How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?


And other costs of pet ownership
By Konnie LeMay

hen you are just about to adopt the cutest puppy or kitty on the planet, the last thing you want some curmudgeon to ask is: Do you know how much that doggie in the kennel is going to cost you over the course of its hopefully long lifetime?

Curmudgeonly or not, the cost of keeping a pet should be one of the first things you consider—and it’s best discussed before you drive to the local animal shelter or start to peruse the “pets for sale” listings.

Covering the Basics
“Pets bring immense joy to our homes, and in order to ensure that they will be safe, loved and cared for, it’s important for potential adopters to be aware of the costs associated with having a pet and to budget appropriately,” notes Julia Umansky, client services manager of the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York.

The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals created an average cost chart, updated in 2016, for a variety of household pets.

According to the ASPCA estimates, the annual cost of basics—food, medical, toy and treats—runs from about $815 for a large dog to $27 for a goldfish. (Pet health insurance can add another $225 for the dog’s expenses; the goldfish is on its own.)

Plus your pet has capital expenses, both one-time and recurring, such as spaying or neutering, initial vaccinations, a collar, kennel, grooming and training classes. Total that in for the first year and the large dog who became your newest family member has added more than $2,000 to your expenses.

And that doesn’t include the actual cost of buying the pet, which might cause “sticker shock” even if, or perhaps especially when, adopting.

The Cost of Adopting
Paws and Claws Humane Society can provide care for up to 125 dogs and cats daily at its Rochester shelter. The organization places dogs generally within two weeks and cats within two months.

Given the quick turn-over, one might think the shelter “practically gives away” its rescued pets, but its average adoption fee is $100 for kittens and $400 for puppies. Those fees, with additional microchipping costs, are a bargain, explains Tanya Johnson, shelter manager. She points out that unlike pets for sale on, say, Craigs List, animals adopted from Paws and Claws are spayed or neutered, have their full initial vaccinations and are microchipped. “That’s just helping to cover our costs. We don’t really make any money on the animals at all.”

Older dogs and cats have reduced adoption fees, often because they already had initial vaccinations and are fixed, which makes adopting them both a better bargain and a good deed since older animals tend to stay in shelters longer than the babies.

“Those puppies pay for the stay of the longer term animals,” Johnson says.

Paws and Claws has experience advising first-time dog owners. “We ask them to do their research on the breed. If they’re looking for a really laid back dog, they’re not going to want a 1-year-old Lab.”

The group will advise first-timers about the hidden costs like pet kenneling while you’re on vacation. It checks with landlords if a potential adopter rents an apartment. Rents may increase with a pet deposit.

Pocket Pets are Prudent
Dr. Mike Strecker at Zumbrota Veterinary Clinic in Zumbrota has advice for families getting their first pet for a child, though you might not want to hear it.

He suggests a pocket pet and would highly recommend a rat. Once you get beyond the “eww that tail” stage, rats make great, generally healthy pets.

“They are easier to play with, less likely to bite than a guinea pig, a hedgehog, a hamster or a gerbil and and less maintenance than a rabbit, cat or dog.”

One thing people forget when choosing a pet for a child is what happens when your pre-teen grows into a post-teen and leaves home. Something to think about even when older people adopt pets. Parrots can live for 80 or more years; ball pythons live for 30 years (as Strecker well knows; his family adopted a rescue python in 1990 and it’s still part of the household).

Dogs vs. Cats
If you must decide between a dog and cat as a first-time furry family member, Strecker leans toward cats. “They’re a little bit less maintenance, can be left for a weekend and not walked every day.”

If it’s gotta be a dog, Dr. Ann Anderson of Quarry Hill Park Animal Hospital in Rochester suggests that you “talk to your veterinarian about what are things
to consider with each breed.”

Financially, larger breeds mean more food and higher-priced medications, and some breeds have potentials for inherent chronic issues, such as ear infections for long-eared breeds or respiratory issues for short-nosed breeds.

The Big Costs
Strecker knows that many pet owners—first time or long time—balk at the expense of routine and specialty medical care, though as he points out, you’d be hard-pressed to get a human knee replacement for $2,200 (the cost for a dog knee, even though it uses the same equipment and skills).

One of the more heart-wrenching aspects of a veterinary practice is working with families facing tough financial decisions about whether to care for a pet with a chronic or catastrophic disease. Veterinary medicine can tend to diabetes or treat many cancers, but costs can be prohibitive. As Strecker points out, for the equivalent human care, “If it wasn’t for insurance, if they saw the actual bill every time, they would be shocked.”

With veterinary medicine, you usually are seeing the actual bill.

That’s why Strecker advises two options to his clients. One is to buy good pet health insurance so if a devastating illness happens, the cost will not be your only determination of care. Only about 1 percent of his clinic’s clients have pet insurance.

The other option is to set aside the money you might use to buy pet insurance for future pet medical expenses.

An Ounce of Prevention
Anderson and Strecker agree that their strongest financial advice is what your own doctor no doubt tells you: Preventative care is the best way to save costs.

Regular pet vaccines are cost effective, Anderson says. “If you don’t do the vaccines, they can come down with those diseases, (the treatment of which) costs way more than the series of vaccines.”

The same holds true for ongoing care like heartworm prevention;
the cost to treat the disease is considerably higher than prevention.

Weight management and regular dental care are “two things that owners can do almost at no costs to themselves,” Strecker adds.

Dental care for dogs can be particularly pennywise if you can avoid dental cleanings, which can run $300 to $400 a year, or a tooth extraction. “That’s a huge expense for people that can almost be skipped, if they just brushed their pets’ teeth every day.”

Konnie LeMay, editor of Lake Superior Magazine, knows well the hidden cost of pets. Her happy-go-lucky “Turbo” Rachel shelter pup needed a $900 surgery to correct a turned-in eyelid. Now Rachel sees way too much, always spotting deer, squirrels or imaginary critters that need chasing.