Budgeting Basics - The Cost of Caring for Your Pet
There is no doubt that being a pet parent brings great joy and fulfillment. But that happiness comes at a cost. Food, toys, leashes, cat litter, grooming, and veterinary care are just some of the costs involved in raising a healthy, happy pet. Many pet owners do not fully consider all of the expenses involved in pet ownership, including the cost of emergencies and illnesses. When you budget for both predictable and unexpected costs, you are more likely to make health decisions for your pet from your heartstrings rather than your purse strings.
According to the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association 2005–2006 National Pet Owners Survey, basic annual expenses can exceed $1,000 for dogs and cats, with average veterinary care accounting for several hundreds of dollars. How many of us plan for these regular costs—let alone the cost of unexpected emergency veterinary visits?
FROM THE BEGINNING
It is important to consider the cost of care from the moment you decide to add a pet to your family. Food, housing, and medical care costs vary widely depending on the type of pet you own.
For dogs and cats, seeking a veterinarian’s advice before making the initial commitment can help. Discussing your family’s lifestyle can help you to identify a pet that is a good fit for you. Certain breeds of dogs and cats are more prone to specific medical conditions. Does your breed have an increased risk of hip dysplasia, cancer, or inflammatory bowel disease? What about the costs associated with bathing and grooming long-haired cats and dogs? Being prepared for these “variable” costs 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 for you the costs associated with your pet’s basic annual medical needs, including physical exams, vaccinations (based on risk factor analysis and lifestyle), labwork, and parasite prevention or testing.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
We all hope that our pets will always be 100% 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. Learning to expect the unexpected will allow you to make decisions from the heart and not based on your bank account balance.
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 ruined by a digging dog
- Water damage from leakage in a fish tank
- Replacing couch cushions damaged by a dog with separation anxiety
- Travel-associated costs, such as pet sitters or boarding facilities
BUDGETING FOR THE GOLDEN YEARS
As your pet approaches his “golden years,” there will be an increased need for regular surveillance by your veterinarian. He or she may recommend more visits, more diagnostic testing, more medications, and nutritional supplements or special diets. All of these recommendations have one goal in mind: early diagnosis and pre-emptive care. As pets age, the number of medical problems they develop will inevitably increase. Allergies can lead to significant skin and ear problems, for example, or your pet may eventually require total hip replacement or chemotherapy. It is important that whatever amount has been budgeted in the past 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, are controllable through a variety of treatment options that range from surgery to diet changes. Because these conditions require lifelong treatment, however, you need to plan to have the financial capabilities to provide for your pet these during these illnesses.
A HELPING HAND
Medical savings accounts are a new financial planning tool for people 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 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 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, the pet will 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 pay down your pet’s veterinary bills without incurring high interest charges.
THE LONG HAUL
Everyone who owns a pets knows how important a role they play in our lives. Our furry 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 by budgeting for their care at all stages of life. We need to understand the options we have to help with the costs of care and seek guidance early and often to make sure we choose the right type of pet for our lifestyles and our personal budgets.
After all, there is no doubt that parenting is hard work. Whether your baby has two legs or four (or none), he or she deserves only the very best!
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 the type of pet you are interested in. Knowing what the expected costs are will put you on better footing should an unexpected expense crop up. 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. Check it out at www.aspca.org/site/PageServer?pagename=petcarecosts.