The Hidden Cost of Pets

It’s time for a confession: I am an animal hoarder. Ok… the problem really isn’t that bad. You’re not going to see me popping up on any TLC reality shows anytime soon, but you will find at least three pets in my home now. (I should mention that this is a marked improvement from the days when I was single with five cats.) That being said, after decades of pet ownership, I am now extremely qualified to share with you just how expensive these companions can be and how you can factor that into your decision making process on whether you are ready for the responsibility on a financial level.

Nothing comes for free

Living in Philadelphia, it’s no secret that there is a huge feral cat population. By the end of my undergraduate college days, nearly all of my friends had acquired a rescue cat that had followed them home after a long night out, or by some other means. The thought was always that the cat would require just a little food and water and would be cheap to care for, but that was not always the case. Bills would amount as the little critters needed to be spayed or neutered, had eye infections, or other diseases from living on the streets. Even those who had acquired animals by more traditional means would see bills rack up.

Basic Care

From even the most basic care perspective, pets can be expensive. I’ve had cats that needed to be on low-carb diets, and a dog that needs to be cooked what essentially amounts to a shepherd's pie daily. You may also need to factor in a pet sitter for that animal. In Philadelphia a dog walker will cost you at least $10 a day. That’s $200 less a month that you could have had available for your own survival or financial goals. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t adopt a pet. The point is that even the basics that should be cheap enough to provide for your animal can cost you a pretty penny depending on your animal’s needs.

Long-term conditions

Another expense to consider is the possibility that your pet may have a long-term health condition. Our old cat Papi was one of those “free” pets that came to us from a friend who adopted him before realizing that he was actually allergic to cats. Little did we know that this big happy cat was diabetic. Essentially that equated to over $1,000 a year in insulin and syringes to manage his blood sugar, not to mention the frequent vet visits to make sure his condition was being properly managed. While diabetes is certainly one of the more common long-term conditions, you also may have to consider things such as cancer treatments, hip problems, and other issues that may arise in your pet’s many years of care.

Insurance can only get you so far

Medical insurance for your pet can be one good option to combat the potential cost of an unforeseen illness, however most policies are not as comprehensive as you’d imagine. Preventative vet visits are commonly excluded from your plan, as are any conditions that may be common for your pet’s breed. For example, while pugs and bulldogs have notoriously bad respiratory systems, many insurance plans acknowledge this and will specifically exclude any respiratory related treatments from their coverage. Additionally, you are often you are unable to get insurance for older animals at a reasonable price, so if you’re adopting an older pet, insurance may not even be an option for you.

My suggestion would be to research insurance premiums for your companion to see if there is any affordable coverage out there. Do your research to understand what the policy would and would not cover. If it seems that your premiums would mostly be paid in with little offered in return from the insurance company, I would recommend self-insuring your pet. In other words, instead of paying that premium to an insurance company monthly, take what you would have paid in those premiums and contribute that money to a savings account or emergency fund. Your pet will thank you someday.

Murphy’s Law

The bottom line on pets as they relate to your finances is a simple example of Murphy’s Law - “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Insurance and self-insurance can help, but make sure that you can really afford to bring a pet home before making the commitment. If you are still living paycheck to paycheck, you may want to wait until your finances allow you to build an emergency fund and leave you with a little more breathing room. Ultimately, deciding whether to bring home a new family member to your home is not a purely financial decision, but these are good things to consider as part of your decision making process.


Written By: Lindsay Dell Cook

Lindsay Dell Cook is a CPA, writer, and founder of Budget Babble. She lives in Philadelphia with her uber supportive husband, and enjoys taking their adorable mutt for walks or reading a good book while buried under a pile of cats.