I’ve had dogs all my life, from big working farm dogs to pocket-sized chihuahuas, and now, a whole gaggle of terriers. But, because I’ve had them all my life, I never really stopped to think about what it cost to have them, I just…had them — and sorted the cost out later.
But my crew is now completely composed of seniors, and they’re all much older than any dog I’ve ever had before in my life (three of which are over 11 years). Dog life expectations have increased dramatically due to improved care. So I’ve had to really consider the cost of owning a pet and how to figure that into my household expenses lately.
They’ve already had serious medical diagnoses that would be considered pre-existing conditions for pet insurance, so now every nickel and every dime comes right out of my pocket and into the till of my incredible, but not free, private practice veterinarian.
How long do pets live?
Before we can tackle how much it costs to own a pet, we should consider how long they live. When I was growing up, a very long time ago, if you had a pet that was 10 years old, that was a very old pet.
Today, though, the story is a lot different. According to recent studies, dogs are regularly living over 10 years, even if they’re large breeds. Cats are living ridiculously long, too — over 11 years — including those who are free-roaming and thus more prone to accidents and disease.
According to a multi-national study of dogs that determined life expectancy by breed, I am in actual trouble, because my three Jack Russell terriers are among the dogs with the longest life expectancy at birth, between 14 and 15 years.
My beagle mix, Jasmine, is already approaching 14, but this study says about 10 years was all she was expected to achieve. She’s been in cancer treatment for 15 months, so in basically every way, she’s continuing to defy the odds.
The cost of a pet: birth to inevitable death
When you’re calculating the cost of owning a pet, it’s important that you consider every step in between the cradle and the grave, because some years are more expensive, like the first, when you’re covering costs like baby shots and spay/ neuter surgery. But those last years, I’m finding, are by far the most expensive in a lot of little ways that add up to really big costs.
Synchrony, the bank responsible for CareCredit, put together a survey of just what its customers were spending on their pets every year, and for their pets’ lifetimes. It found that your dog will cost up to $55,132 for an average lifetime of expenses; your cat will cost $45,790. This assumes your pet lives to be 15 years old, but even one year can make your wallet burn, at $2,803 for dogs and $2,487 for cats.
If you’re sitting there with a healthy 6-year-old dog or cat in your lap thinking, “Man, that seems really high,” let me assure you that you’re in good company. According to Synchrony, 45% of dog owners and 38% of cat owners were not prepared for their pets’ longer-term expenses.
I fully admitted that I also was not. In no world could I have imagined the sheer number of vet visits with my impressive, and not even terribly expensive, veterinarian that I would have this year. I would not have guessed at the absolute mountain of prescription medications I’d dole out to four senior dogs every day for the rest of their lives.
And, frankly, I’d never have thought I’d regret not having bought pet insurance when they were younger. When I looked into it years ago, I was not sold, but today’s pet insurance is different. I’ve been reviewing pet insurance companies lately for the kitten I found in the trash early this spring. He came with matted eyes and a tiny cough, and he’s also now become an unofficial terrier, causing as much chaos as he can under the expert tutelage of his older brothers.
Breaking down pet expenses
Here’s a table showing yearly pet-related expenses:
$434 to $684
$351 to $584
$231 to $551
$169 to $698
$534 to $1,285
$374 to $965
$1,269 to $2,803
$960 to $2,486
Data source: Synchrony Lifetime of Care Study. Table by author.
This doesn’t even include expenses like adoption fees or pet insurance, should you choose to take out a policy; Synchrony estimates a cost of $209 for a year of pet health insurance, but the cost of pet insurance varies based on type of pet, age, and your location.
Pet ownership may not be cheap, but it is worth it
Don’t pack your pet’s bags — that’s definitely not the takeaway I hoped you’d have from this article. But, do be prepared, because owning a pet is kind of like having a kid, and you want to make sure you do all you can to take care of this creature that is kind enough to hang out with you all day and never complain about your terrible singing or judge you when you get brownie batter on your cardigan (in fact, they may help you get it out before it stains).
Pets can’t get jobs and make their own money, and they didn’t choose to live with us, so we have to be the adults, no matter how financially painful it may be.
It pays to know what it costs to own a pet so you can plan for their entire lives, no matter what happens, including choosing a realistic amount of coverage for a pet insurance policy that can stand the test of time.