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Consider Costs Before Getting a Pet

If you’re thinking about getting a pet, it’s a good idea to understand and plan for costs. We dug into the details and got expert insights from The NOAH Center to learn what you can expect so you can adjust your budget.

Portrait of Katie J. Skipper

Katie J. Skipper (She, Her, Hers)
BECU Community Content Manager
Published May 14, 2021 in: Budgeting

Read time: 12 minutes

If it seems like almost every square in your Zoom calls has had a new puppy or kitten in it during the last year, it's not your imagination. Shelter Animals Count tallied an 11% increase in the pet adoption rate for the 1,225 shelters it tracked across the U.S. in 2019 and 2020. Comparing just April 2019 with April 2020, the increase was 34%.

That's a lot of new snuggles and fun in households across the country, but adding a new pet also comes with new costs. We talked with Sara Bradshaw, operations director for The NOAH Center in Stanwood, Washington, to learn what those costs might be so you can adjust your budget and provide your pet with a safe, happy home.

Sara Bradshaw
Sara Bradshaw, operations director for The NOAH Center

"A lot of people go into pet adoption not understanding how life-altering it can be," Bradshaw said. "We're seeing an increase in pets being returned now because people weren't prepared for the investment of time, energy and money."

Here are some estimated costs Bradshaw said are important to keep in mind. These points are specific to cats and dogs, but they are a good starting point if you are thinking about how to care for any kind of pet.

Adoption Fees

  • Shelter kittens: $150
  • Shelter puppies: $425

Depending on where you get your pet, you may need to pay adoption fees. The NOAH Center charges $425 for puppies and $150 for kittens. For comparison, Seattle Humane charges the same as The NOAH Center for puppies and $160 for kittens.

If those numbers give you sticker shock, keep in mind that these shelters provide medical care, food, training and shelter to the animals before you adopt them.

NOAH Center pet adoption costs include spay or neuter surgery, vaccinations, deworming, microchip identification implants, collars and tags, flea treatment and a voucher for a free health exam. If you adopt a pet that someone is giving away at no cost, you likely will have to arrange for those services on your own.

"A free pet isn't really free," Bradshaw said. 

Private breeders' costs are another matter entirely. They vary from breeder to breeder and breed to breed. Do your homework so you know what you're getting.

Spay and Neuter

  • Kittens: $40 - $400
  • Puppies: $35 - $500

If you decide to adopt a pet that hasn't already had spay or neuter surgery, you'll want to take care of that to prevent a surprise litter.

Prices vary widely depending on where you live, the size of the pet and who does the surgery. Bradshaw said people sometimes contact The NOAH Center to request surgeries for pets they adopted elsewhere because the cost was so high at a veterinarian's office. She's heard of costs up to $900. The NOAH Center has a spay and neuter clinic for outside adoptions, but Bradshaw said demand is so high that it can take months to get an appointment.

Spaying a female dog is typically more costly than neutering a male dog, with costs ranging from $50 - $500, according to the publication Daily Paws. The lower cost is usually because a program is supported by government funding. Private veterinarians charge $400 or more, according to the article. Neutering a male dog can cost $35 - $250.

Private vet costs to spay or neuter a cat run $200 - $400, according to Daily Paws.

If your pet has health issues that complicate surgery, the costs can be higher.

Seattle Humane offers low-cost pet spay and neuter clinics for income qualified people: Dogs cost $110 to neuter and $130 to spay; cats cost $40 to neuter and $60 to spay.

The city of Seattle's Animal Shelter offers dog surgeries that range from $144 - $186 and cat surgeries just over $100.

Veterinary Bills

  • Kitten core vaccinations: About $80
  • Puppy core vaccinations: $75 - 100

While spay and neuter surgery is a one-time, big-ticket medical cost, your pet will need ongoing medical care that includes vaccinations, booster shots, treatment for injury and illness and medications.

Pet insurance company CareCredit estimates core puppy vaccinations range from $75 - $100. For kittens, core vaccinations cost about $80, according to CareCredit.

What if your puppy gobbles up one of your socks? Healthy Paws Pet Insurance lists the average vet cost for removing an ingested foreign object at $3,250.

"If your dog gets parvo and has to stay at the vet overnight, it can cost thousands of dollars," Bradshaw said. (Parvo is a highly contagious disease that can be lethal to unvaccinated dogs.)

If your pet needs treatment for a serious illness like cancer, you'll be looking at costs on the higher end of the spectrum. CareCredit estimates radiation therapy for dogs costs up to $6,000.

Pet Insurance

  • Premiums: $20 - $150 per month

Pet insurance is another cost to consider. Bradshaw said it's not always necessary or cost effective, but it can be beneficial.

If you're thinking about it and want ideas for where to start, she suggested checking with your home or auto insurance company to see if they offer pet insurance. Microchip companies are another option. Bradshaw said they can charge $20 - $50 a month for insurance.

Consumers' Checkbook, a nonprofit organization that researches and reviews consumer products and services, investigated pet insurance and found it can cost more than the out-of-pocket costs for pet care without insurance. One thing to be aware of is that some pet insurance policies increase costs with the age of your pet. One plan's premiums started at $35 a month for a puppy and increased to $151 a month by the time the dog was 12.

Dog Training and Socialization

  • Group training: $120 - $600 (six to eight weeks)

If you were stuck at home during most of 2020 because of the pandemic, it may have seemed like the perfect time to get a pet. The downside, though, is that the pandemic also limited access to professional dog trainers.

"Training is a really big piece of dog ownership," Bradshaw said. "Dogs need socialization and training to prevent bad habits like jumping up and food aggression."

With enough research, time and commitment, Bradshaw said pet owners can do it themselves. Otherwise, professional dog training is a good idea if you want a well-behaved dog.

