The True Cost of Pet Ownership and How You Can Save Money

Most Louisianans don’t shy away from spending on their furry, feathery and scaly family members.

According to a recent credit union affiliate survey, about 50 percent of respondents own pets. Of those pet owners, 11.7 percent said they tend to spend between $300 and $500 annually on pet care and supplies. Another 9.4 percent spend between $500 and $700, while 9.5 percent claim to spend more than $1,000 on their fur babies each year.

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Expenditures on pets by respondents are not far from national averages, according to research from the American Pet Products Association.

Data from the APPA shows about 68 percent of households in the U.S. –  84.6 million families – own at least one pet. In 2017, American pet owners spent a combined $69.51 billion on their animals. That means each pet-owning U.S. household spent about $822 caring for animals last year.

The APPA breaks pet spending into five major categories: food, supplies (including medicine), vet care, live animal purchases and pet services (including grooming and boarding). According to the survey, 29.8 percent of participants spend most of their pet budget on veterinarian care.

Food for their animal friends is the greatest expenditure for 20.1 percent of the survey respondents.

Those trends line up with national averages. Nationally, according to the APPA, most money spent on pets – about $29.07 billion – went toward food in 2017.

Americans spent another $17.07 billion on vet care that same year.

Spending on pets in the U.S. is expected to continue to rise. The APPA estimates Americans will spend $72.13 billion on their pets this year – almost $3 billion more than in 2017.

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Melany Ward, president of North Main Credit Union, said she’s seen members who have made pets a financial priority.

“I understand that, to some people, their pets are a part of the family,” Ward said. “And those people enjoy spoiling their animals like they would human family members. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re one of those people, make sure you’re setting aside a responsible amount of money.”

Ward said spending on pets has the potential to become a problem when it cuts into human needs.

“Owners shouldn’t spend so much keeping their pets happy that they fall behind on bills and other essential payments,” Ward said. “Make sure you’re covering your own basics before you spend extra on your dog or cat.”

She said potential pet owners should think critically about whether they can realistically afford an animal before they visit their local pet store or shelter.

“First, figure out how much of your budget you can reasonably dedicate to caring for an animal,” Ward said. “Then sit down with pen and paper to realistically look over the expenses. Keep in mind that your animal will likely require specialized food and supplies. Make sure you factor in an annual vet visit and understand the likelihood that your pet could become sick and how that might impact your budget. It might make sense to ask your vet about pet insurance.”

She said owners who keep their finances healthy are more likely to maintain healthy and happy pets.

“Pets can make great companions,” Ward said. “Just make sure you’re financially ready to make that companionship work.”

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Tips to Save Money on Pet Care

  • Create a pet budget. It’s easier for owners to save on pet costs if they can see how that money is spent. Try setting up a budget specifically for your pet. Track spending on food, toys, vet visits, medicine, grooming and boarding. At the end of each month, assess how much money has been spent on pet costs and adjust those categories as necessary.
  • Keep pets healthy. Taking pets to the vet regularly can get costly, with veterinarians charging an average of about $257 for a dog’s routine visit and $182 for a cat’s. But emergency medical costs are even higher (surgical visits cost an average of $245 for cats and $474 for dogs) and tend to stack up. It’s more cost effective to visit the vet regularly for complete physicals, which include diagnostic tests to detect problems before they’re serious. To help keep pets healthy between vet appointments, make sure they’re getting the correct food and plenty of exercise.
  • Make your own toys. Many of the toys sold in pet stores can be created at home. For instance, cat scratching pads can be fashioned from cardboard boxes and braided towels can replace pricey rope toys for dogs. Sites like VetStreet.com offer creative and simple DIY pet toy ideas. But pet owners don’t have to be crafty to keep pets entertained. Sometimes, animals prefer common household items – like strings, balls and elastic bands – to fabricated pet toys. Just make sure pets are playing with safe items, as small parts could become choking hazards.
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  • Consider less expensive alternatives to boarding. Travel with animals isn’t always possible – but boarding can get expensive. Instead, try setting up a pet-sitting system. Offer to watch friends’ pets for free while they’re away in exchange for their pet sitting services next time you leave town. If free pet care isn’t available, check out alternative boarding options like www.Rover.com or www.DogVacay.com. These sites connect owners with walkers and sitters who typically charge less than pet daycares.
  • Get help. Pet owners struggling financially have options. Charities like IMOM, RedRover and The Pet Fund provide grants and money toward vet bills. Meals on Wheels and local pet food banks can help owners struggling to feed their animals. For more pet assistance programs, visit iheartdogs.com.
Rachel Morris