Americans will spend more than $140 billion on their pets this year.
Much of that will go to normal expenses like food, toys and routine checkups, according to the American Pet Products Association. But sometimes Scooby finds his way into mysteries that can lead to eye-popping price tags.
"As anyone with a pet knows, things are going to come up you don't expect," said Vicki Stevens, a spokeswoman with the Humane Society of the United States. "Financial planners advise us to have an emergency fund in case something goes wrong — we lose a job or something comes up with the house — and that is also true for pets."
That's the consensus experts have for managing the costs of pet ownership: Set money aside specifically for pet emergencies. That should happen before bringing home a new furry family member, but for current pet parents, starting to save now is better than putting it off any longer.
"One of the most common unexpected costs that comes up is medical and health issues. Vet care, like human health care, can add up quickly," said Stephanie Brown, a pet expert at online retailer Chewy. "Other pet costs such as training classes, boarding and grooming may not be part of monthly expenses but should be kept top of mind when budgeting for a pet."
Pet insurance has become a more common strategy to help with veterinary costs. However, many plans reimburse pet parents rather than paying for vet care directly, underscoring the need for some emergency savings.
"Do your homework and understand the costs that come with a pet and whether or not having one makes sense for your lifestyle," Brown said. "After all, you'll want to be able to give them the happy and healthy life they deserve."
Here's a breakdown of common pet costs to help prepare for the financial reality of owning a dog or cat:
Adopt or shop
On average, it costs about $620 to purchase a dog — $854 for pure breeds — and $139 for a cat, according to a survey from the American Pet Products Association (APPA).
That's just to bring them home. Many other one-time expenses pile up in the first year of owning a pet: leashes, food dishes, beds, litter boxes, fences, vaccines, spaying/neutering, the works.
The ASPCA estimates pet owners spend $1,100 to $3,200 within the first year of owning a new pet, though that's typically less for cats.
And sometimes the lifestyle change of having a new family member can bring surprise expenses like doggie daycare for unexpected absences.
"You don't want to assume you can bring your pets with you everywhere," said Stevens at the Humane Society. "You'll want to plan for that as well."
Inflation has made all of those purchases pricier. Since December 2019, the cost of pet products and services has risen nearly 21%, a tad higher than the overall rate of inflation through the same time period, according to John Gibbons, who runs the blog Pet Business Professor. Increases in food and veterinary care have been the main drivers.
"That is a huge increase in a very short period. It puts tremendous monetary pressure on pet parents to prioritize their expenditures," Gibbons wrote last week after the latest inflation data. "Let's hope for a little relief: stabilized prices and even deflation. This is not likely in the service segments, but it may be starting in products."
Plan for cat-astrophe
Dogs will incur an average of $10,000 to $15,000 in medical costs in their lifetimes, according to Embrace Pet Insurance. For cats, it's $8,000 to $11,000.
"The single largest expense for dogs and cats is usually veterinary care, specifically emergencies and surgeries," said Rachel Hinder, director of claims at Embrace. "Insurance can help cover these costs by reimbursing a percentage of the total expense, depending on the policy and pre-existing conditions."
In Minnesota, the average monthly premium for pet insurance is $23 for cats and $46 for dogs, according to pet insurance marketplace Pawlicy Advisor. Premiums are higher for older pets and might not include coverage for medications.
The size and type of dog or cat will also play a role in what kind of medical issues are likely to arise.
Small dogs might be more prone to accidents that can lead to expensive visits to emergency vet clinics. Owners of large breeds reported paying twice as much for surgery as did medium-sized dogs, according to the APPA.
Emergency vet visits can cost $200 to $5,000, according to Healthy Paws Pet Insurance.
"Healthy Paws sees so many claims for chronic conditions, everything from allergies to diabetes to arthritis to heart disease," the company said, encouraging those buying pet insurance to do so when their pet is young. "These pets were enrolled before their condition was diagnosed, so their physical therapy treatment, complications regarding the condition and even ongoing prescriptions are covered."
With or without insurance, ongoing preventative care can keep costs down in the long run.
"It's much more expensive — and risky — to treat illnesses than to protect against them," said Rena Lafaille, director of administration at the ASPCA Adoption Center. "It's also a good idea to shop veterinary practices by comparing fees and costs for preventative care."
The cost of pet food typically tracks with the size of the dog or cat: The bigger the pet, the bigger the expense.
Owners of large dogs spent an average of $470 on food last year, while small dogs had a food budget of about $300, according to the APPA survey. Another $100 went to treats, on average.
Cat food averaged about $300. But felines are notoriously picky eaters and might have their humans buying top-shelf dry food with a spendy wet topper.
For dogs eating only fresh/refrigerated food, which is gaining popularity, expect to spend thousands. Special diets for allergies or medical conditions could also inflate pet food costs.
As for kennels, boarding and pet-sitting, costs can range from $15 to $120 per night, depending on the facility and services, according to MetLife Pet Insurance.
The cost of a year's worth of professional grooming services for dogs has gone up from an average of $184 in 2018 to $226, according to the APPA. Medium-sized dogs are least expensive, while small and large breeds average $240 and up.
Mobile dog grooming services are typically more affordable, with a range of $130 to $189 annually.
Cat grooming adds up to an average of $85, according to the APPA, but Gen X and Baby Boomer cat parents reported spending more than $100 for feline salon services last year.
A fur-ever friend
One of the most important resources to spend on a pet is time. Even more than the most expensive diet and frequent visits to posh pet spas for pawdicures, pets need attention.
"Financial circumstances alone are not reliable indicators of the capacity to love and care for a companion animal," said Lafaille at ASPCA. "Pet owners who are financially advantaged do not love their pets any more or less than those in different financial situations."
According to the APPA survey, just more than a third of dog and cat owners worry about the financial obligation of owning a pet, but most do consider their pets when making financial plans.
For those struggling to handle the financial commitment of owning a pet, help is available.
"Even with careful planning, sometimes life happens, and you find yourself with bills you're not able to pay," said Brown at Chewy. "There are steps you can take to alleviate that pressure, such as creating a payment plan with your vet, seeing if they accept CareCredit — an online credit provider that offers veterinary financing — or checking out Waggle, a non-profit that raises money to cover veterinary costs."
Many local, state and national resources to help care for pets are on pethelpfinder.org.
"All pets, whether you are bringing home a large dog or a tiny kitten, require love and proper care," Lafaille said, "and it is best to understand all the animal's needs before making the commitment."