First Person: Breaking Down the Cost of Pet Ownership

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I remember my days of growing up in a home filled with two parents, six boys, and any small to medium number of dogs and cats at any given time. We normally had two dogs and four cats, and when one had babies, we felt even more blessed to have a large backyard. I never thought of the costs that my parents must have paid to care for so many pets throughout their lives - until I had my own home filled with pets.

Food

My wife loves animals, especially cats. I knew when I married her that we would have at least one, but we currently have four. Fortunately, we now know how to budget and plan our grocery expenses because cat food costs for four can add up fast. We feed them canned food twice a day and leave out dry food for them constantly. The two girls eat only the dry food, but the two boys can devour the canned food and still pig out on the dry at any time. They also will not eat the generic brands, so we cave in and buy the name brands. We include both foods on our grocery list every week, and we normally buy a little extra in case they eat faster at times, which does happen. We spend approximately $20.00 per week on food, which totals just over $1000 per year.

Litter and toys

We keep our cats inside. Not everyone believes in that, but my parents, brothers, and I all buried far too many pets that ran around our neighborhood unprotected. If I have them, I want them to stay around for a while. That means buying two bags of litter each week and having to change it frequently, but it beats finding them on the roadside or in the yard in a way that we do not want to find them. We buy the store brands of litter, which averages $1.49 per bag. At two bags each week, litter costs approximately $312.00 per year.

We used to buy our cats toys, but they did not play with them very much. They seem to find their own toys in the form of our papers, clothes, blankets, ping-pong balls, my feet, or each other. Our oldest cat's favorite toy was the tuft torn off an old curtain. Occasionally, we will buy them special catnip toys from a vacation, but they have plenty to play with around the house, so we spend hardly anything on toys.

Veterinarian visits

Just as children do, pets need medical checkups. We have four cats, so we have at least four veterinarian visits each year. Vaccinations cost as much as $150.00 each, so we have to plan for them. Our vet gives us a few weeks' notice, so we have time to save up and budget for them. With four cats, vaccinations can total $600 each year, including tags. The cats also get sick, so that means even more visits. Previous cats have had serious illnesses, and we can become attached enough to them to pay the costs. We have spent as much as $300 for a single visit.

Medicines

Sick pets need medicine just as sick kids need it. However, we can at least explain to our son why he has to take his medicine. Cats do not care for it very much, especially when we have to drop it in their ears to treat ear mites, and they do not want explanations. Medicines themselves can cost over $100 each in addition to the shots and office visits, so when the cats get sick, we know that we will pay some money. Our oldest frequently gets ear mites, and we may spend that $100 two or three times per year for his ear medicine.

Worth the cost

Adding these figures shows that we may spend $2000-$2500 each year to keep our pets healthy. We include the routine expenses in our budget plan and use our emergency fund to cover the unexpected costs.

I ride my wife about having so many cats, but they do bring us joy, especially to her and my son. They see us off in the mornings and line up to greet us when we come home. They comfort us when we need it. They make us laugh as they play and cry when they pass. Just as my parents felt, our pets are part of our family, and we will most likely have some throughout our lives. Their companionship is well worth the costs. My wife has a sign over our back door that summarizes it perfectly: "Cats are children in fur coats."

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