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Costs to Consider When Adopting a Pet

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

This is an excerpt from Yahoo Finance's piece by Geoff Williams published on April 27, 2020 regarding the costs of adopting and caring for a new pet. Commentary from our ED, jme included, who suggests preventative care in regards to fleas, ticks and heart worm and pet insurance to avoid heartbreaking life and death situations or surrenders.

In these days of sheltering in place and lockdowns, a lot of families are getting pets, according to reports from animal rescue centers throughout the country.

That's a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it's helpful to remember that adopting and owning a pet can cost some silver, too. Not that you should be discouraged from taking in a pet, but in the interest of knowing what you're getting yourself into, you might want to think about how adding a dog, cat, guinea pig, fish and so on will affect your bank account.

Because owning a pet will, one way or another, add another expense to your budget. And the more prepared you are for that, the better the experience.

Whatever you do, don't rush into this, urges Sandy Weaver, an American Kennel Club judge and a consultant who works with veterinarians to implement well-being programs and improve their and their staff's morale. She is based out of Marietta, Georgia.

"A pet isn't an impulse purchase," Weaver says. "It's worth taking time to research the dog or cat breed or mix that is a good fit for you and your family."

That can take time, she adds. "Responsible rescues and breeders don't keep a stock of animals on shelves, waiting for you to show up. Decide what you want, get everything you need for the new addition, and when the right fit shows up, you'll be prepared."

Typical Adoption Costs

Actual adoption expense. Unless you wind up finding a stray dog or cat, you're going to spend some money, maybe a couple hundred bucks or maybe a thousand or more if you're buying from a breeder.

"Adopting from a shelter is a perfect way to save money while saving (an animal's) life," says Claudine Sievert, a doctor of veterinary medicine in Manhattan, Kansas, and a veterinary consultant at, a cat enthusiasts website.

Initial veterinary costs. You may avoid some veterinary costs by finding your pet in a shelter, according to Sievert.

She says that generally you'll pay $50 to $150 for a cat or dog -- and because typically shelters and rescuers give pets medical treatment, you'll save money on a medical examination, which is typically $100 to $200, according to Sievert. You'll also likely dodge spending on spay or neuter surgery, which can be $50 to $300. Initial vaccinations are around $50 to $100, and microchipping is $50 to $100, she adds.

But, again, Sievert says you'll probably get all of that, without paying for it, when you pay an adoption fee at a shelter or rescue.

Initial supplies. Cats need litter boxes and cat litter. You'll probably want a scratching post or two, if you don't want your couch and walls to become claw magnets.

You'll also probably want a crate for your dog or a cat carrier, Weaver says.

"You'll also need feeding and water bowls, a collar and leash and a comb or brush," she says.

"Toys are good to have. Be sure they're sized appropriately for the pet you choose and are safe."

It's probably best, though, to skip getting a new dog a bed, says Jamie Thomas, executive director of Motley Zoo Animal Rescue in Redmond, Washington, which focuses on rescuing and fostering dogs and cats.

"They will very likely shred that thing the first night. Give them a towel or blanket. and then when you know they can be trusted, then reward them with the more expensive or nice bed that matches your décor," Thomas advises.

In any case, the adoption costs always go far beyond the actual animal, according to Matt Leighton, a web developer based out of Vancouver, British Columbia, who owns and runs, a pet fish education website.

He says that if you wanted to set up a simple 20-gallon tank with a few small fish, you would probably spend between $100 to $350, including the fish and stand for the aquarium. That said, those initial costs will likely go up because you'll also want to buy fish food, a filter, some plants, water test kits, water treatment chemicals and decorations.

He feels it's well worth it -- "fish are great pets," he says -- but those early expenses are things any future aquarium owner should factor into the budget.

Ongoing Expenses

Once your pet is settled in and you have everything you need, your costs will go down, but you'll always have some ongoing maintenance costs that you'll want to add in to your monthly financial plan.

The time cost. Most people hopefully recognize and want to spend time walking their dog or playing with their cat. But you might not be prepared for how much time goes into, say, keeping a turtle alive; the water in the terrarium needs to be routinely cleaned. With a guinea pig, you'll be frequently changing its bedding (generally, it's absorbent paper that the guinea pig can burrow in, but also defecate and urinate in). Experts suggest changing the bedding, which isn't cheap, once or twice a week.

Food costs. For a dog, the bigger the animal, the more you'll probably spend. Many experts also advise to not get the cheapest brands you can find.

"Food is not an area to economize," Weaver warns. "The basic rule of thumb is the more you pay for food, the less you'll pay at the vet. Poor nutrition contributes to skin and coat problems at a minimum -- and major metabolic problems and a shortened lifespan at a maximum. Consider the amount you pay for food to be health insurance for your pet." Veterinarian visits. Thomas recommends budgeting $150 for most routine vet visits, "with approximately four visits per year for the first year of a dog's life. Two to three for a cat." She adds that senior dogs should go annually to the vet, "but probably more likely twice as they tend to have chronic conditions that require monitoring."

Do that, and you'll save money in the long run, according to Sievert.

"The average cost of an emergency vet visit is $1,000, and some of the complex emergency surgeries may cost up to $5,000," she says.

But taking your pet to the vet should help you avoid those costly visits.

Thomas recommends having $1,500 in the bank for vet emergencies, but if that's too far of a reach, she suggests getting pet health insurance.

"Each insurance company has different rates and deductibles, but we are extremely huge proponents for it, as many of the animals we see surrendered could still be in the family if they had gotten it before it was too late," she says.

Thomas adds: "Some insurance plans even cover crazy things like cataract surgery, MRIs and other far more complicated and unusual care which can really make a difference in your animal's life, especially as they age."

Ongoing medication. Thomas says that you should plan to buy medicine for flea treatment and heartworm prevention. "We'd suggest budgeting about $50 a month for that kind of preventative care," she says, adding that paying for medication is far cheaper than "dealing with a flea infestation or the cost of heartworm treatment."

Bottom line: Taking good care of a pet can be an expensive proposition, and, sure, they're worth it -- but you could find yourself regretting the decision if you haven't considered all of the costs. This isn't an exhaustive list, but if you're looking for a checklist of some of the expenses you may encounter as a pet parent, along with an estimate for what you might pay, here are some averages that can help:

One-Time Expenses

Adoption fee$50-$150 or more

Spay or neuter$50-$300 if not part of adoption fee

Initial vaccinations$50-$100

Dog or cat license$20


Home supplies such as crate, litter box, toys, fish tank, etc.$150-$350

Ongoing Expenses

Food- Varies based on animal type, size and food quality. Not less than $200 a year.

Veterinary appointments$600 for first year

Monthly medications for ticks, fleas, heartworms, etc.$50 per month

Kennels or pet sitters$20-$40 per day

End-of-life costs$200-$300


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