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By Paul Reynolds
April 6, 2021
Photo Collage of pets with their owners and money in the background
Vanessa Garcia / Money; Getty Images; Shutterstock

Owning a pet may be an act of love, but love alone won’t pay for adopting or feeding your four-legged family member — not to mention keeping it healthy. By making smart, money-conscious choices, though, you can save a lot.

To find out what people really pay for their pets, and learn lessons from their experiences, we polled 2,000 Americans about their relationship with, and spending on, pets. The results underline both how much people adore their pets, and how much they’re willing to spend for (and on) them.

Here are some key spending tips from what we found, and what those findings may mean for your pet and your pocketbook.

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You don’t need to spend more than $300

Some of those in our survey who didn’t own pets cited cost as a factor in their decision. Yet getting a pet needn’t necessarily break the bank.

More than a quarter (28%) of people who got a new pet within the last year received it as a gift — presumably at no cost. And of the rest, six in ten (62%) paid no more than $300. More than a third paid less than $100.

Where you get your pet has a big effect on its cost. Short of having a pet gifted to you, shelters are the cheapest way to get a new dog or cat. More than eight in ten (81%) people who acquired a shelter pet during the pandemic paid no more than $300 for it, including all fees, and nearly half (49%) paid less than $100.

By contrast, only about four in ten (42%) who got their pet from a store, and about a third (34%) who bought from a breeder, paid as little as $300. And more buyers from those sources ran into unexpected charges than was the case with shelters.

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A cat costs less in every way

Being a confirmed cat person — or a dog person open to switching allegiances — can help reduce your financial burden of a pet, starting when you buy. Only one in three new cat owners in our survey (31%) spent more more than $300 for their kitty, compared with nearly half (45%) of those who got dogs.

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But cats are also cheaper to own than dogs. Data from our survey shows you’re more likely to spend no more than $50 a month on feeding, grooming, and entertaining a cat than a dog — and, correspondingly, less likely to spend big money on doing so. Pet insurance also costs less for a cat than a dog.

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There’s a feline-canine gap in annual medical costs, too. Survey respondents with dogs took their pet to the vet a little more often than did cat owners, for both routine care and acute care (such as a medical emergency). Those more frequent visits may help explain other data that shows dog owners spend more annually at the vet than cat owners, especially for acute care.

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A mixed-breed pet should save you at the vet, too

It’s no secret that pets with pedigrees are pricey to buy. While 70% of survey respondents who bought a mixed-breed animal paid for no more than $300, only around 42% got a pedigreed pooch or kitty for that little.

But the higher financial hit for a pet with a breed also extends to medical costs. Owners of purebreds in our survey, were more likely to take their pet in for routine care — perhaps because the animal’s greater cost motivates them to detect any serious condition early.

More significant, though, are the differences between pedigreed and non-pedigreed pets in how often they visit a vet for acute care. These differences likely reflect the genetic predisposition of purebred pets, at least of certain breeds, to higher incidences of medical problems from cancer to hip dysplasia. In addition, certain dog breeds such as Labrador Retrievers are more likely to ingest foreign objects, and so require emergency visits to remove them.

Purebred dogs were a little more likely (42%) to require such care than were mutts (36%), according to their owners. But the gap by lineage was a lot bigger with cats. Purebred cats were nearly twice as likely as their mixed-breed cousins to visit the vet at least once a year for acute care — a hefty 49%, compared to 27% for cats with no breed.

The tendency for mixed-breed animals to need less medical care may help explain why pets acquired from shelters required less acute care than those bought from other sources, according to our survey. Rescue pets were far more likely to be be mixed breeds than purebreds, but the opposite was the case for animals acquired at other places.

Pets from shelters and breeders were about as likely to require acute care at least once annually (32% and 36%, respectively). But animals from a pet store were significantly more prone to needing such care than either, with nearly half (48%) requiring it at least once a year. The upshot: Less need for medical care may add to the advantages (and cost savings) of getting a Heinz 57 pet from a shelter.

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