The costs for training programs vary, depending on whether you want private lessons or group lessons, and whether you need training for a puppy or an adult dog. HomeGuide lists the national average price range for dog training from $30 to $80 per class. Packages often run for six to eight weeks and cost $120 to $600.

As an example, Petco offers group puppy training that ranges from a six-week Puppy Level 1 package for $149 to an 18-week Puppy Complete package for $379.

Check your trainers' credentials and customer reviews to be sure you get the training you need for your pet.

Pet Food

  • Cat food: $30 - $50 per month
  • Dog food: $80 - $100 per month

Bradshaw cautioned against selecting pet food based on price alone. Just like humans, pets need good nutrition to be healthy, and different pets have different dietary needs.

"We had a dog that was returned to the shelter because he had so many allergies," Bradshaw said. "We put him on a special hydrolyzed protein diet and we were able to get him back in his home."

Bradshaw said a good round number to budget for is about $80 - $100 per month to feed a dog, but how much your pet eats will depend on a number of factors, including the type and size of animal, special health considerations, your pet's metabolism and how much exercise your pet gets. The serving size also depends on the type of food.

Woof Whiskers lists its 10 favorite dog food brands, which range from $1.52 per pound to $3.84 per pound.

All About Cats has a top-10 list of cat food brands, with prices ranging from less than $1 per day to more than $8 per day.

Pet MD recommends following the instructions on the food package for serving sizes and talking to your veterinarian if you have questions about your pet's health and diet.

Day Care, Dog Walkers and Kennels

  • Dog day care (group): $600 - $800 per month (unlimited)
  • Dog walkers: $15 - $60 per visit
  • Overnight dog care: $20 - $40 per day
  • Overnight cat care: $17 - $30 per day

If your home-all-day arrangement isn't permanent, you'll need to plan for your pet's care during the day when you aren't around.

Some pets and households are conducive to leaving pets home alone for several hours. Cats can be especially independent. For dogs, you might find that you need daytime care.

One doggie day care in Redmond, Washington, lists $49 for one day per week up to $199 for unlimited visits per week. Another day care service in Seattle charges $12 per hour, $600 for a 20-day pass and $585 for a monthly pass.

Dog walkers are another option. According to Care.com, the average cost of a dog walker in Seattle is $16.25 per hour, but prices vary as much as services: They range from a 10-minute potty break up to an hourlong walk, and single visits or multiple visits per day. One Seattle company's website lists a 10-minute potty break at $15 and an hourlong walk for $36. Another lists a 15-minute walk for $20 and an hourlong walk for $60.

If you take an out-of-town trip and don't have a friend or family member to care for your pet, you may need to find a boarding service or in-home care service. Prices vary widely.

The Dog People website provides a sampling of costs, estimating kennels cost $20 - $40 per night, in-home providers cost $35 - $40 per night, and pet hotels cost in the hundreds of dollars.

HomeGuide estimates the average cost for cat boarding is $17 - $30 per night. As an example, one kitty hotel in Seattle charges $26 per night for a 4-foot by 4-foot suite. One in-home cat care company in Seattle charges $30 per 30-minute visit with your cat and includes a variety of services such cleaning the litter box and even watering your house plants.

Identification Microchips

  • Implant procedure: About $50

Bradshaw recommends having a microchip implanted in your pet for identification. If your pet gets lost, a shelter or vet's office can scan your pet's chip number and contact the company that made it. The chip company will attempt to reach you with the contact information you provided when you registered.

"It's important to remember to register the chip and keep your contact information updated," Bradshaw said. "That's the only way the chip company can contact you."

The NOAH Center and other pet shelters implant microchips before adoption. The cost is included in the adoption fee.

If you adopt a pet without a microchip, you'll need to have it done. A veterinarian isn't required to implant it, but Bradshaw recommends having a vet do it to reduce risk of injury to your pet. You can expect to pay about $50 for the implant, according to WebMD's pet site, Fetch.

Kitty Litterbox

  • Litterbox: $6 - $500
  • Litter: $10 - $40 per month

One of the essential (and less pleasant) aspects of caring for a cat is providing a clean litter box.

Boxes range in style and price. An ordinary open pan can cost as little as $6. A covered, or hooded, box costs $15 - $30. If you want a deluxe robot box that automatically scoops for you, or a designer box that fits in with your décor, you can pay $500 or more.

To maintain the box, you will need to scoop waste and litter clumps and change the litter regularly. Different types of litter materials come with different price tags and maintenance schedules.

FAQCats estimates the cost of litter at $10 - $40 per month.

Other Costs

We've talked about some of the bigger purchases you can expect to make for your dog or cat, but there are other everyday expenses you'll need to make for your pet, and even some less common costs you'll encounter.

Do your research to figure out what is necessary for you to provide a comfortable bed for your pet to sleep on, toys to keep your pet's mind engaged and entertained, leashes and toys to make sure your pet gets enough exercise, and a crate or carrier to transport your pet.

If something other than a cat or dog — like a bird, fish or reptile — is your speed, you'll need to research how to create a comfortable environment and provide proper care.

Regardless of the type of pet you choose, Bradshaw strongly suggests that in addition to monetary costs, you consider whether you have the energy and commitment to care for a pet.

"It takes time," Bradshaw said. "No one is perfect, and you're going to have ups and downs, but you'll be fine if you can prioritize an animal's wants and needs."

Portrait of Katie J. Skipper

Katie J. Skipper (She, Her, Hers)
BECU Community Content Manager

Katie writes for BECU about personal finance and social justice topics. Her career spans reporting for newspapers and communicating on behalf of government agencies and private businesses. Learn about Katie's career and education on LinkedIn.