A few months ago, I brought home a ridiculously energetic black lab mix from the local humane society. While the other dogs quietly waited by the desk to have their adoption papers stamped, my new doggie friend strained at the end of his leash, barking and howling and jumping as my partner dragged him to the car.
“That’s the dog you picked?” an older man asked me with incredulity, as his dog sat stock still, panting at his side. What I’m getting at is that my dog — I call him Peanut — is quite a handful. But the joke’s on you if you pick out a pet and think being its owner will be a piece of cake. If you love your pet, you will rush him to the vet in the middle of the afternoon when he gets a swollen paw. You will make him special food when he has a tummy ache. You will spend countless hours walking and entertaining him. And, when he steals a cinnamon bun off the counter and then — out of fear of being caught — loses all control of his bowels and leaves a smelly mess in the basement, you will clean it up without being too mad. And, finally, when he needs something, you will pay for it with lots and lots of your hard-earned money.
Of course, when you bring a pet home, you probably assume that you’ll have to buy it a few basic things. Food. Some toys. Treats. A bed. According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent more than $55 billion on their pets in 2013. But for many pet owners, that’s just the beginning. Here are a few unexpected expenses to budget for.
1. Stuff You Said You’d Never Buy
I always assumed I’d be one of those pet owners with a stiff upper lip. I wouldn’t be spoiling my dog. Oh no. Not me. But suddenly, when you love your pet, you’ll probably find yourself rationalizing all kinds of (highly overpriced) pet paraphernalia. If you’re able to steer clear of the temptation while you’re picking up your standard pet food, more power to you. The line at my local pet shop (and my own experience) suggests that most people cave.
2. Less Dirty/Damaged Versions of Things You Already Have
Whether you have a cat or a goldfish, pets have a way of making a terrible mess of your house. So far, Peanut has destroyed: one running shoe, a picnic chair, a garden hose, a sprinkler, a dog bed, and a Persian rug. And, while replacing those things posed a significant expense, I actually think I’ve gotten off quite lucky. I mean, have you ever seen dog shaming? Or cat shaming? When you get a pet, expect to replace a few things. It’s a given.
3. Vet Bills — Big Ones
Perhaps before you had a pet, you thought you had limits. You thought if your pet required medical care to the tune of thousands of dollars, you’d decline. After all, it’s just a pet, right? And then you met Mr. Fluffypants, the pet extraordinaire who kept you company when you were sick. Or made you laugh. Or helped you through tough times. Chances are when it’s your pet, you’ll be willing to shell out just about anything to save its life. If that means emergency care, medication, or surgery, that can get very, very expensive. According to the American Pet Products Association, surgical vet visits cost dog owners $621 and cat owners $382 on average in 2013. If you have an accident-prone pet or are really worried about unexpected pet expenses, consider getting pet insurance.
4. Vacation Costs
While a winter vacation in Hawaii might be really relaxing for you, most pets don’t travel especially well. Airline travel is expensive for pets and can be very traumatizing and stressful. Plus, many hotels prefer that you leave your fluffy family members at home. When you get a pet, consider who will take care of it when you’re away — and how much that’ll cost you.
5. Your Time and Energy
If you have never owned a pet, you will drastically underestimate the amount of time caring for it will take out of your day. No matter what kind of pet you have, it’ll need some combination of exercise, training, entertainment, care, and clean-up. If you have a dog, you will (or should) invest plenty of time in working on obedience. (Otherwise, you’ll spend lots more time chasing after your dog and posting photos of half-eaten couches on dog-shaming sites.) And, just when you think you have things under control, your adorable fluffy will remind you just who exactly is in charge.
You can reduce some of the potential expenses you might incur by ensuring that your pet is vaccinated, gets all the required preventative care, and is well cared for on a daily basis. But no matter how healthy your pet appears to be, you should always be prepared for the unexpected. Animals are full of surprises. Fortunately, many of them are the kind that make your day, rather than empty your bank account.
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