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Getting real about the total cost of pet ownership

When most of us think about adding a companion animal to our lives, cost is not our first concern. Sure, we know we’ll need to provide food and regular vet care, but few take account of the total annual expenses that a dog or cat (even one in excellent health) can incur. Don’t worry, we’re not trying to discourage any would-be pet owners; instead, we’re trying to provide a sketch of the monetary cost incurred to help you budget accordingly.

The ASPCA has estimated the first-year cost of dog ownership to be $1,270 and for cat ownership to be $1,070, with annual expenses for each running about $500 per year. Citing a study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, the American Kennel Club placed first-year costs far higher—between $2,674 and $3,085—depending upon the size and breed of the dog. 

Let’s have a look at the costs as broken down into two groups—first-year costs and annual costs.

First-Year Costs

Most owners (unless they intend on breeding their animals) incur a one-time spay/neuter fee. The ASPCA estimates that cost to be between $145 for cats and $200 for dogs. There is also a basic medical exam and immunizations (estimated at $70 for dogs and $130 for cats). Add in a collar and leash ($20 to $30), litter pan and food bowls (another $30), scratching post ($15), and crates/carriers ($100 to $200), and dog training ($110), and you have a total between $365 (per cat) and $565 (per dog).  

Annual/Ongoing Costs

Now let’s look at the annual expenses. The most obvious is food, which, according the ASPCA, runs annually between $120 per dog and $145 per cat. Add in yearly vet exams (dog $235, cat $130), cat litter ($200), toy and treats (between $25 and $55), licensing ($15), pet health insurance (average dog $225, average cat $175), and miscellaneous expenses (between $30 and $45), and you total out at approximately $700 per animal. Of course, these are just estimates, and there are ways to reduce these costs—such as enrolling in a frequent-buyer savings program at a pet supply retailer.

What About Emergencies?

Of course the expenses listed above don’t cover the unforeseen. Medical emergencies—including both illness and injury—can raise these figures by hundreds, even thousands of dollars. The ASPCA estimates that most pet owners will incur emergency vet fees between $2,000 and $4,000 at least once in their lifetimes. Some pet owners prefer to keep an emergency budget aside for such contingencies, though not all can afford to do so. Plus those funds need to be built up again once they are depleted. 

Pet health insurance can help ease some of this burden. Interactive calculators allow you to estimate how much you would pay out-of-pocket for common pet medical issues with and without insurance.

A Few Tips

If budgeting for a new pet is stressing you out, there are a few things you can do to decrease the unknowns. First, draw up a monthly budget, with and without pet expenses, to gauge the economic impact of adding a new pet to your household. If possible, set aside between one and two thousand dollars in a veterinary emergency fund. Think about how you’d cope with the expense of a life-saving medical procedure for your pet. Consider purchasing health insurance for your pet. With a budget plan drawn out, you can make informed choices about the economic costs of raising a companion animal in a safe and loving home.


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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