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Pet cost budgeting

The essentials

  • Expect upfront expenses — These include everything from adoption/breeder fees to health care, essential supplies, and more.
  • Develop a budget to ease stress — A clear expectation of how much your furry or fishy family member costs will help with financial planning.
  • Spend now to save later — Invest in preventative care to reduce the long-term costs associated with pet ownership.

A new puppy or kitten, or finally investing in that saltwater tank you’ve dreamt of for years, is exciting. But without proper planning, the newest addition to your family can turn into a source of financial stress. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way! Create a pet budget to avoid unpleasant surprises for you and the newest addition to your family.

Budget for initial pet costs

For some prospective owners, the upfront, one-time cost of getting a pet can be prohibitively expensive — particularly with puppies and kittens. It’s a good idea to have a clear understanding of the initial expenses that come with a pet, regardless of whether you’re adopting or buying.

Dog Cat Fish
Pet store or breeder fees $500-$2,500+ $400-$5,000+ $1-$50+
Spay/neuter exam & operation $65-$300+ $35-$300+ n/a
Veterinary care $600 avg $600 avg n/a
Pet supplies (bowls, tanks, toys, etc.) $130 avg $120 avg $25-$500+
Apartment pet deposit (for renters) varies varies varies
Total upfront cost $1,295-$3,530 $1,155-$6,020 $26-$550

Overall, adopting from a rescue or shelter is typically less expensive than buying a pet from a breeder. Some medical care, such as spay and neuter operations, are already included in the fee. Some rescues have specials where adoption fees are waived for certain types of pets. Other rescue shelters pay for all medical expenses or they may include medications.

Besides the initial purchase or adoption fees, renters can expect a bump in housing fees. In some cases, this may be a refundable deposit, but most property management companies require some kind of deposit. Even fish may require a pet deposit or face restrictions on tank size. Before you invest in an aquarium, consult with your rental company to find out if you can have fish and how much they may cost.

Plan for recurring pet costs 

Pet food is the most common expense new pet owners anticipate, but other items need to be part of a pet budget. Like people, pets have recurring needs and costs for which you should be prepared.

  • Pet food.  Cat and dog owners should expect to pay between $10 and $50 every month. This depends on the pet’s size, age, breed, and other health factors. For fish, owners should expect to pay between $5 and $15 a month for most aquarium setups.
  • Medications. Many prescription medications are typically sold in three-, six- and 12-month supplies. While the price varies depending on the medication, pet owners should budget about $30 a month for routine prevention. In some cases, bundles may be available that make purchasing more convenient or less expensive. Consult with your veterinarian for the price of specific medications related to treatments.
  • Waste disposal. For these expenses, cat owners should expect to pay $14 to $30 a month, while dog owners who need puppy pads should budget around $20. In both cases, miscellaneous items like waste bags may add an extra $10 to the budget.
  • Miscellaneous. It’s important to be realistic and budget for other monthly expenses as well. Pet owners who want subscription boxes should expect to add about $30 a month to their pet budget. Also, training can cost around $50 per hour, while obedience schools and “doggie boot camp” programs range from $200 to over $1,000 per week.

With fish, monthly maintenance costs depend on the setup. Owners typically don’t need to budget more than $10 a month as purchases are on an as-needed basis. In case of parasites in the tank, extra treatments may be necessary.

Estimated monthly costs

Dog Cat Fish
Food $10-$50 $10-$50 $5-$15
Medications ~$30 ~$30 n/a
Waste disposal ~$30 $25-$40 $10
Housing fees $10-$100 ~$10 varies
Miscellaneous costs $30-$200 $30-$200 varies
Monthly total: $80-$280 $75-$130 $15-$25
Pet insurance varies varies varies
Annual costs (est) $1,200-$1,560 $1,140-$1,800 $60-$180

Keep in mind that rental and homeowners association fees vary — this list is intended as a guideline. Consult with your landlord or HOA, if applicable, about any yearly or monthly pet fees.

Other pet costs

Aside from monthly expenses and one-time pet costs, other things often come up with pet ownership. Vaccines, checkups, treatments, and other expenses are often left out of a budget. This leads to unpleasant surprises when it comes time for veterinary care or a big purchase. These types of expenses may be infrequent, but shouldn’t be forgotten when creating a pet budget.

Frequency Cost
Preventative medications Every six months $130-$190
Core vaccinations Every three years $90-$360
Other vaccinations Annually or every three years $90-$360
Routine check-ups Annually $45-$300
Boarding* Annually $125-$250

*The average range for boarding fees is based on a five-night stay one time a year for a healthy pet. Those with special medical needs will likely experience a higher rate.

