The costs and benefits of the family dog
This is a guest post by Justin Reames, who blogs at The Family Finances.
Growing up, I remember watching shows like “Lassie” and movies like “Old Yeller” and “Where the Red Fern Grows”. These were old movies when I was a kid, but they were free to rent from the library, so we watched more than our fair share of old movies.
Because of those shows, I always thought it would have been nice to have a dog. The closest thing we had to a family pet was a turtle that my grandfather and I caught on a fishing trip. I had to keep it outside in a small tub, and after a week or two he ended up missing. Fast forward to adulthood. After buying our house in the fall of 2008, we soon decided to get a dog.
After researching different breeds online, we decided to adopt a retired racing greyhound. He's been a great dog, and we have no regrets about getting him. He's well-trained and gets along great with our baby boy. The adoption fee was something like $250, and that included neutering, three months of heart-worm pills, a leash, and a collar. I thought this was very reasonable. We knew there would be some upfront costs, such as a bed, crate, and some toys. And we knew he would need food and vet checkups.
I “knew” that we would have all these expenses. But we were so excited about getting a dog and didn't really think too much about the long-term costs. I think a lot of people tend to follow that same thought process about getting a pet. It seems like a really good idea, and the upfront costs aren't too bad. But for a lot people the recurring costs of pet ownership are enough to stretch their monthly budget over the limit of what they can really afford.
The True Costs
I just reviewed the final figures for our 2011 expenses (I'm an accountant; I just can't help myself), and the line item for pets is pretty steep indeed. We spent just over $1,300 on our dog, or around $110 a month. Here is the breakdown:
- Food: $912/year ($76/month)
- Medication (heart-worm and flea preventative): $176/year ($15/month)
- Toys and treats: $100/year ($8/month)
- Vet bills: $120/year ($10/month)
Our annual expense runs a little higher than the national average. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the average annual cost for a large dog is around $900. What drives our cost higher is food. Our dog has some kidney issues and is on special food to help process the nutrients in his food. Needless to say, this food is substantially more expensive than the Purina we used to buy him. The point is that you never know when something like this will come about and drive up your monthly expenses. Another example? In 2010 we found our dog had a small lump growing on his belly that cost $400 to remove. Thankfully that was only a one-time thing, but again you never know what's going to happen.
While the costs are certainly significant, there are also great benefits to having a dog. We love our dog and would no sooner give him up than we would our son. He's a great companion and greets me at the door with his tail wagging every evening. When it's nice outside, he forces us to exercise by taking him out for a walk in the evenings. He even provides some security as he can look pretty intimidating (though he wouldn't hurt a thing). As our son gets older, it's nice to know that he'll have a dog to keep him company. They can play together out in the yard, chase each other through the house, and all those other things little boys do with their dogs. I remember going to my friend's house and playing with his dogs and what fun it was.
Even going beyond the intangible benefits of pet ownership, there are actual physical benefits as well. A number of studies have shown that pet owners are less stressed, have lower cholesterol, and can even live longer. See this article at WebMD for 27 such benefits. Our dog greatly enriches our lives. To us the benefits definitely outweigh the costs.
The Bottom Line
This is not to say that everyone should or shouldn't get a pet, but before you actually go and get one you need to seriously look into the future costs and make sure there is room in your monthly budget to handle it. The last thing anyone wants is to bond with a pet for a year or two, then realize that it's just too difficult to make ends meet from month to month.
How much do you spend on your pets each month? Do you budget for regular pet expenses and unexpected bills?