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5 Hidden Costs of Owning a Pet

Nov 17, 2015

So you've finally decided to give in to the kids' pleading and get a pet. Whether you're adopting an animal from your local shelter or buying one from a breeder, as a pet owner you'll need to factor a number of new costs into your budget. Aside from basics like food, toys and vet care (including spaying or neutering), here are the ones experts say are most often overlooked in the excitement of picking out a new fuzzy friend.

Getting the new pet home. In some cases, the extra costs can start rolling in before you even bring Fido home. If you don't live near the breeder, for example, you'll need to arrange for transportation, says American Kennel Club vice president Gina DiNardo. If you plan to fly out and bring the pup back with you, you'll need to invest in a crate approved by the International Air Transport Association if the puppy will be traveling in the cargo hold, or a carrier that will fit under the seat in front of you if you plan to bring it on board. Plus you'll need to pay the airline's fee, which could be a couple hundred dollars (on top of your ticket, of course). Many reputable breeders will ship puppies, for a cost of up to several hundred dollars.

Vaccinations and parasite treatment. Reputable breeders and many shelters will give pets in their care a round or two of vaccinations as well as parasite treatments, but be sure to ask whether this is included. Young animals may also need additional treatments once you get them home. "Get a good understanding as to whether a kitten has had all of her shots and comes with a health certificate that you can provide to your veterinarian," says Jodell Raymond, director of marketing and communications for the Cat Fanciers Association. "That document will help you to understand what shots and care will be needed for short-term and long-term care." (It's equally good advice if you're buying a puppy, of course.)

Petfinder has a rundown that is helpful for getting a ballpark idea of amount you'll need to spend every year to keep a dog healthy. Routine vet exams cost between $45 and $200 for puppies in the first year of life, and about half that for each subsequent year, while vaccines can run up to $150 a year. Flea and tick prevention and heartworm medication can add several hundred dollars more. Ranges are broad because costs vary widely by brand, and also because medication costs more for bigger dogs. The American Pet Products Association's annual survey finds that dog owners spend an average of $235 a year on routine vet care and $551 on surgical vet visits; cat owners pay an average of $196 and $398, respectively.

Exercise needs and "babysitting." People can underestimate the need for, and the cost of, services like daycare and boarding, says Carolyn Evans, executive director of My Furry Valentine, an annual adoption event in Cincinnati . "I think people just don’t think about, 'I’m going away for the weekend,'" she says. If a neighbor or relative can't take care of your pet when you're away, you'll need to pay for a pet-sitter or boarding facility.

Evans adds that people sometimes underestimate the amount of exercise certain dog breeds need, so be prepared to shell out for a midday dog-walk or doggie daycare. Costs vary by market; although it's easier to find dog walkers and doggie daycare facilities in big cities, you'll also pay more. Last year, members of Angie's List reported paying an average of $42 a day for doggie daycare. A 15-minute walk for one dog generally costs $15 to $17, according to CostHelper.com; if you have more than one pooch, additional dogs run about $10 each. (On the upside, chances are it's less than reupholstering the sofa if your pet starts tearing apart the cushions out of boredom.)

Chronic or breed-specific health issues. Nobody wants to think about this, especially when you're bringing home a tiny, adorable fluffball, but some pets are more susceptible to health problems than others, especially as they age. "There are certain dogs that are prone to certain injuries or breeding problems or hip dysplasia," Evans points out. While you can obviously reduce the risk by doing your research and finding a reputable breeder if you plan to buy, or picking a shelter pet that isn't of a breed known for health issues, there's no guarantee. If you have your heart set on a purebred pooch rather than a mutt, make sure to educate yourself about potential problems and what kind of expenses they might entail down the line. Pet insurance, which can cost a couple hundred dollars a year, is an option, but be sure to read the fine print: Some policies don't cover breed-specific ailments like hip dysplasia or common knee injuries.

Your pet's expected lifespan. People tend to underestimate the lifespan of cats, Raymond says—especially indoor cats, which can make it to 14 or 15 years old or more. Likewise many dogs, especially smaller breeds, live well into their teens. So whether you buy or adopt an animal, go into pet ownership understanding that, if you're lucky, the commitment you're making could last a good long time.

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