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Pet Expenses: How Much Does It Cost to Bring Up Fluffy?

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Having a pet can be a wonderful experience. But pets come with expenses. Before you adopt a furry family member, make sure you know what to expect.

Furry kids are less expensive than human kids but they can still cost a small fortune. Once you adopt a pet, their care is your responsibility so it’s a good idea to know what some of the expenses might be and to set money aside for them.

Until he passed away in June, I had a kitty friend named Shadow. I got him as a tiny kitten while I was in college and we were together nearly half my life. He was a great cat and I love him but because he developed diabetes late in life, he cost me thousands of dollars. I would gladly spend every penny on him again but if I’m honest, it was one of the reasons I don’t think I’ll ever have a pet again.

I would love it if every one of you would give an animal a good home. They bring so much love and pleasure into your life and you do the same for them. But because I know you all to be wonderful people, I know that if something went wrong with your friend, you would spend your last penny if it would help them.

So if you would rather not be in that situation, please think twice about adopting. When I found out Shadow was diabetic, the vet asked if I wanted to give him up. I was appalled at the heartlessness of the question but I understand now that lots of people do give up their pet when they develop an illness. Especially a chronic one like diabetes that required twice daily insulin injections at precisely timed intervals.

Even if your pet remains healthy all through their life, there are still costs. We’ll break down what they are so you can make an informed decision.

Adoption Costs

Please go the adoption route. There are so many animals that need a home. Even if you have your heart set on a specific breed, you can adopt. So many pets sold through pet stores are puppy mill puppies. Not only are the mommies kept in deplorable, cruel conditions, but the puppies are often very sick, some with chronic health problems.

Adoption fees can range from free to a few hundred dollars. You can expect to pay from about $75-150 for a dog and $25-150 for a cat. The fee will often include things like sterilization and vaccinations. There are plenty of places to adopt for free but if you can’t afford the adoption fee, please consider if you can afford a pet.

Choosing A Breed

The breed of cat or dog you choose can make a difference in the cost of vet bills. I think bull dog puppies are the cutest, they’re so fat and squishy! But they are among the worst breed of dogs from a health perspective. They have a lot of health problems. These are the dog breeds with the most health problems.

Cats don’t get a pass either. Pure breeds will have more problems then mixes, just like dogs. A sicker breed will also probably have a shorter life span than a good old mutt of either species and to me, that’s reason enough not to have a pure bred pet. Losing them is hard enough, losing them after only a few years together is too much.

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Your Starter Kit

Just like a human baby, a pet needs stuff from the moment you bring them home. People can get carried away with this. A fancy bed, store bought toys, outfits. Pets don’t really need those things although they are fun to buy.

Food, some toys, a litter tray and the things that go with that, puppy pads if you’re getting a baby dog. You don’t have to spend much on toys. Shadow was happy with makeup sponges, wadded up balls of tin foil, and the rings from milk lids, all of which we played fetch with. The only cat I ever had who fetched!

If you’re adopting a dog you might need a crate if you’re going to crate train. It’s helpful to get a carrier, especially for a cat which you’ll need for vet trips. A leash to take your puppy friend on walks. Plastic bags to pick up dog poo. You could just re-use plastic grocery or drug store bags for this though.


I would consider spending a bit more on food. Until Shadow developed diabetes I just fed him Meow Mix or something like that. Cheap food full of fillers may have contributed to the illness. After he was diagnosed he had to eat special high protein food. It was expensive but it may have prevented the problem had I made him Paleo like his mom from the start.

A lawsuit was recently filed against Purina Beneful dog good. It was found to contain propylene glycol, which the good old FDA has approved for human consumption as well, it’s also found in anti-freeze, yum, and mycotoxins which is a mold found in grains. More than 3,000 dogs have been killed after eating Beneful.

