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Adopting a New Pet? Here’s How Much Your New Friend Could Cost

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Andrea Howarth began scouring the Internet for available pets up for adoption a few weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic as it became increasingly clear that the kids were not going back to school, the parents would be working from home and their trip to Ireland was canceled.

“We searched every night around bedtime for the right dog for our family. It seemed every family was doing the same,” said Howarth, a high school counselor from Enfield, Connecticut. Her two children, ages 8 and 11, held up their end of the bargain of picking up after themselves and keeping their rooms clean while their parents filed several applications for puppy adoptions.  

Then they found her — a 10-month old Labrador retriever mix named Bailey. “Having the summer was great timing to get Bailey transitioned to our house and provide her the attention and training she needed,” Howarth said. “I think it is important to make sure families have time to dedicate to a dog.”

Their family is part of a growing wave of people adopting furry, feathered, or scaly pets. Studies show pets offer their humans companionship, stress relief, mental health benefits, and a great reason to exercise. But they can also be costly. Adopting your new best friend is a commitment for the rest of your pet’s life and that is a responsibility that is not to be taken lightly.

Americans will spend a collective $99 billion on their pets this year, according to the American Pet Products Association, which surveys pet owners each year. And more people than ever have pets — 67% of US households have at least one pet, or about 85 million homes, up from 56% in 1998. The most popular pet, according to the APPA, is a dog, with 63.4 US households owning at least one. Cats come in second in 42.7 million households, followed by freshwater fish in 11.5 million households and birds in 5.7 million households.  

Sharron Thomas, director of Fast Friends Greyhound Adoption in Swanzey, New Hampshire, said she expects to see a spike in pet adoptions this year. They typically adopt out 100 dogs per year. 

“We are having the best adoption year in the 28 years we have been an adoption group,” she said, noting that Fast Friends works to make sure the right dog goes home with the right family during the adoption process. “We talk to the prospective adopter to make sure that a greyhound is a good fit, that they have time for their new dog.  We also check to be sure that our greyhounds will get plenty of exercise, proper food, that the adopter is not gone for long periods of time.”

Thomas and her staff also make sure the new family understands what it means to welcome a new pet into the family, both in terms of time commitment and expense.

“The adoption fee, food, beds, treats, toys, monthly flea and tick meds, heartworm medication, vaccinations,” she listed. “The actual costs vary from different areas of the country.” 

Adoption Fees

One of the easiest ways to cut down on the cost of bringing home a furry friend is to look at local adoptable animals. There are a lot of homeless pets in America, and tons of rescue groups looking to get these adoptable pets in homes. 

The amount you will pay to adopt your pet depends on where you live, the animal shelter you pick, and the type of pet you are bringing home. The adoption fees cover their veterinary care before they are adopted, their spay or neuter surgery, if necessary, and it also ensures their adopters are serious and committed to their new family member. It might also include a microchip fee depending on the adoption center.

The standard adoption fee for dogs and cats ranges from $118 to $667, according to the Animal Humane Society, while the fees for smaller animals such as birds, rabbits, and guinea pigs range from $8 to $173. Before COVID-19 you might have also been able to attend an adoption event and get a discount for adopting the same day.

Howarth paid $250 to adopt Bailey plus a $100 transportation fee to her forever home as she was originally located more than 1,300 miles away in Little Rock, Arkansas. She had been thoroughly checked out by a vet and spayed prior to her adoption, Howarth said.

Vet Bills

Nationwide, the APPA estimates dog owners pay $638 and cat owners pay $374 in veterinary bills, between routine vet appointments and surgeries. Puppies and kittens have a lot of upfront costs, like the spay/neuter, but potential-adopters should also prepare for the costs that come later in life.

Heidi Kronenberg has a farm of animals at her house in New York’s Hudson Valley — five dogs, three sheep, three goats, three rabbits, five hens, and a hive of bees. She spends an estimated $900 per year in vet bills for check ups and other routine visits, though medical procedures, sick visits, and medication are extra.

Still, when she got a call about a puppy, Rebel, with a severe heart defect, she didn’t hesitate to welcome him home. 

“My partner is a veterinarian and we had adult kids at home that could help. We felt like the extra time at home would help us provide this baby with a fighting chance,” said Kronenberg, estimating they have paid more than $600 for Rebel’s care so far, even factoring in the discount her partner gets for being a vet.  

Food Costs

Laurie Constantinou and her family adopted a cat named Binx, who needed a new home after his previous owner passed away.

“I was laid off due to COVID, and my son both needed additional comforting and finally seemed capable of playing nicely with a cat,” said Constantinou, who lives in New Orleans with her husband and their 7-year-old son. “When Binx came up as an option, it felt like the stars had finally aligned.”

Their adoption costs have remained fairly low, with no adoption fee and zero veterinary costs so far, but they estimate they’ve spent about $100 on food so far. 

The APPA survey estimates cat owners spend about $228 per year on food compared with $259 for dog owners. But those costs can fluctuate depending on both the size of the animal — a small tabby cat eats significantly less than a 120-pound Great Dane — and the type of food you are feeding. There are also additional food costs in the form of treats, chewies, and bones to spoil your friend. 

Getting Your Pet Settled

Once you’ve paid your adoption fee, made sure your new pet is healthy, and stocked the pantry with food and treats, it’s time to get them set up in their new home. 

Howarth spent $40 for a new bed for Bailey. Then they all had fun in the toy section, spending about $75. “We got a bit carried away just to find out her favorite toys are tennis balls,” she said. “My husband will let her out multiple times a day and throw a few balls to her. “  

Constantinou said they spent about $25 on a bed for Binx, about $35 in toys and treats, and about $100 on a litter box and cat litter. 

Nationwide, dog owners spend $48 per year on toys, and cat owners spend about $31. 

Extra Costs

Having a pet means more than just having fun. It’s also a responsibility to make sure they are well cared for and properly trained, and you should be prepared to handle any surprise expenses.

Howarth wanted to make sure that Bailey learned her puppy manners and that her family understood the importance of interacting properly with a dog. They spent about $150 for an online puppy training class that the whole family took part in.

“The training classes were not just for Bailey, but for the kids to understand the expectations and help foster good manners,” she said, adding that she’s also had to replace a pair of sandals that were destroyed. Other extra costs could include boarding or pet sitters if you go on vacation, dog walkers, and any grooming. 

For Constantinou, her unexpected expenses came in the form of greenery. “Binx will not let me keep a plant in this house. He destroys them all. I even got him his own plant, cat grass, hoping he might leave mine alone,” she said, adding that Binx has destroyed every plant in her house. “No dice. Between my plants and his plants that’s probably $60.”

No matter how much a family spends to adopt a new pet, what they give in return is priceless. “The way they love you always, unconditional!” said Thomas who has nine dogs of her own. “We get to know our dogs before they can be seen by prospective adopters as we make a commitment to our dogs that we will never set them up to fail by placing them in the wrong home.” in

For Constantinou, that unconditional love is exactly what she and her son need right now. “My son was struggling with the isolation of COVID and needed a playmate that could also comfort him during this difficult time,” she said. “Think about how much a pet can improve your quality of life and alleviate your anxieties or depression or just how wonderful it is to be able to love another being and experience the love they provide to you, as well.”

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interview subjects are not necessarily those of Earnest.

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Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.