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How Much Does It Really Cost to Adopt a Pet

Anna Louie Sussman | May 20, 2019

When I started fostering Stewie, a staffer at Social Tees Animal Rescue handed me a harness that read “Adopt Me,” a leash, a water bowl, food bowl, and a half-bag of food leftover from the family that had fostered him before me. He was a gift, who came with everything he needed. From me, he asked no more than oodles of love, patience, and affection. Roughly 36 hours of intense bonding later, I knew I had to adopt him (the technical term for this, I learned, is “foster fail.”)

Then the bills materialized.

It turned out my priceless Stewie, a cuddly little barrel of a dog who is, I was told, part chihuahua (and possibly part pig emoji) had a price tag. And it was not an insignificant one. Was my personal experience unusual?

Here’s a look at how pet costs typically stack up, so potential pet parents can be sure they’re financially prepared for the high-return investment that is a cuddly (or even not-so-cuddly) animal.

Design by Nary Han; Data provided by American Pet Products Association

According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent $69.51 billion on pets in 2017, a figure set to rise to an estimated $72.13 billion in 2018, roughly on par with what the U.S. has contributed to fighting AIDS from 2003 to 2017.  The bulk of that pet spending goes toward food, vet care, and medicine. Their most recent survey found dog owners can expect to spend $1,549 annually on their loved one, and cat owners $988. While medical care is more expensive for dogs than cats, food costs are the same — $235 each year for each.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has its own rubric of typical costs for a pet owner, although Rena F. Lafaille, administrative director of the ASPCA’s adoption center in New York, noted that pet ownership costs vary considerably from one area to another. By their calculations, as of 2016, the owner of a small dog could expect to spend $737 a year, a medium-sized dog, $894, and a large dog just over $1,040.

Design by Nary Han; Data provided by ASPCA

Surprise Costs

Every new pet parent will incur upfront costs (think: adoption fees, medical bills, and essential basic supplies), which vary depending on breed. Then there are the surprise costs, which, especially if you’re adopting a rescue animal, should perhaps not come as too much of a surprise.

“Though each shelter will do their best to medically assess an animal, there can be times when certain conditions will arise a few weeks or months later, which will require a visit to the veterinarian,” said Lafaille.

Training Costs

Lafaille noted the problems that can arise are not just medical, but social as well, especially with dogs (cats are usually just, well, cats). This can require extra investment in puppy etiquette classes or one-on-one hours with a dog trainer.

“You may notice that the pup that you just adopted is not as well-mannered as you hoped,” she said. “Oftentimes, this is the case with puppies and young dogs who need to learn basic manners and how to walk on a leash.”

Co-mingling Companion Costs

For Sam Broadwin and Elena Sheppard, New York owners of both a dog, Detective Briscoe, and a cat, Catrick Mewing, the friction of a multi-species household generate costs above and beyond the $4,000 bladder surgery for Catrick or the neurological tests that Broadwin, “a neurotic New Yorker,” ordered at the vet when brought Briscoe in for an itch.

“We did have to buy a new dog bed because the cat peed on it in a moment of dog-induced rage,” said Sheppard. “It wasn't a big expense but it was an expense. 

Design by Nary Han; Data provided by ASPCA

It’s-Not-You-It’s-Me-Costs

Then there are times when it’s not the animal; it’s you. Perhaps your work schedule changes, and now you have to factor in the costs of a dog walker, anywhere from $5 to $20 per walk, depending on what part of the country you’re in. Or if you had a trip coming up before you adopted your animal, add in the cost of boarding at a kennel or hiring a sitter.

Keeping Costs Down

For many of these costs, though, there are workarounds.

“Buy gently used pet supplies, bathe your dog yourself if it doesn't need a professional grooming, [and] don't buy expensive pet supplies like fancy dog beds or food bowls,” said Samantha Brody, a director at Social Tees Animal Rescue. “You can use a folded up old comforter or old human bowls you're getting rid of — they don't know the difference.”

A responsible pet owner should be aware of the financial costs: A new addition to the family, depending on the species and breed, can run into the thousands, even with adoption. Needless to say, Stewie is 100 percent worth it.