Pet Sitting/Day Care

If you have a cat, pet sitting can be relatively inexpensive. Cats don’t need to be walked and don’t need as much day to day as dogs so having a neighbor drop by to feed, water, clean the litter tray and give them a bit of attention isn’t too expensive. That changes if your cat needs medication. Because Shadow needed injections twice a day, twelve hours apart, a good sitter willing to do the shots cost $35 a visit, or $70 a day. Not cheap.

If you have a dog, they will need to be walked during the day. You can pay someone to come by and do that for an average of $15-17 per walk. Doggy daycare runs anywhere from $12-38 per day. If you go away and need to board your pet, the cost ranges from $20-90 a day. So make sure to factor that into your vacation budget.


Cat parents get off pretty lightly here. Kitties keep themselves looking good. The only grooming Shadow needed was to have his nails clipped. You can do it yourself if you’re feeling brave or immune to pain but I had someone come to the house to avoid the stress of a vet visit. It was $15 per visit and only had to be done every couple of months.

Doggies on the other hand. They need pampering. The average cost of grooming is $30-50 per session. It can go up to $100 for extra services. A pedicure and that little bow they stick on their top knots maybe.

Vet Bills

This varies widely. Until he became diabetic, Shadow went to the vet once a year for a checkup and it cost about $100. After he was diagnosed, we went to the vet more often and with all the blood tests and medication, never left for less than $500. The terrible time he developed complications, it cost nearly $8,000. A very talented vet saved him and he lived for four and half more years so it was worth it.

If you get regular health checks and dental checks for your pet, it can save you money down the road. Is it worth it to get pet insurance? If you get it when you’re pet is young, it probably is. Policies range from $10-35 a month. For an older pet the premiums are likely to be more expensive and less inclusive. And just like people insurance, you will still have deductibles and co-pays.

Even if you have insurance, it’s smart to have an emergency fund for your pet.

The End

Except for the diabetes, Shadow was healthy and had a good quality of life right up to the end. Early last summer he started eating less and sleeping more. He seemed lethargic. He could hardly walk. Within about two weeks it was clear that he was not doing well. I think I knew deep down this was the end. But I wanted to make sure there was nothing that could be done before I made a decision I could never take back.

His dad and I took him to the vet, the same wonderful vet who had saved him twice before. She said we could admit him so they could give him fluids but there wasn’t anything else she could do. I said no right away. The only reason to continue this was because I didn’t want him to go yet. His quality of life was poor and it would not have been fair.

We took him home and made arrangements for the vet to come to the apartment the next day. Shadow always hated going to the vet and we didn’t want his last minutes to be distressing.

We made him a pallet on the floor and spent the day laying with him and feeding him yogurt from a spoon, he still would eat a bit of that. Literally counting down the last hours of the life of a creature you have loved and lived with for almost half your life is a terrible experience that I will never repeat. It was so upsetting, and still is, that I decided never again to have a pet because I don’t want to go through that ever again.

The vet came that evening. She injected him with a tranquilizer so he wouldn’t be scared. She pressed his little paw into a clay mold so we would have the print as a keepsake. A few minutes later she injected him with the drug that would put him so sleep. We were holding him and saw him stop breathing.

The vet gave us some time to be alone with him and then took him away. About a week later we received his ashes in a wooden box with a gold name plate on top. And he was back home.

I tell this story because I had the money to give my pet the best possible death. He was at home, he was with his family, he was cremated individually and came back to us. I have heard terrible stories of people not being allowed to be with their pet when they were put to sleep because they didn’t have the extra $25 the vet charged for the privilege.

Because I was able to do things the way I wanted when the end came, it made it almost bearable, for the family and for Shadow. I hope that everyone with a pet will plan so they can have that too.

Having a pet is wonderful. But it’s a serious commitment, you’re all they have. Before considering it make sure you can afford to give a pet everything they need.

 Article Notes

Pet Insurance Review: Find out what other pet parents think about various policies.

Pet Finder: Find the friend out there waiting for you.

Pet Care Costs: A chart from the ASPCA detailing the expenses for various pets.

Candice Elliott - Senior Editor
Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.

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