Pet Care Costs: The Costs of Dog and Cat Care

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2009-09-0526

What’s been your experience with pet care costs and pet products? Does your dog or cat cost more than child care?

I’m writing this as an ode to my cat. Sort of.

When it comes to owning a pet, it’s all about the maintenance. Any dog owner can tell you that to make a dog happy, you’ll need to treat them like family, while cats — they’re happy when you give them their space. I love dogs — I grew up vastly preferring dogs over cats for most of my life. But then I got my Himalayan kitty and it all changed: I like both pets in equal heaps. But if you want the hard numbers, check out these tables for comparison’s sake (the “My Cost” column below shows figures given by the person who originally compiled this data, from the site PetEducation.com):

Lifetime Costs of Owning A Dog

dog costs
Image from PetEducation.com

Lifetime Costs of Owning A Cat

cat costs
Image from PetEducation.com

Interesting that on the low side, dogs cost pretty much the same as cats, but on the high side, there’s almost a 100% cost differential. Given all that spending, you must be ready to find out how we can own pets without forking out so much. Here are some ways to enjoy a pet without going broke:

Ways To Save As A Pet Owner

  1. Get your pet from the local shelter.
    Count this as among the noble things we can do to help out our beloved animals.
  2. Get a simple, domesticated pet.
    Don’t get tempted into buying and owning exotic creatures. I’m afraid that by doing so we’re just feeding into a market that could be damaging our environments and ecosystems.
  3. Get a small pet.
    The smaller they are, the easier and cheaper they are to maintain.
  4. Don’t pamper your pet.
    They are animals who’d prefer not to be treated like wusses. They’ll probably be as happy exerting their animal instincts as they would be being spoiled, if not more so. My cat lives outdoors, chases mice and leaves them by our doorstep. He fights the neighborhood cats and gets ripped up once in a while. I have no doubt he’s happiest than he’s ever been, being that he used to be an indoor cat.
  5. Skip on pet insurance.
    Pet insurance is a new invention and my family and I have owned pets throughout the years, surviving without needing insurance. I think it’s overkill to get it. It’s one of those few things we’re “que sera sera” about.

How Much Does Your Pet Cost You?

Allow me to answer that question. Actually, my pet costs me hardly anything. After the usual vet bills in the beginning when we first got him, we haven’t spent a dime beyond the bags of cat food from Costco. We also got him for free (through a friend) and ever since we picked him up at a year old, he’s been free of problems, illnesses and all the other things that may put a weight on a pet owner’s wallet. Knock on wood.

We have very good friends who own a couple of Siamese cats which were bought for a $1000 each. I’m quite impressed with those cats — pure bred, beautiful and totally screened of all ill behavior. They are no doubt a couple of the nicest cats in the universe (that I’ve seen). Knowing how much it costs to get such “perfect” pets, the more I feel like we truly lucked out on ours: an outdoor cat with claws he uses to fend for himself in the suburban wild where the possums and raccoons roam, yet who’s nice enough to be on his best behavior when he’s indoors. The best part is that he doesn’t need much care really, being the independent creature that he is.

Himalayan cat
My kitty

Yes, I feel that we’ve been really lucky with this pet. No need for obedience school (dogs that we’ve owned have had to attend charm school), obligatory walks, chewed up slippers (or scratched furniture!), or pet insurance to worry about. Too often, cats that wander into your home for free may not have the characteristics or personality you’re looking for. But the one that found his way into our hearts definitely does!

Update: My cat passed away on March 11, 2012. We will miss him very much.

Copyright © 2009 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Phil September 5, 2009 at 9:39 pm

I’ve got three cats – all rescued from shelters, so their cost (in my area at least) included having them fixed and vaccinated. I feed them both soft and dry food every day. I buy a case (24 cans) of soft food for about $10 and they all split one can a day. I also keep dry food in their bowls for the rest of the day. They go through a $9.00 bag of dry food each week. This might seem expensive, but I buy the ph balanced stuff (important if you have male cats). So, my cost for feeding three cats a month is about $50. They go through two 40 lb bags of litter a month at about $8 a bag. So food plus litter = $66 a month.

