How Much Should You Spend On Your Pet?

how much should we spend on our pets?

The cost of caring for your pet has risen more than $2 billion, yes, billion in the past year. Since 2014, we’ve spent more than $2 billion more on our pets; and I’m just going to go ahead and be the one who asks. What on earth are we buying for them? As a former small dog owner, I get that there are Louis Vuitton dog carriers and leashes, and that there are doggie day spas and that there are cute clothes and that we have to continue to do minor things like, you know, feed them. However, I cannot figure out where the cost is coming from in terms of spending billions on pet care.

No; that’s not entirely true. I get it. I’m reminded of a story. Approximately one year ago last week, I spent entirely too much money on my cat. I didn’t think so at the time, and I probably still don’t, but at the time it was a lot of money to spend on a cat whose curiosity and sheer stupidity almost killed him. Flash back to December 23, 2014. Every year our family hosts a Christmas party the weekend before Christmas. It’s called a Christmas Caravan. My aunts, and some of my cousins all built their homes on the same street, so the concept works well at their homes. We start at one house where we have appetizers and cocktails. We then walk next door and have a beautiful Christmas dinner and cocktails. We then walk across the street to another aunt’s home where we have dessert and, you got it, more cocktails.

It’s fun.

One of the stipulations, however, if you are so fortunate to receive an invitation to the Christmas Caravan every year, is that you help provide for the year’s foundation of choice. In 2014, the charity of choice was the local animal shelter. All the guests brought food, treats and supplies for dogs and cats and left them in big, beautifully decorated boxes where they were then taken to the shelter to help the dogs and cats in need. Since my cousin’s wife is also one of my very best friends, I offered to go with her to drop off all the supplies. We took our kids, and somehow I ended up coming home with a dog. She was a beautiful 4-year-old mixed breed dog with a sweet disposition and an instant love of my four kids. We decided then and there that it was our job to make her part of our family. An added bonus, she gets along quite well with other animals.

Four or five hours later, we were home with our sweet new dog, who our kids named Elsa…I know. Elsa fit right in until three hours later when we returned from a walk and our cat then decided he’d had enough of this, jumped from the top of the kitchen cabinets to the floor on top of the dog, which ignored him completely. Our must-have-had-a-death-wish cat kept at it, despite the fact that Elsa was backed down. As I attempted to remove the cat from the dog, the cat bit the dog on the nose. That is the moment the dog picked up the cat and decided to let him know who was boss. She flung him around her mouth while the cat screamed, the kids screamed and I screamed. I finally, after what felt like forever, came to my senses and remembered that this is a dog that listens very well.

I told her to sit, lie down and drop the cat and she did just what I said. My kids were terrified of the dog at that point, so I took her out onto the lanai and shut the doors. I found the cat, labored breathing, foam coming from his eyes and mouth, and other unsanitary bodily fluids coming from him, hiding in my office. I called my husband, who came right home, and took the cat to the vet. With a collapsed lung and failing kidneys, we were told he would not live through the night. Considering the fact that it cost me $600 to find out that information, I decided not to leave the cat at the vet for another $1500 for the night. I brought him home.

He lived. He lived for another 7 months or so until he decided that, once again, in his infinite stupidity, he’d find a way out of the house that we did not allow him out of due to the sheer number of coyotes around here, and he met his terrible end fate. But back to December…I spent $600 at the vet, another $120 at the doctor (after insurance) to be checked out since the cat tore my left hand up very badly, to receive an up-to-date tetanus shot and to pick up my antibiotics and bandages to cover the very ugly area. I’d spent $200 between the adoption fee and supplies for the new dog, and I was in a lot of pain.

Our kids? Well, they are now terrified of dogs – something we are trying to help them overcome. The moral of this story is that animals are expensive, and sometimes you have to wonder how much is too much? It felt a little bit like injustice to spend so much on keeping our cat alive only so that the idiot could do exactly what we said not to do and get eaten by a coyote only a few months later. Did we spend too much?

