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Which Is Cheaper: Cats or Dogs?

I love my dog, but whoever coined the phrase, “You can’t put a price on love” probably wasn’t a pet owner. Last year, between food, treats, toys, dog park memberships, vet bills, and medicine, my large dog cost me more than $900.

Dog and cat owners don’t pay the same amount for their four-legged family members. The ASPCA did a study on the average cost of owning a dog or a cat. Here’s a more detailed breakdown:

  • Small dog – $1,314 the first year, $580 per year after
  • Medium dog – $1,580 the first year, $695 per year after
  • Large dog – $1,843 the first year, $875 per year after
  • Cat – $1,035 the first year, $670 per year after

These totals include the following first-year costs: spay/neuter, other initial medical, collar/leash, litter box/scratching post for cats, cage/crate for large dogs, carrier bag for small dogs/cats, and training class for dogs. Annual expenses include food, recurring medical, litter for cats, licenses for dogs, toys/treats, health insurance, and miscellaneous.

Of course, those are averages – the ASPCA says, “You shouldn’t expect to pay less than this, and you should definitely be prepared to pay more. Don’t forget to factor in the costs of unexpected veterinary care, as well as boarding facilities, pet sitters and dog walkers, if you plan to use them.”

But what the ASPCA doesn’t mention is ways to trim expenses. For example…

1. Vet bills

The ASPCA says cats and dogs should see a vet at least once a year. The first year (when they usually require the most shots) is slightly more expensive. For example, they say vet bills for a medium-size dog break down like this:

  • Recurring medical – $235
  • Other initial medicine – $70
  • Spaying or neutering – $200
  • TOTAL – $505

You might reduce some of those costs by comparison shopping. For example, one vet in my neighborhood is $25 cheaper per visit than another. However, be sure to compare the costs of both regular visits and emergency ones. Impromptu trips – like the time my puppy ate a bag of nickels – get costly.

As Stacy mentioned in the video, check local animal shelters for discount spaying/neutering, shots, or other medical services. Some offer them, others don’t.

You can also reduce your costs by shopping around for cheaper medicines. Target and Kroger offer $4 generic pet meds.

Some owners use pet health insurance to save money on their vet bills – both expected and unexpected – but it’s not cheap. The ASPCA says health insurance for a cat runs about $175 a year. Before you sign up check out Do You Need Pet Insurance? 6 Ways to Save on Care.

2. Food and supplies

The ASPCA says that the average yearly cost of food and supplies for a large dog like mine breaks down like this:

  • Food – $235
  • Toys and treats – $75
  • TOTAL – $310

But I spend less than that, and I buy organic. Check out 9 Sites for Saving Money on Pet Supplies for help finding cheaper pet food, treats, toys, and basic meds. For example, I used to buy my dog’s food at a local pet store. A 30-pound bag costs $57.99, but I found the same bag on Amazon for $51.99.

3. Grooming and training

According to the ASPCA, training and grooming for a small dog breaks down like this:

  • Long hair grooming – $264
  • Training class – $110
  • TOTAL - $374

I save money on these pricey extras by not paying for them at all. In 3 Pricey Pet Services You Can Do Yourself, I talk about a few pet services I’ve learned to do. For example, I bypassed training class entirely. Instead, I taught my dog basic commands and a few tricks using dog training sites. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • WebMD Pets has great one-minute training videos featuring a certified dog trainer. You won’t learn everything you need to know, but it’s helpful to watch the techniques in action.
  • Petfinder has a training section that covers everything from behavioral problems to basic dog tricks.
  • Perfect Paws has a ton of helpful articles on positive reinforcement training. They also have a section on how to train cats.

I also do all my own grooming, and save about $160 per year. I also learned how to do that online. If you’re looking for grooming advice, check out:

  • Grooming FAQ from the ASPCA
  • How to Groom a Dog from Beneful
  • Grooming Your Dog’s Hair with Clippers from Dummies.com

Bottom line? Animals aren’t cheap, but as with two-legged family members, where there’s a will to save, there’s a way. But even if your dog or cat does end up costing a little more than expected, they’ll still do something no other purchase will: pay you back a thousandfold in companionship, loyalty, devotion, and fun.

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