Can you afford a family pet?

Can you afford a family pet?
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I love dogs, especially Golden Retrievers. I have always had a Golden in my life. I had Max, Toby, Jake, Clyde, Bow, Gussie and now Cali. I got Bow when I was in college and Gussie a few years later. Each dog lived to the age of 13, and each passed away when I had a child. It’s like they knew I was going to be busy. With each dog passing, my heart gets ripped in half. But I seem to always have room in my heart for another.

Two years ago I adopted Cali at the age of 10. This has been a match made in heaven. She’s perfect for me and my family. Last month I took her to the vet for the first time in two years because of a couple of “episodes” she had. Sadly, the outlook is not good. She has untreatable and fast moving cancer. You cannot put a price on the love I feel for this dog, but it did get me thinking about how most pet owners gloss over the true costs of pet ownership.

Most of my clients own a pet. While the costs of pet ownership can be unpredictable, it is better to be prepared for these expenses. Everything costs more in the Bay Area, including pets. The information below can help you be realistic about pet costs and help your family assess if pet ownership is affordable.

Estimate the costs. According to the ASPCA, the first year costs of owning a pet are around $1,000. This assumes you adopt a furry friend. Puppies of special pedigree can run from $800-2,500, which will increase your first year costs significantly.

First Year Expenses

Spaying or Neutering: Dog: $200 / Cat: $145

Medical Exam: Dog: $70 / Cat: $130

Collar or Leash: Dog: $30 / Cat: $10

Litter Box: Cat: $25, Scratching Post: Cat: $15

Crate: Dog: $95, Carrying Crate: Dog: $60 / Cat: $40

Training: Dog: $110

Total One-time Costs: Dog: $565 / Cat: $365 plus the cost of the pet if buying from a breeder

Annual pet expenses

Food: Dog: $720/ Cat: $250

Annual Medical Exams: Dog: $235 / Cat: $130

Litter: Cat: $200

Toys and Treats: Dog: $240 / Cat: $100

License: Dog: $15

Pet Health Insurance: Dog: $480 / Cat: $175

Miscellaneous: Dog: $45 / Cat: $30

Total Annual Costs: Dog: $1,735 / Cat: $885

In addition, you may have additional costs for dog walkers or puppy daycare (if you both work out of the house). This ranges widely, but two hikes per week will likely run $240 per month ($2,880 per year). Puppy daycare is approximately $40 per day ($800 per month for a full work week).

Finally, travel is an integral part of most Bay Area residents’ lives. This means pet boarding or pet sitting. On average this starts at around $40 per day but can easily get to $70 per day depending on the facility and type of care. If you travel 2-3 weeks per year, that equates to $800-$1,400 in costs.

On average, I see pet costs in the Bay Area ranging from $200-450 per month ($2,400-5,400 per year).

Figure out how monthly expenses will affect your budget. Are you currently overspending? Can you cut back to afford a pet? Is that worth it to you? If no, then you probably are not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to keep a pet happy and healthy.

Prepare for the unexpected. Set aside between $1,000 and $2,000, or a portion of your emergency fund for unexpected expenses. It is almost definite that every pet will have a major vet bill at some point in its lifetime. Consider how you will feel if you are faced with a life-saving vet bill you can’t really afford before it happens. Don’t put yourself in this position; it’s not fair to you or your potential pet.

If you’re worried about not being able to afford big vet bills, consider pet insurance. Certain breeds cost more than others, but in general it seems to be around $40 per month. I have never purchased pet insurance personally, but I have seen it pay off with my clients when Fido needs major help.

Considering getting a pet? If you have school aged children that are dying for a pet, there is a useful worksheet to do with them before you make the decision. It’s prepared by a group of CPAs: This worksheet can provide a good starting point for your child to do some hands on research at the pet store and sharpen those math skills.

Owning a pet is a significant financial responsibility. Adding up the first year costs, annual costs, and at least some pet sitting over the reasonable life of a dog (13 years), you may spend close to $30,000.  Our dog Cali has been a very frugal pet for the last two years when I look at these numbers. She has given us so much happiness and unconditional love. We are taking every day with her as a gift.

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