Most preventative medications range from monthly to annual purchases. It’s also important to note that not all vaccinations are required. Most aren’t, but core vaccinations are highly recommended. The rabies vaccination is a core vaccination and is required by law in many areas.

Budget for the unexpected

In some cases, costs may come up that don’t fit neatly into the pet budget. These might be specific to the situation. For example, if you travel with your dog, you may need to pay a hotel fee. Other miscellaneous expenses include pet furniture, food delivery, grooming, or aquarium décor.

Lastly, consider adding your pets to your will so that they’ll be taken care of if they outlive you. Name a willing caregiver and then update your legal documents to reflect that change. Don’t forget to include any monetary considerations for your pet’s ongoing care.

Budget for pet emergencies

It’s inevitable with pet ownership that you’ll be visiting the vet at some point for an emergency. For cat owners, this may come in the form of something like a urinary tract infection. UTIs can quickly become an emergency that requires immediate attention. For pets that venture outdoors, poison and unfortunate encounters with wildlife can also result in an emergency vet visit.

The average emergency vet visit starts at about $100 and can quickly jump to a few thousand or more. It’s wise to save between $1,000 to $2,000 for an emergency visit.

Tips for pet budgeting

There are a few things you can do to make budgeting for a dog or cat a painless experience, and improve your life as a pet parent.

Figure out monthly expenses — Create a list of purchases you expect every month. Consider dividing it into categories like necessities and bonus purchases. Choose brands your vet likes or that you feel good about, and explore different options, like types of dog food.

Set aside money every month — With infrequent and unplanned purchases, it’s important to determine how much you can afford to save with each paycheck. Some pet owners prefer to set aside a large amount at once, while others budget to set aside a little at a time.

Consider pet insurance — Emergency vet expenses can cost thousands, so many pet parents choose to invest in pet insurance. This offsets future costs and helps you save on routine care, medications, and vaccinations.

Interview pet sitters and boarders — A great way to plan for pet care is to establish a relationship with a boarding facility or pet sitter. Not everyone needs these services, but for those who do, it’s good to find one that works with you. It’s also a good idea to have a few options.

Be proactive with preventative care — Investing in preventative care can go a long way to reducing more costly expenses later. For example, urinary health treats and fountains may help reduce the risk of UTIs in cats. Schedule routine teeth cleaning for your dog to help prevent tooth extractions later. Regular vet visits are a great way to keep tabs on your pet’s health.

Research programs in your area — Sometimes things happen that no amount of budgeting can prepare you for. It’s a good idea to know what kind of programs and aid might be available in your area that may provide peace of mind in an emergency.

Budget for pets before adopting

Bringing a new pet home is a big day. When faced with the reality that you have to pay for that pet’s care and are responsible for their wellbeing, though, it can become overwhelming.  A pet budget creates a road map for financially responsible pet ownership. Ultimately, here’s what you can expect to pay every month for your new furry friend or aquarium.

  • Budgeting for a dog. Dog owners should expect to spend $164 per month on average. This covers monthly costs as well as occasional expenses and emergencies.
  • Budgeting for a cat. Cat parents should budget about $184 every month for regular purchases as well as infrequent and unforeseen ones.
  • Budgeting for fish. Maintaining your aquarium plus savings for unforeseen situations will cost about $25 per month.

Let’s face it, creating a budget isn’t the most thrilling part of getting a pet. However, it’s one of the most important things you’ll do.  After all, becoming a pet parent should be a rewarding and fulfilling experience, not a stressful one.

Frequently asked questions

How much should you budget for a pet?

This depends on the type of pet and what you will need. Pet owners may pay less than $50 a month for a cat or dog on average, or a few hundred, depending on their needs and if they stash additional money in a pet savings account.

How much will I spend on a pet per month?

Some pets, like small aquarium fish, need very little in the way of monthly maintenance — at most, it’s about $25 every month on average. Budgeting for a cat or dog, though, can cost anywhere from $40 to $200 or more every month.

How do you budget for a new pet?

When budgeting for a new pet, the main consideration is where you’ll get your newest family member. Think about what exams, vaccines, and medications may be included. Know what is included in your fee to determine how much to save.

What is a pet that is good for a strict budget?

For those who aren’t comfortable with the expense of a cat or dog, fish make excellent companions and may require only a small and inexpensive freshwater aquarium. For those who have their heart set on something furry, guinea pigs and rabbits are also typically affordable choices.