks for such detailed analysis. Expense is too often ignored when choosing to own pet. Making pet ownership more problematic then pleasure.

  34. Ani says 10 October 2018 at 12:59

    So far in 2018, I have spent $4,237 on my three dogs and two cats. About $3,000 of that was due to hip surgery for our St. Bernard puppy (she was severely abused before we rescued her). She will need surgery on her other hip, and our vet recommends surgery on her elbow. I estimate the two additional surgeries will cost over $4K. We moved from an apartment to a house for the sake of our animals, and we are thinking of extending our fenced-in yard for them too (approx $2K to do this). From a strictly financial perspective, adopting three dogs was a really stupid mistake…if I could go back in time, I would convince myself to stay in my apartment (2 of the dogs were adopted after our move to a house), and be happy with just 1 dog. My dogs make life difficult in many ways, but they are the most loyal creatures on this planet. I love them dearly.

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