5 Unexpected Costs of Pet Ownership

US News

The American Pet Products Association estimates that Americans spent $55.53 billion on their pets in 2013, up from $53.33 billion in 2012. That figure includes more than $21 billion on food and $13 billion on supplies and over-the-counter medicine. But for many pet owners, those expenses are just the beginning.

Here's a look at pet costs you may not have expected when you brought home your four-legged friend.

1. Replacement shoes, dog beds and household items. Some dogs, and puppies in particular, can be prone to mischief. Kimberly Gauthier's puppy, Zoe, has had several accidents on the $75 dog beds Gauthier bought. The first several beds weren't waterproof so they had to be trashed, a problem some cat owners have also faced. After that, Gauthier ordered a waterproof liner and a duvet cover online and bought custom-cut foam from a mattress store. "If by chance, she decides to go to the bathroom on it, I can just wash it," says the Washington state blogger behind keepthetailwagging.com.

Justin Orr's puppy Snoopy ruined several pairs of his dress shoes, worth about $50 each. "She's torn up shoes, stuffed animals, belts, water bottles, trash cans, a wallet, part of a leather couch, blinds in the front room and a blanket," the Orlando, Fla., resident says. "Oh, and an iPhone 5c." He typically keeps his beagle crated when he's not home, but she destroyed his shoes while he was in the other room.

Cathy Alinovi, a veterinarian in Pine Village, Ind., says dogs' destructive behaviors are sometimes preventable. "You need to think about the training that will cause the dog to calm down," she says. "The dog may not be getting enough exercise or may be jacked up on food that's full of sugar."

[Read: Around the Water Cooler With the Humane Society's CEO.]

2. Extra vet bills. Most pet owners expect to pay for shots and the occasional veterinary visit. But when a pet develops an allergy or gets attacked by another animal, the bills can add up quickly. Gauthier bought pet insurance for her four dogs, but not her cats because they're seniors. "I worry about the accidents that could happen," she says. "Our dog had a run-in with a coyote."

Alinovi suggests that pet owners keep an emergency fund to cover unexpected pet costs, especially vet bills. "It's recommended for people to have a six-month contingency fund for themselves, but what if your dog eats the whole toy and swallows the knot and needs surgery?" she says. "What if someone sends you chocolate for Christmas and you put it under the tree, not knowing what's inside, and your dog devours the whole box?"

3. Lost security deposits. Many management companies and landlords charge tenants a pet deposit to cover potential damages such as accidents on the carpet, chewed electrical wires or holes in window screens. "Puppies will eat the carpet," Alinovi says. "They'll eat the stairs, the drywall, the door frame." If your pet causes significant damage to your rental unit, you might not get your deposit back.

[Read: How Much Should You Pay for a Pet Security Deposit?]

Pets differ in energy levels and temperament, but Alinovi says crating a dog while you're away can help minimize damage to your home or belongings and prevent the dog from getting into mischief and harming him or herself. Some people who object to dog crates use a baby gate to partition off a bathroom or laundry area for the dog. For homeowners, Alinovi recommends keeping your pet in an area with solid flooring such as tile, laminate or hardwood, as these surfaces are easier to clean.

4. Care for pets while traveling. Boarding pets or getting a pet sitter or dog walker can cost hundreds of dollars for a week, depending on where you live and what level of activity and supervision your pets need.

Gauthier and her boyfriend don't travel together very often, so when one goes away, the other person will take care of the animals. When they do travel together, Gauthier says it's hard to find a hotel that allows four dogs, so they'll rent a house instead. "I have to basically get on the phone with the owner to convince them that our four dogs won't destroy their house," she says. "It helps that I have a blog where they can see videos of the dogs and how we treat them."

Alinovi says boarding is often cheaper than hiring a live-in pet sitter, but some animals have trouble adapting to unfamiliar surroundings. "Some dogs are really shy outside their environment," she says. "Some dogs won't eat when they go to board, and you [might] worry about your dog losing weight." Also keep in mind that kennels often require dogs to receive certain vaccines.

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5. Higher insurance costs. Property and casualty insurers pay millions of dollars a year in dog-related claims. Dog bites accounted for nearly $490 million in insurance claims in 2012, which was more than a third of all homeowners insurance liability claims, according to the Insurance Information Institute. If you have a dog, your homeowners or renters insurer will want to know, and some insurers might not cover your dog or might tack on a surcharge to your premiums if it's a breed that's considered aggressive.

Still, pet owners remain undeterred by these unexpected expenses. Even with the costs Orr has incurred replacing the items Snoopy destroys, he says he wouldn't give her up for anything. "Every time either of us come home, even if it's been 10 minutes," he says, "she's the happiest in the world to see us and that'll always put a smile on your face."

2013-2014 Expenses for Dog and Cat Owners Dogs Cats
Surgical Vet Visits $621 $382
Routine Vet $231 $193
Food $239 $203
Treats $65 $36
Kennel Boarding $327 $337
Vitamins $64 $77
Groomer/Grooming Aids $61 $20
Toys $41 $23
Source: American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey


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