The high cost of cats and dogs: Are pets worth the money?

Kris and I don't have kids. We have cats. We have four of them.

Our “children”: Nemo, Simon, Maxwell, and Toto.

We'd have more, but Kris won't allow it. She says I'm in danger of becoming the Crazy Cat Gentleman. On the whole, I cannot imagine my life without these animals. They bring us joy and fulfillment, and the cost is minimal.

Under normal circumstances, our four cats cost us a total of about $750 a year, which is roughly fifty cents per animal per day. That's a bargain! The problem, of course, comes from abnormal circumstances. Once every three years or so, one of the cats costs us a small fortune.

In 2001, our beloved Tintin died of diabetes. In 2004, Toto suffered from heat stroke. In 2006, Nemo developed mysterious lesions on his legs. And this year, Simon took his turn at the veterinarian's office. Last weekend, he became lethargic, and he stopped eating or drinking.

I took Simon to the vet on Friday, where they administered a subcutaneous fluid injection to hydrate him. Total cost? $224.70. Unfortunately, his condition did not improve over the weekend. On Monday, Simon and I returned to the vet. They kept him for the entire day, running tests and taking x-rays and, much to his chagrin, force-feeding him with a syringe. Total cost? $422.23.

Nursing Simon through his illness (“fever of unknown origin”, which seems to be vet-speak for “I'm stumped”) cost us $646.93, or nearly our entire yearly budget for all four animals!

The High Cost of Cats and Dogs

Last year, The New York Times ran an article about the financial implications of pet ownership. Alina Tugend wrote:

The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association asked 580 dog owners and 402 cat owners to record the amount they spent in the last 12 months on specific pet-related items. The dog owners spent almost $2,000; cat owners about $1,200. If you want a real deal, small animals came in at just under $300.

In 2001, Steph Bairey at researched the estimated costs of common pets. Though she doesn't explain her methodology, she found that:

  • Dogs cost about $730 per year.
  • Cats cost about $355 per year.
  • Rodents cost about $160 per year.
  • A tank of fish costs about $200 per year.
  • Birds cost about $770 per year.
  • Lizards cost about $745 per year.
  • Snakes cost about $520 per year.

These numbers seem high to me. $355 per year per cat? (Or $1200 per year, according to The New York Times?) Each of ours runs about $200. $520 each year for a snake? Kris and I owned a snake for many years. Sanderling ate one $2 mouse every fortnight. With some very minor miscellaneous costs, she might have cost us $60 per year.

Worth the Cost

Some personal finance bloggers have written that pets don't make economic sense. Maybe so, but neither does television — and neither do children. But not every choice is made based on the economics of the situation. Some things transcend money. For me, pet ownership is one of those things.

Sidenote: While researching the cost of pet ownership, I kept coming across references to pet insurance — health insurance for dogs and cats. Is this for real? I can't imagine buying such a policy. Do any of you insure your pets? Is it cost effective?

I'm pleased to report that Simon is doing much better. He had the vigor to outrun a stray dog this afternoon (by climbing 20 feet up our redwood tree). We don't regret spending $646.93 on his medical care last week, but the process made me think: How much is too much to spend on the health of an animal? Kris and I are fortunate to have savings and solid incomes. We can afford to take care of our animals. But what if it would have cost $2,000 to help Simon? Or $12,000? How much is too much to spend on a cat?

More about...Budgeting

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