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How to Prepare Your Finances for Pet Adoption

Pets can be expensive, costing hundreds or thousands of dollars per year for routine expenses—and that's even before surprise emergencies. Here's how to prepare.

Written by Lindsay VanSomeren / August 16, 2022

Quick Bites

  • Planning the financial side of bringing a new pet home isn't as exciting, but don't let it take a backseat to everything else.
  • There are lots of resources available to help just about anyone afford an expanded pet family.
  • Plan for three types of expenses in your budget: initial adoption costs, ongoing expenses and how to deal with emergencies.

The average American spent $1,201 per dog and $687 per cat in 2020.[1] Most people instinctively know that pets are expensive, but actually sitting down and planning for these new costs isn't common practice. If you think financial planning—let alone for pets—is strictly for high-income earners, think again.

"I personally feel that just because somebody doesn't have a lot of money, it doesn't mean they should be forbidden from loving and being loved by an animal companion," says Billy Hatton, a Certified Financial Planner with Billfold Budget Counseling and a dog owner. There are a lot of resources to care for your new pet regardless of your budget, and putting together a plan ensures you can enjoy pet ownership without financial stress.

Inside this article

  1. Pet expenses to plan for
  2. Starting your pet budget
  3. Financial aid for pet owners

What pet expenses should you plan for?

Your main pet expenses will fall into three buckets: things you'll need to buy before you bring your pet friend home, ongoing costs throughout their life and unexpected emergency expenses. Here's how to factor each of these into your plan.

Initial costs: Bringing your furry friend home

Let's start out with the easiest planning in the grand scheme of things: what you'll need to bring your friend home. These are generally known costs, a one-time expense that you can plan for in advance, and includes things like:

  • Pet food

  • Adoption fees

  • Collars, leashes, beds, toys, litter boxes, etc.

You may need to think about home modifications, too. For example, if you want to adopt a large dog, many pet rescues require you to have a fenced yard of a certain height. Installing a new fence can be an expensive but worthwhile safety modification.

Ongoing costs: Making sure everyone is happy and healthy

The ongoing costs associated with pet ownership can be fuzzier to think about. Oftentimes "you won't know until you know," says Hatton. "These are living creatures, much like a kid. You don't know if they're gonna go to Princeton when they're born, right? You need to see how that personality develops and adjust accordingly."

Even if you're adopting an older pet, you can expect things to change over time. "I think one of the biggest pain points is when pets become senior pets,” says Hannah Szarszewski, a Certified Financial Planner with Blue Mountain Financial Planning and the owner of Maltese Poodle mix. That's tough, because all of a sudden, the costs are going to go up."

If you have multiple pets all around the same age, you should be mentally prepared for your pet care costs to ratchet up significantly when they all become the pet equivalent of the Golden Girls.

Even with all of this uncertainty, it's important to get started somewhere. Sit down and figure out how much you'll need to pay for regular expenses, including:

  • Toys

  • Litter

  • Training

  • Pet food

  • Grooming

  • Boarding care

  • Veterinary care

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What’s the Cost of Owning a Cat?

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How Much Does a Dog Cost per Year?

How Much Does a Dog Cost per Year?

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Emergency costs: Expecting the unexpected

Planning for emergencies is the trickiest of all. If you're very lucky, your pet will never have an unexpected emergency. If you're not, your pet could end up with an extremely expensive medical condition.

Sadly, one out of every four dogs, and one out of every five cats, will develop cancer in their lifetimes.[2,3] On average, cancer costs $4,137 and $3,282 to treat for a dog and a cat, respectively.[4] Costs can easily range much higher than that for many veterinary expenses, and that often forces owners to make incredibly difficult decisions.

To guard against that heartbreaking possibility, many financial experts recommend considering pet insurance. This can be especially important if you don't yet have a fully-funded emergency fund with three to six months' worth of expenses (which you should adjust upward for each new pet you adopt, by the way). Even if you do, if the idea of draining your entire emergency fund to save your pet's life keeps you up at night, buying pet insurance can be a good idea.

Clark the dog photo

Pet Insurance Saved Our Puppy, and Our Bank Account

Pet Insurance Saved Our Puppy, and Our Bank Account

Pet insurance seemed like a splurge—until our dog ate a chicken bone and needed $7,500 surgery.

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There are a few things to keep in mind, though. Some pets, especially older ones, may not qualify for coverage. "I would say absolutely read the fine print, because there are a lot of exclusions—or there can be," says Szarszewski.

For many people, though, it's worth it. "Considering what pet owners will do for their animals, it may make sense to have that insurance," says Hatton. "As soon as I had an animal, I was like, 'I will do everything for this creature.'"

Starting your pet budget

Both Hatton and Szarszewski recommend setting aside some time to estimate all of the different expenses your pet will likely have in a typical year. This will be different for each pet; a young tabby cat has different needs from an elderly great dane, for example. Some of these expenses you may be able to find online, but others might require you to visit a pet store, contact a veterinary professional or shop for pet insurance quotes.

Once you have estimates for all your pet-related costs, tally up the annual figures, divide them by 12, and this should give you a rough starting point for how much to budget each month for your pet.

Over time, as things become clearer, you can update your budget accordingly. If your puppy develops bad behavioral habits, for example, you may need to consider specialized training options. Your new kitten hopefully breezes through their annual vet visit for many years to come, but as they get older, their health may change. Budgets are always living documents that should change as needed.

Financial assistance for pet owners

In an ideal world, we'd all have enough cash to pamper our pets on couches all day long while feeding them treats and fanning them. But if you're not in that position and still need help to afford your pets after you go through the budgeting process, there are plenty of places that can help:

  • Pet shelters: Not just for pet adoption, many pet shelters offer pet food banks, free or low-cost pet care and spay or neuter clinics and other resources. After all, the best way to prevent homeless pets is by empowering owners who already want to keep theirs.

  • CareCredit: This financing program offers special deals to cover veterinary costs, which are a common budget buster. Make sure you read the fine print to understand the details, however.

  • 211.org: This resource, operated by the United Way, pairs you up with a local volunteer to help you identify any and all options for help in your area, including for your pet family too.

Article Sources
  1. Statista Research Department, "Average annual expenditure on dogs and cats in the United States as of 2020, by category(in U.S. dollars)," Dec. 13, 2021, https://www.statista.com/statistics/250851/basic-annual-expenses-for-dog-and-cat-owners-in-the-us/.
  2. Veterinary Cancer Society, "Frequently Asked Questions," http://vetcancersociety.org/pet-owners/faqs/.
  3. Colorado State University Flint Animal Cancer Center, "Common Cancers in Cats," Nov. 20, 2019, https://www.csuanimalcancercenter.org/2019/11/20/common-cancers-in-cats/.
  4. CareCredit, "Cat and dog chemotherapy cost and financing," Jan. 23, 2021, https://www.carecredit.com/well-u/pet-care/cat-and-dog-chemotherapy-cost-and-financing/.

About the Author

Lindsay Vansomeren

Lindsay VanSomeren

Lindsay was inspired to start writing about personal finance after seeing how much good financial management impacted her life in getting out of six-figure debt. Now she hopes to help others improve their finances too, so they can get rid of financial stress, live the lives they want, and strengthen their communities. Her work has appeared in Credit Karma, Forbes Advisor, LendingTree, The Balance, and more.

Full bio

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