To keep vet bills down, indoor-only cats will almost always save you money – since they aren’t outside encountering potential threats (my vet tells me they also don’t need certain immunizations that outdoor cats will need since they won’t encounter the elements the vaccine protects against).

If you’re like me and want a pet that is more apt to be affectionate toward you (i.e. the “value” or “quality” of the relationship; the emotional bang for your buck), I found that a good way to tell if a new animal will be affectionate toward you throughout its life is to let the animal choose you. Example: trying to pick one an animal out of several in a litter? Sit down on the floor and see which ones come to you and let you hold them. Or – when the cage is opened at the pound – don’t reach for the animal; see if it comes to you – and if so then pick it up. If it doesn’t struggle to get free, and seems to like being held – my experience has been that these are the animals that make the best friends for life :)

An interesting post :) I’m looking forward to the responses of others.

Financial Samurai September 6, 2009 at 6:51 am

Thanks for the post! Good see the numbers displayed. We’ve always wanted a dog, but we wonder who will take care of it while we are at work?

A friend of mine, who lives in San Francisco, pays a dog walker $15/day for 20 days a month to go to his house and walk his dog because he has no yard. Hence, that’s $300 bucks. It may get kinda expensive out here!

We love animals, so perhaps one day, if one of us stays home we can own a dog.

Lazy Man and Money September 6, 2009 at 7:05 am

Thanks for linking to me. I’ve noticed that there’s not a row for “replacement furniture”, which is very likely the largest cost for us thus far. It’s not like Jake has eaten everything, it’s just one or two items really add up.

I want to know what kind of training you get for the low-end price of $15/year.

Your kitty seems to lack a name.

Amber Weinberg September 6, 2009 at 8:12 am

Cats may be cheaper in costs – but they cost a lot more by the fact they aren’t as lovable (most of them anyways) and they tear up your stuff way too much. My Bichon Frise cost me $300 the first day I bought him. As a puppy he had a very sensitive stomach so I did spend a lot of money between regular shots and emergency visits. However, now that he’s 3 years old, I only take him to the vet once a year for booster shots, his food costs about $10 a month, and I’ve taken him to the vet for being sick maybe once in the past 2 years. I buy him so fancy toys and boys (maybe $10 every 2 months) and his flea and heatworm medicine is maybe $100 a year. Definitely cheaper than a child, definitely way more fun right now, more well behaved and cheaper than a real child. ;)

Silicon Valley Blogger September 6, 2009 at 8:34 am

Lazy Man,
You know me…. all members of the family are anonymous here. But you know his name! :) I agree with you that replacement furniture should be up there. If you’re not careful, cats can scratch those as well.

Amber,
I’d love a Bichon Frise! What a lovely dog breed. :) I used to have a Lhasa Apso. Love the long hairs….

Phil,
Thanks for the great tip on “letting the pet choose you”. I will keep that in mind if that opportunity presents itself!

Financial Samurai,
That’s the thing with dogs — they’re harder to take care of since they need time and attention. With a cat — it’s almost like having a furry goldfish (just get a food dispenser on a timer). At least the one I have. We go on trips and he “camps” out in our yard. Very easy to leave food and water for him. With a dog, we’d have to place him/her in a kennel or something or (gasp!) bring them along! So the cat takes care of himself — but he’s affectionate enough to come when he’s called (usually :) ).

Erica Douglass September 6, 2009 at 10:13 am

I just lost my $2,050 deposit on my last place because my cat peed on the carpet and they had to replace it all the way down to the floorboards.

It’s these costs that most don’t consider when adopting a pet. I still love my two cats, but that was truly awful.

