Table of Contents
Table of Contents

The Economics of Pet Ownership

When it comes to Fido and Fluffy, don’t let your emotions swamp your good sense

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.

Key Takeaways

  • Pets can live for 10 or more years.
  • Annual costs of owning a pet can range from several hundred to several thousands of dollars.
  • Food is the biggest cost, along with vet bills.
  • Pet insurance is one way to manage the medical part of the expense of caring for a pet.

Basic Pet Care 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, while adoption fees from a shelter can range from zero to several hundred 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, which may come from unusual places. (Nestlé owns Purina, after all.) 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. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) 2021–2022 National Pet Owners Survey, feeding a cat can cost on average $4.88 per week, and that rises to $5.52 a week for a dog.

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.

Seventy percent of U.S. households, or about 90.5 million families, own a pet, accounting for 69 million dogs and just over 45 million cats, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) 2021–2022 National Pet Owners Survey.

Medical Care

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 checkup is routine maintenance. According to the APPA survey, the average American spends about $583 in medical expenses per dog each year; medical expenses for cats are estimated to be about $343 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 for cancer can easily top the $1,000 mark—and that does not include surgical care or long-term treatments and medications. The APPA survey estimates the average cost of surgical care for a pet to be about $458 for a dog and $201 for a cat. Collectively, Americans spent a whopping $34.3 billion on veterinary care for pets in 2021.

Annual Expenses

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 APPA 2021–2022 National Pet Owners Survey:

Annual Expenses for Dogs and Cats
Expense Dog Cat
Surgical Vet Visits $458 $201
Routine Vet $242 $178
Food $287 $254
Food Treats $81 $72
Kennel Boarding $228 $78
Vitamins $81 $47
Grooming aids/brushes $47 $31
Toys $56 $41
Average Yearly Cost $1,480 $902
Ten-Year Average Cost $14,800 $9,020
(Source: The American Pet Products Association 2021–2022 National Pet Owners Survey)

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.

Other Considerations

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, as some pets can’t be left alone for long periods.

Many towns and cities require that you register your pet if it will be outdoors. Registering a dog or cat will also have a fee attached to it.

The Bottom Line

The APPA survey shows that, in total, Americans spent $123.6 billion on their pets in 2021. Depending on which kind of pet you choose and what situations you encounter, the cost of owning your pet could run anywhere from a few hundred dollars to 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.

Article Sources
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