Affording Fido: A Cost Checklist for a New Pet
By Jason Alderman
Premium food, state-of-the-art veterinary care, and creature comforts most humans would envy are now a regular part of life for many American pets. That’s why prospective pet owners should consider financial planning before bringing home a dog, cat, or other breed of animal.
For those considering purchasing or adopting a pet, do thorough research first about what owning that animal will cost. The wide range of products, services, and advanced medical options for American pets have pushed U.S. pet industry expenditures to almost $60 billion in 2014, nearly double the amount in 2004. With pet ownership tripling since the 1970s according to The Humane Society of the United States, it is no surprise that advanced pet products and services at high price points are making it very easy for many pet owners to overspend.
Prospective pet owners should begin their research with an idea of first-year costs. The ASPCA (https://www.aspca.org) publishes an annual estimate for a variety of pets. Purchase and adoption costs may vary based on breed, so read as much as you can about a specific pet choice. Fortunately, virtually every kind of pet has an online presence, including sites for adoption and rescue. It’s particularly important to research the pet’s behavioral, care and health history, and it might also be worthwhile to find a veterinarian who can offer additional insight about home and medical care.
Keep in mind that average pet costs, not counting additional spending for toys, treats or non-routine veterinary care, can be daunting. For example, the ASPCA currently estimates that a large dog may cost roughly $1,800 in his or her first year and $780 a year afterward. That doesn’t include potential bills for major illness or accident care that might run into the thousands. If that dog lives eight to 10 years, that means spending a minimum of between $7,260 and $8,820 over a lifetime. Many experts and pet owners are still debating whether it makes sense to buy pet insurance, (http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com/petinsurance) and that is an option worth researching as well before a pet is purchased or adopted.
Many homeowners and renters should also check with their insurers for potential pet restrictions that may raise their premiums or risk voiding their coverage. In 2013, the Insurance Information Institute claimed that one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims came from dog bites alone. Certain types of breeds may be considered higher-risk among some insurers, so before a pet purchase or adoption, prospective pet owners should check their home or rental policies to see how the animal will affect the pricing or availability of coverage.
Finally, certain kinds of pet ownership situations may call for estate planning. Some pet breeds – birds and tortoises among them – may live well in excess of 20 years. If a pet owner becomes disabled or dies, pets at any age may have an uncertain future if there’s no plan in place for guardianship, care, and ongoing financial support. Estate planners have recognized pet trusts as a potential legal solution for this purpose. Pet owners of advanced age, with disabling illness or living alone might consider leaving such specific instructions for their animals in their will or advance directives.
Bottom line: With the potential costs of veterinary and other forms of care, pet ownership requires its own form of financial planning. It’s important to do thorough research on costs related to specific species and breeds before you buy or adopt.
Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. To Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.