-Erica

Holly H September 6, 2009 at 10:33 am

There are a lot of ways to keep the costs down with your doggie. I just adopted my first dog. I do not mind spending money on vet bills or to buy him good quality food and treats, but there are other things I cringe at the cost of. My advice: make your own or buy on clearance. I buy only toys that are on sale (I got several “eco friendly” toys marked down at Petsmart recently). I made him beds out of the stuffing in old patio furniture cushions and a pair of marked down flannel pillowcases. I made another out of an old flat pillow I got from Goodwill and a cute paw print piece of fabric, also from Goodwill. Total cost for all 3 beds was about $10–$7 for the pillowcases, (if you can even count that since I originally bought them for my own bed and accidentally got king instead of standard) and $3 for the goodwill stuff. I also got ceramic bowls from the Dollar Store. They are supposed to be human cereal bowls but they work and they are better for him than those plastic ones, they are very easy to clean and heavy so they don’t tip over. Total cost $2. They might not have cute little pawprints or bones on them but he doesn’t seem to mind. I also made him a car restraint from a harness I found on sale ($6), a clip I got at Home Depot ($1) and a wide collar (.50 at the surplus store). It looks just like the one I saw in the catalog for $50. If you think outside the box, you can save a lot.

Funny about Money September 6, 2009 at 8:04 pm

What a drop-down-dead GORGEOUS cat! Congratulations on coming across such a lovely animal.

BTW, raccoons are now one of the commonest carriers of rabies in North American. If you’re going to let your cat roam free, it would be a good idea to get it vaccinated for rabies.

My experience has been much like Erica’s: in spite of the German shepherd whose puppyhood earned her the sobriquet of “The Thousand-Dollar-a-Day Dog,” I’ve consistently found that cats are a lot more destructive than dogs. And I speak from experience: over a lifetime I’ve enjoyed the live-in company of over a dozen pet cats.

If they’re not declawed, they rip up the furniture (tried to replace or recover a sofa lately?). They climb up your window and door screens and rip those to shreds. Once they start going outside the cat box (most of them eventually do, no matter how clean you keep the box), they destroy carpets and flooring, which are horribly expensive to replace. If you keep cats indoors, even the most meticulously clean house stinks of eau-de-catbox. By their nature, they throw up on everything in sight. When you allow them run free, they trash the neighbors’ gardens and spray on their exterior walls and plantings. This leads to bad feelings with the neighbors and the potential for unpleasant, even costly quarrels. They tangle with other cats and wild animals, providing an opportunity for you to contribute to the vet’s Porsche payments. If you leave them outside in winter or shelter them inside the garage, they’re likely to take up residence under your car hood, where residual engine heat creates a warm spot: if the cat survives your morning attempt to drive to work, the result will allow the vet to move on up from the Porsche to a new Jag. And they devastate wild bird populations: in wildlands they are an invasive species that causes untold damage.

I love cats for their beauty and exotic weirdness…but would rather have a dog around the house any day!

Manshu September 6, 2009 at 8:35 pm

That’s a great post and some really great comments too, especially Phil, who makes a great point.

I thought of sharing this post with you, which is something I think people reading this post will like.
http://baselinescenario.com/2009/08/05/my-dog/

Susie September 8, 2009 at 12:56 pm

I love the fact that you are more of a dog lover but yet currently have a cat! I just think it is funny how it seems like you have to pick between loving a cat or a dog. Why cant you just love both? Ha, although I did grow up as a dog lover as well. Anywho, I guess in the end it all depends on your pet with the cost given that not every dog or cat is the same price. I think that having a pet may be a bit cheaper than having a child. Having a child, the costs are endless!

Honey September 8, 2009 at 1:39 pm

My boyfriend and I have 2 cats and a dog. I think they require equal amounts of attention and cost almost exactly the same. However, you should really be prepared for unexpected vet bills/health problems. We had a third cat (she died in Feb.) who was diabetic for 4 years. Insulin is $100 an ounce and while she required very little per day, this also meant the insulin expired before she used it all. Plus the cost of needles, and then there were all the other health problems she suffered from as a result of having a weakened system. I probably spent over $10K on her during the last 4 years of her life.

VVS-Hedestoker September 16, 2009 at 10:43 pm

Great article with some very nice charts and photos. I am planning to get a dog soon, so very interesting information.

The Pet Chatter September 28, 2009 at 8:24 am

Your cat is gorgeous and, of course, deserves all of the love and care that you bestow upon him. I’ll bet he’d really appreciate a doggie friend, though.

We have two barn cats who, beyond spaying, cost very little but give a lot of themselves. Our dog, OTOH, her nickname is The Destructor. I don’t even want to think about costs of what she’s destroyed.

The cats have taught the dog to be a good friend and they all get along famously. We have enjoyed watching the process immensely. So how about it? Is there another dog in your near future?

