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How Much Does It Cost To Own a Pet - Cute and Cuddly Costs Money

Authored By: Madeline Anderson-Balmer on 11/19/2021


Yes, furry kids can run up the bills. Most people love pets; dogs, cats, fish, lizards, the list of acceptable pets for children and adults is endless. But sometimes that cute little face, or sleepy-eyed look can result in our forgetting the monetary side of adding a pet to your household. Even a routine visit to the vet can result in hundreds of dollars spent. According to WellnessPet, routine annual pet care can run between $200 and $400 for dogs, and $90 to $200 for cats. Later in this post you’ll see even higher averages. Those include expenses beyond veterinary care because let’s be honest, there’s more than veterinary bills involved. If an emergency arise, you could be out thousands. But there are ways to manage those unexpected costs, with budgeting and knowledge:

  • Pet insurance
  • Veterinary expense plan
  • Setting up your own pet care fund to cover the standard costs plus a cushion for emergencies

Most people get caught up in the cute, cuddly, funky, character-filled spirit they connect with in a pet. But whether before the acquisition of your new family member, or after, you need to plan for that creature's well-being. Emergencies aren't the only thing that'll cost you: there's food, toys, bedding… even a pet lizard has needs!

Sure, you can tell yourself you won't go crazy with extra stuff. But a healthy, stimulating environment for your pet is vital to his/her well-being, and well-being is important to keeping your pet healthy. That means environment, training, and exercise for most pets — time to include your creepy, crawly, furry, feathered family members in the household budget.

Keeping a Roof Over That Furry (or Scaly) Kid's Head

So, what is a healthy environment for a pet? It can mean many things including toys, heating/lighting requirements, crates, harnesses, prescription food, etc. It can also mean having cash set aside in case your pet has an accident or gets a serious illenss. It adds up, and should be included in you budget so you're ready when that bill shows up. But where do you start? 

Veterinary care is an ongoing expense 

Do your research and make a decision ahead of time as far as how you'll be paying for the health and care of your pet. There are options out there to help, but adding a line item in your budget is the best idea. If you've got plenty of cash flow it may not be an issue for you. But if you're trying to save for a home, or have other financial goals in mind, the added cost for pet emergencies may be tough to meet, let alone the regular pet expenses you'll see every month. Keep in mind, cash on hand isn't the only way to pay, but it sure makes things easier. After all, pets are family for most people. In fact, for some,d they are the only family. For others, pets provide mental and physical support. Even if your budget is tight, there are options: 

  • Set up a dedicated "self-funded" savings account
  • Subscribe to a health/wellness plan (some veterinarian groups offer these)
  • Purchase insurance (there are a variety of options out there to cover both annual care, and emergency care)
  • Pay cash or use a credit card

All of the above mean an expense for you. But adding a line item to your budget can help you avoid a total upending of your budget when the unexpected or the "you should have known this was going to cost you" comes along. This post covers average costs to own a pet, and tips and ideas for handling the unexpected, because even the healthiest pet can have an emergency or serious diagnosis. And when that happens, you may find yourself looking at a significantly larger than usual veterinary bill, or having to make the decision no one wants to make. In either case, there are expenses involved.

I went to the pet store and came home with a lizard

Did you think caring for a lizard was less expensive than a cat or dog?

Was that poor beta fish floating in a miniature bowl an impulse buy?

Following are a few common pets and their average annual cost for care from MoneyUnder30 and

  • Dogs: $380 - $1,170
  • Cats: $430 - $870
  • Reptiles (lizards and snakes as pets): $330 - $1,410
  • Birds: <$200
  • Rabbit: $600 - $700

Were you surprised? Who knew the cost for a lizard could be higher than the cost of owning a dog?