The vet did ask me when I went into his office before we began any work whether or not he was to stop treatment at any given moment due to cost. It felt awful that he would ask that; what price is too much to save the life of the cat my kids have had for years that they love unconditionally? However, it’s expensive to have an animal at home and not everyone can afford to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on their animal in one day. That leads me to ask this question; how much is too much to spend on a pet? When do you draw the line, and what’s your financial responsibility to your pet?

What are We Buying?

What are we buying? That is a good question. The average household with a cat or a dog is spending thousands of dollars every year on their animals, and it’s difficult to imagine what they are buying. When my husband and I were first married and built our first home, we bought a maltipoo puppy from a breeder. I don’t even need to tell you how much that animal cost (a lot). With a coat that grew quickly, he went to the groomer every 6 weeks, which cost us about $35 a visit. He ate regular dog food, nothing special, he did have a very cute collar and leash I spent entirely too much on, but we trained him, we walked him and he was home himself throughout the day before we had kids and I was home.

However, that’s not the case these days. In the past decade, since we bought that dog, the world has changed dramatically. People now send their dogs to fancy doggie daycares while they are at work, their dogs see doggie therapists, they eat organic meals, they have organic clothes and accessories, and they spend their time at fancy doggie day spas to relax and rejuvenate from, well, relaxing and rejuvenating all day long. Additionally, more and more people are now taking their dogs with them on long flights, paying for their tickets and also paying more for hotel rooms since they have to pay a pet fee.

Are all these things necessary? Absolutely not. However, Americans with disposable income and a pet they love consider themselves ‘parents’ rather than pet owners, and they want to treat their dogs as if they are children. Hence, the reason we are spending billions more on pet care annually.

What Should we Buy?

We certainly cannot tell you not to spend money on your pets if that is what your heart desires. However, we can tell you that there is a good chance you are spending a bit too much here and there on certain things. For instance, many people spend thousands of dollars on designer pets when there are plenty of wonderful animals in shelters that need homes. The adoption fee for an animal is far less than the cost of purchasing a cat or dog from a breeder.

There are actually two financial bonuses to this aspect, too. When you adopt a pet, most shelters have already provided that pet with basic veterinary services, such as shots and other medical care that many animals require. Not only will you pay far less to adopt, you will also pay far less at the vet since many of the shots your new cat or dog needs have already been handled for you.

Buying dog or cat food in bulk is also a good idea. It makes sense to go ahead and do that so that you can always have food on hand, and so that you can save a little money. When your pet’s food is on sale, it makes sense to buy it and stock up to save. Do you need organic food for your dog or cat? I’m going to say you can feed your dog or cat whatever you want, but it certainly does not seem necessary to bother with organic food for a pet when they do so well eating the regular pet food we’ve all been buying for years.

You can also groom your own dog, provided your dog does not require ample grooming services. For example, our maltipoo needed a full cut every six weeks thanks to his long and very curly hair. It was not something we were comfortable with, but we were fine with trimming his nails ourselves, brushing him and bathing him when he needed a bath. We also never boarded him at an expensive boarder, rather we asked my parents or my mother-in-law to take him home while we traveled. He loved to spend time at their houses, so it worked out pretty well for all involved.

What about Pet Insurance?

There’s a lot of controversy over pet insurance, but it is worth looking into. If you have a pet, you might see what is available for him or her in your area, how much it costs, what it covers and how it works. I have a sad feeling it’s far more affordable and far more comprehensive coverage than we pay for our own families to have health insurance, and it might be worth it. There are those who swear by it, and those who think that it’s a waste of money. However, if you have a dog or cat of your own and you want to save money on veterinary costs, you might consider pet insurance and what it means.

For example, if you have a dog with health issues or a genetic trait that might require expensive surgeries later in life, pet insurance might be a good idea for you to help you cover those expenses as they are due. If you have a healthy pet with no issues and haven’t been to the vet for more than simple routine checkups every year for years, perhaps you don’t feel the need to bother with pet insurance; and that’s fine.

What you spend on your pet is your own business, but it’s also not the final word. For those who are considering a pet and are a little put off by the idea that they might spend thousands and thousands of dollars a year, it’s not the case. You are not required to pay for some of the things that Americans find it necessary to splurge on, but you are required to go ahead and enjoy your pet and love him.

Photo by Getty Images

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