As to comparing pet costs to childcare, neither dog nor cats have come close. Our horses… that’s a whole n’other story!

Elizabeth March 5, 2010 at 6:03 pm

This article will really help me. My roommate just got a dog from a friend who was graduating soon. This helps put into perspective what we should be looking for, especially since the upfront vet bills were starting to scare us about costs.

Brad Hendricks at Cat Health Problems March 10, 2010 at 11:24 am

Great article SVB I’ve never seen a side by side comparison like that before. Keep up the good work and I hope your cat continues to be so healthy and well mannered. :)

Matthew April 6, 2010 at 12:46 pm

This is a really good post with a lot of helpful information. My wife is allergic to cats, so we only have dogs. It makes sense to me that dogs cost more than cats. I’m not anti-cat or anything, but I prefer dogs anyway as I think they make better pets. I think the higher cost is well worth it.

Heath April 8, 2010 at 8:41 am

Wow! It is astonishing to see how much one can spend on pets. While we all love our cats and dogs, I think the really good news is that they don’t have to be quite this expensive. For example: I bought 3 cat beds for my beloved Pixie, all of which she ignores in favor of an empty box. Cats don’t know how much you spend on presents – what they really care about is your attention and affection.

zeannesmith June 4, 2010 at 1:14 am

I find your article very interesting. A dog is really a nice pet. However, I would like to share something which you may find useful. One of the best things I have which takes my stress away is my bird. I do have a bird at home. I have placed him in his cage which i find very suitable for him. Having him around is quality time for me.

MissSapphire June 13, 2010 at 8:17 am

14 years is a long time for owning and taking care of a dog. Caring for your pet is very important. The first think about being best friends is that give and take. But in addition a dog is protective so it should feel healthy!

Although, to establish such a position you shouldn’t spend all your money on things that are not necessary ;)

Tammy June 25, 2010 at 12:48 pm

The saying ” ignorance is bliss” holds true on owning a pet as well. If you knew how much that puppy or kitty waas going to cost- some might pass. But, the love they give is “priceless”.

Keri Matthews July 31, 2010 at 12:54 am

What a gorgeous kitty!
I am actually allergic to cats, so I will not be able to indulge.. I do however have a rabbit who thinks she is a dog, a toy poodle who thinks she is a cat, and a golden mix who considers himself human. :)

I couldn’t think of putting a cost to my pets as they are family, and anything they need, I am more than willing to pay for!

One point, small breeds and big breeds can often have bone problems such as malformed joints and hip dysplasia.. and fixing bones is super expensive, thousands…

So adopting a mutt is the way to go!

Michell August 15, 2010 at 11:33 am

You would be surprised – or maybe not- at the number of people who are in need of assistance to just purchase day to day items for their “fur-babies.” Like most of you, I would pay whatever it took, no matter what I had to sell including my husbands Walter Payton rookie card (sorry baby)! Someone mentioned ignorance is bliss – she is right, many people would re-think adopting, but also, what if they were aware of the costs? Would it be better for the pet – than to not have the things they need to enjoy their life? Agh! It’s a tough call – one my non-profit has struggled with promoting. Do we share or hold back on true costs?

Kathy @ Dog Obedience Training October 20, 2010 at 9:02 am

Hi Silicon Valley Blogger,

Having to own a dog, taking care of him, doing what everything I could to be the best dog-mom for him for all of these years, there is no time when I think of the costs or expenses I’ve made. Part of the reason is I am not good at bookkeeping. But with the tabular presentation you have, this is really a good overview for those who will try to be scientific in their approach for dog care. Scientific in the sense that they have to be mindful in their spending. It is a good launchpad also for those who will venture in to any dog business.

Stephanie Courson October 27, 2010 at 11:46 am

Dogs are great companions, and give unconditional love. I did not think of the price when I bought my labrador puppy (she is old now, 10 years old). I personally take care of Liza (Lab dog). My dog relieves me of the stress I get from working. For those people out there, instead of buying puppies, you might consider adopting a dog.

Dr. Pet Shop September 27, 2012 at 12:35 am

I have a Bullmastiff. And i spend 135$ for dog food.

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