There's more to a lizard than an old aquarium tank and some gravel. They need a proper living space, including bedding, housing (heat lamps can cost $25 each and need to be replaced more than once a year), and food. Some reptiles need lots of fresh veggies and fruit, while others eat live crickets. Fresh fruit is expensive. A thousand crickets can cost just $40. How many crickets does that cute tarantula you got eat? It can vary. Consider also; some reptiles need regular visits to the veterinarian to monitor parasites. Not something to skip if you want to make sure you and your pet lizard aren't sharing more than a love of quiet, and a warm spot in the sun. Research the pet you're considering and make sure to budget for that added expense. It can be pricey, even when they're healthy. First-year expenses can also be higher if you need to spay/neuter or obtain the actual housing, tanks, decorations, toys, etc. rather than borrowing, or using something you already have.

My bird will live for how long??

Hamsters may only live 2 or 3 years, an average iguana can live 18 years, and a parakeet can go 18 years or more. Some parrots live even longer. In other words, in some cases, you're looking at thousands of dollars in standard care over their lifetime, and perhaps even planning for their lives beyond your own. Any pet is a commitment, and if you're building a budget, you should include the cost of owning them.

Other Standard Costs for Keeping a Pet

So you've read about the average care costs, and you're still getting a pet. Cool. I'm a pet person, too. But don't forget it isn’t just supplies and vet costs. Other costs may (or may not) come into play for you and your family:

  • Boarding - Are you getting a pet you can take with you on vacation? Do you go on vacation or travel for business? If you take your dog or cat with you, some hotels are perfectly fine with that, for a fee. But in many cases, cats aren't welcome, just dogs. And in some cases, there are weight limits and breed limits on dogs. Are you flying with a pet? That's an added cost, too. It's best to check out boarding options near you BEFORE you need them. Compare costs for:
    • Overnight stays
    • Add-ons (one-on-one time, special treats, nail trims, playtime)
    • Can multiple pets stay together with a discount?

If travel is a regular occurrence for you, figure out the annual cost for leaving you AND your pet, and include it. Better to save up than put that cost on a credit card and pay interest on top of an expense you know you're going to have. 

  • Grooming - Some dogs and cats require regular grooming trips for nail trims, haircuts, ear cleaning, etc. Some birds need nails and/or beak trims, and longer-haired rabbits may need special grooming to remove mats. If you've got a pet llama or some other non-traditional pet, there could be other grooming requirements. Again, put together an estimate and add it to your budget.
  • Daycamp – Do you spend all day in an office, and have a pet that needs some socialization? Even a half-day of day camp a few days a week can result in a monthly cost between $100 and $150 or more depending on where you go.
  • Training – This may be a one-time thing for a puppy. Or maybe you have dreams of your dog becoming a support dog or want to get into agility because your dog runs rings around the other pups in the yard. Maybe you spend a lot of time around water and hope yours will be a champion dock dog. If so, money should be set aside for training. Remember, your budget can morph as your life does. Sure, if your budget is tight, you can skip the training and do it yourself initially. The AKC offers some online information about training basic commands for dogs that are easy to follow.

And yes, you can get a neighbor to come by and take your dog for a midday walk, or you might have a friend or family member who can stop by to feed and water your pet when you're away. But if you do not and you need the types of pet services listed above, why not budget for them? 

Emergencies and illness happen, and they're worse when money is tight

As I mentioned earlier, the first year of owning a pet can be the most expensive.

  • Basic supplies
  • Food
  • Spay/neuter
  • Licenses
  • Annual tests for parasites and general health monitoring, vaccines, etc.

It adds up, and adding those costs to your budget will keep everyone's tail wagging. But what if your dog, cat, lizard, or even fish suddenly have an accident or get sick? What's the cost then, and how do you plan for it?

You may think, "oh, I'll be careful; it won't happen to MY dog/cat/ferret." But I can reference just a few strange occurrences I've experienced, and let me tell you, it costs:

  • My 14-year-old cat developed diabetes. It's a common issue for older house cats who are a bit chunky. I could have just had her put down. But she was still relatively healthy and very good-natured, and an important member of my family. I wanted to give her more time. I started her on insulin after each meal and a change in diet. The first week was rough, two visits to the ER (ka-ching), but eventually, she leveled out, and did quite well for a year. That year represented about $550 in insulin costs alone. Add syringes, syringe disposal equipment, and those ER visits, probably another $300 or more. Thankfully, after a year, her diabetes went into remission, and she could discontinue the insulin — Yay for my budget.
  • Our corgi puppy got attacked by something in our yard when he was out for his final trip of the night. It pretty near tore up the entire side of his face. Antibiotics and an emergency visit… $250.
  • Our dachshund mix had a bot fly infection… highly dangerous and toxic to deal with… emergency vet and antibiotic… again about $300
  • Our corgi got a pinched nerve in his neck after a rough and tumble with a foster puppy. Acupuncture… relatively inexpensive, but still, who knew?
  • Then there's the time my mom's dog was diagnosed with Stage IV lymphoma. My mom couldn't let her "baby" go, so we did chemo (6 months the first time), 11 months when it came back. She lived a solid 4 more years very happily, so we're thankful we found alternative ways to pay, but that would have easily been $6K - $7K for just the first round. Add to that the food supplements, acupuncture, and extra tests for rabies because she could no longer receive immunizations like other dogs. My mother, living on retirement income was not prepared to pay that bill. But we had a plan. Maybe you don’t budget for something as unusual as that, but maybe you do. Just be prepared for emergencies because they can happen at the most inopportune times.

For some, self-insurance, also known as setting up an emergency fund account, is the answer. You put aside money in an account every month. Not sure how much? Check to see what a pet insurance plan costs per month and set that amount aside in your own account. The benefit? You don't lose money if you don't use it. With insurance, it's paid and gone at the end of each year. Deposit it in your own account and the funds are always there for you. Then when big veterinary bills come a-calling, you've got money to pay part if not all of those bills without maxing your credit cards or giving up lunch for a year to pay them. MIT Federal Credit Union offers a variety of savings accounts that could work. 

Or maybe you want to consider a good pet plan to cover the annual visits, and a special credit card just for emergencies. I've done both. Some veterinarians offer a wellness plan to cover regular dental checkups and cleaning, standard shots, and unlimited office visits. The one I signed up for also offers discounts on OTC medications as well. The monthly fee may seem high, but it's usually equal to the costs of annual checkups, and shots, and maybe dental, too, and it allows you to spread that cost over a year rather than paying all at once.

What happens when that veterinary bill is just too big?

 You want to give your pet the best chance at a good life, and not give up on them. Truly, no one wants to just have a pet put down if there's a chance of recovery and a happy life. Thankfully, there are resources and organizations that can help:

  • CareCredit offers financing for veterinary care. You can use it for regular visits, or save it for special larger ticket items like dental, spay/neuter, surgery, etc. They can do instant approvals, and usually offer interest-free payments for 6 months if you spend over a certain amount.
  • CrowdFund – You can set up a fundraising site, or reach out to family and friends for help. I know someone who sold their own artwork to pay for an MRI on her dog. She raised the money and had enough to give her pup special physical therapy to get him back up and running around.
  • Hold a yard sale to raise funds. Let friends know, let your neighbors know, and you’d be surprised how much you can raise.
  • Are you a veteran with a service dog needing care that’s beyond your budget? Veterans with service dogs may be able to get assistance from the US Department of Veteran Affairs
  • GoFundMe is a source for crowdfunding, but also offers a whole list of other ways to pay for veterinary care.

And thankfully, there are also a number of charities that can help including (but not limited to):

My point is, you can prepare and save a lot, but sometimes for some people, the cost of health care for their favorite fur buddy can seem insurmountable. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a pet, or that it's time to say goodbye. It just means you need to seek out ways and organizations to assist with those costs. And better yet, build your pets needs into your budget. You may not be able to save for every unknown, but having something set aside is a good idea. 

MIT Federal Credit Union also offers personal loans that can cover this type of emergency. Funding can take place quickly. 

Apply now


Looking for more posts on budgeting?

And coming soon:

  • Utility expenses – solar, wind, pooled, how to decide what you need
  • Internet/phone expenses – office at home? Multiple phones? Extra services?
  • Creating a budget around needs and wants
  • Paying down debt – how do you do it?
  • Apps to monitor your credit – Credit Karma, Credit Wise, Money Management, Discover, etc.

Photo Credit: Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels

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