Sometimes the lure of a frolicking puppy or fluffy kitten is so strong that the decision to bring a pet into the home becomes an impulse buy. But this is a serious commitment: many pets can live for more than 10 years, leaving some pet lovers unprepared for the price tag attached to owning and caring for an animal in a responsible manner. If you're thinking about getting a pet, you should be ready to back up your good intentions with a hefty contribution from your wallet. In this article, we'll look at some of the basic costs of pet ownership.

More than half of all Americans are pet owners. With more than 72 million dogs and 81 million cats in the United States, some 37% of households include a dog and 32% have at least one cat, according to the 2007 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographic Sourcebook.

The Basic Costs
Regardless of where you live, the cost of acquiring a new pet is significant. If you purchase your pet at a pet store or from a breeder, you can expect to spend anywhere between several hundred and several thousand dollars. However, even if you get your pet for free, it is the ongoing cost of caring for it that represents the real expense.

The most obvious cost is food. Every pet has to eat, and whether it's fish flakes, rabbit pellets, dog kibble or cat food, one thing is certain: they all cost money. Feeding a cat can cost as little as $4 per week, but feeding a large dog can cost upwards of $25 per week. Most pet owners also spring for more than a few toys, treats, beds, leashes, cages, carriers, obedience training sessions and other extras. Nonetheless, pet food is one expense where you can't cut too many corners, so keep the cost of food in mind when you choose a particular pet.

Medical care is another guaranteed expense. Four-legged friends need basic medical care to prevent future problems, and even fish get sick. For dogs and cats, a yearly check-up is routine maintenance. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the average American spends about $356 in medical expenses per dog each year; medical expenses for cats are estimated to be about $190 per year, although most cat owners have more than one.

Economically speaking, routine veterinary care is similar to taking your car in for an inspection. Just like an auto inspection, a visit to the vet sometimes identifies additional issues that need to be addressed. These issues are often expensive. Diagnostic testing can easily top the $1,000 mark and can be as high as $5,000 - this does not include surgical care or long-term treatments and medications. The APPMA estimates the average cost of surgical care for a pet to be about $574 for a dog and $337 for a cat; collectively, Americans spent a whopping $23.2 billion on veterinary care for cats and dogs in 2006 according to the ASPCA. If these numbers make you nervous, perhaps you should reconsider your decision to get a pet. Responsible pet owners understand that pets often come with health problems, and they are willing to accept the financial consequences that come with prolonged illness or sudden injuries.

The table below provides the estimated average yearly cost of owning a cat or a dog according to the 2005-2006 APPMA National Pet Owners Survey:

Expense Dog Cat
Surgical Vet Visits $574 $337
Food $241 $185
Kennel Boarding $202 $119
Routine Veterinary Care $211 $179
Grooming $107 $24
Vitamins $123 $3
Treats $68 $43
Toys $45 $29
Average Yearly Cost $1,571 $919
Ten-Year Average Cost $15,710 $9,190

Pet Insurance
To cope with the medical costs, an increasing number of pet owners are turning to insurance policies. Recognizing that pets are family members too, some progressive employers offer group policies for pet owners. Pet insurance policies can also be purchased directly from insurers. Either way, be sure to read the fine print and make sure that you understand applicable spending caps, deductibles and coverage limitations.

The Extras
Beyond the basic costs, many pet owners also need to open their wallets to pay for expenses such as grooming and boarding. If you take your pet with you on your travels, most hotels and airlines will charge hefty fees to accommodate Rover or Fluffy. Additional costs can also come in the form of pet sitting while you're at work, since some pets can't be left alone for long periods.

The APPMA estimates that, in total, Americans spent $43.2 billion on their pets in 2008. Depending on what kind of pet you choose and what situations you encounter, the cost of owning your pet could run anywhere between a few hundred and several thousand dollars each year. Keep this in mind when you are in the market for a pet. After all, an animal has no choice but to rely on you to provide for its needs. If you are contemplating the addition of a pet to your family, plan accordingly, and approach the issue with realistic expectations of the financial implications. Your pet - and your family - will be better off for the effort.

For further reading, see The Beauty Of Budgeting and Seven Common Financial Mistakes.

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