The True Cost of Owning a Pet

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When you see a cute pet for sale, sometimes you forget just how much money it costs to own a pet and just take it home. But then, reality hits. 

If you’ve never owned a pet before, you might be surprised by how much it costs. Initial costs range from £28-£430 with yearly costs of £19-£734 depending on the pet. And that’s without emergencies.

We’ll look at the cost of pet ownership in-depth for some of the most common pets so you can make an informed choice to fit your budget.

Pet Ownership in the UK

According to a 2020-2021 survey, 59% of all UK families own pets. A majority own dogs (33%) or cats (27%). A small percentage own indoor birds, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, and other pets.

According to the ASPCA, the cost of pet ownership is the least for fish and the most for large breed dogs. But will they fit your budget?

Adopting from a Shelter vs. a Breeder

When buying a pet, the first thing to consider is whether to adopt it from a rescue organization or a breeder.

Adopting from a rescue organization will cost considerably less than adopting a pet from a breeder. You can expect to spend £0-£176 when adopting a pet from a rescue organization.

You can expect to spend hundreds or thousands of pounds adopting a pet from a breeder. The most expensive dog, a Samoyed, will set you back about £9890.

Initial Pet Expenses

The cost of adopting the pet often includes some of the initial pet expenses, such as spaying/neutering, medical expenses, microchip, etc.

Dog: £331-£430

Before you bring your dog home, you’ll need to spend several hundred pounds:

  • Spay/neuter: £134-£155
  • Medical: £49
  • Microchip: £35
  • Collar/leash: £17-£24
  • Crate: £24-£88

It’s important to spay or neuter your dog to prevent unwanted puppies. Your dog will need to have a few tests and get up-to-date on vaccines.

Microchipping and a collar with your contact information ensure that, when your little escape artist follows its instincts and digs under the fence, it’s not lost forever.

And don’t forget the crate for keeping your house in one piece while you’re away.

Cat: £400

The initial costs for a cat are less than for a dog, but not by much:

  • Spay/neuter: £102
  • Medical: £91
  • Microchip: £35
  • Collar: £7
  • Litter Box: £17
  • Scratching Post: £10
  • Carrier Bag: £28

A carrier bag is essential for getting the cat to your car and into your house. You don’t want the cat scratching you and running away before you get out of the parking lot.

You’ll want to make sure you have a litter box and scratching post ready to go when you get home to save your furniture and rugs.

Other: £28-£229

Other pets have less expensive startup costs:

  • Spay/neuter (rabbit): £112
  • Litter box (rabbit): £17
  • Carrier bag: £28
  • Cage: £28-£70
  • Aquarium and Equipment: £141

Cages are the biggest cost for small mammals, rodents, and reptiles. An aquarium, stand, and equipment (chemicals, vacuum, filter, heater, lights, decorations) is the most expensive part of a fish setup.

You can certainly spend more than £141 on a fish setup, especially if you’re doing a cichlid or saltwater aquarium setup. I recently helped a friend with a saltwater aquarium setup that started at £7000 (and went up from there as her obsession grew).

Annual Pet Expenses

Once you’ve got your pet home, the expenses don’t stop. You’ve probably thought about pet food and kitty litter, but what about other costs like yearly vaccines, medical expenses, licenses, toys, and treats?

Total Annual Expenses: £13-£734

The annual cost of pet ownership depends on its size. Small dogs and cats tend to cost less in food and medical expenses than larger breed dogs.

  • Dog: £520-£734
  • Cat: £447
  • Rabbit: £336
  • Guinea Pig: £214
  • Ferret: £404
  • Small Bird: £224
  • Fish: £13

Food: £8-£282

  • Dog: £149-£282
  • Cat: £158
  • Rabbit: £101
  • Guinea pig: £31
  • Ferret: £228
  • Small bird: £135
  • Fish: £8

Dog food costs vary based on the size of the dog and the type of food that you buy your dog. High-quality dog food with human-grade ingredients costs more, but it can save you on medical expenses in the long run.

The number of calories a dog will eat in a day depends on its weight. You could expect a puppy to eat 43 grams of food a day, a chihuahua to eat 64 grams of food a day, while a boxer or lab might eat closer to 500 grams of food a day.

An adult cat requires 30 calories per 450 grams of cat. A 4.5 kg cat would need to eat 200 calories per day.

Rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, and small birds all fare better with fresh fruits and vegetables mixed in with their diet. I’ve known small animal owners whose animals eat better than the humans in the house.

Some pets also like to eat live food. Some people raise food for their pets, like crickets for lizards, mice for snakes, or ghost shrimp and snails for pufferfish, which can cut down on food costs a little. But you have to feed the feeder animals, too.

Medical: £49-£183

The biggest recurring medical expenses for dogs and cats are vaccines and preventatives like flea and tick medication. Other small pets don’t need vaccines, but they may still end up needing a trip to the vet.

Average yearly pet medical costs are:

  • Dog: £148-£183
  • Cat: £112
  • Other Pets: £49-£60

Don’t expect the medical expenses to stop there. I’ve taken my dog to the vet at least three times this year for various reasons, and it has cost at least £70 each time.

Don’t forget that some full-breed dogs and cats suffer from maladies specific to their breed that sometimes require surgery.

Breed-specific diseases include cancer in golden retrievers, hip dysplasia in Norwegian forest cats, narrow nasal passages in bulldogs, bladder stones in ragdolls, and tracheal collapse Yorkshire terriers. Be sure to research breed diseases before you buy purebred pets.

Litter

Most small animals need litter for their litter boxes or cages. Everyone will enjoy their environment more with more frequent litter changes. Average costs are:

  • Cat: £116
  • Rabbit and Ferret: £148
  • Guinea Pig: £101

Other Costs:

There are other costs you might incur with a pet as well:

  • Toys and Treats: £17-£28
  • City license: £10
  • Grooming: £21-£64 per visit
  • Boarding: £18-£60 per night
  • Dog Training: £77
  • Miscellaneous: £21

While you can train a dog yourself, you might find that dog training is necessary.

Grooming isn’t cheap either. After graduating from university, I inherited a schnauzer who looked bedraggled without a haircut every 4-6 weeks. She looked like a drowned rat the one time I tried to groom her myself, so I lived on ramen noodles so I could afford grooming costs.

Boarding is also a consideration. Some people find that their dogs are destructive when left home alone and opt for daily dog daycare. You also might need to board your pet while you’re on a vacation that’s not pet friendly.

Preparing for the Unexpected

When my husband and I first started dating, there had been such a scare with pet-food-related deaths that my then-boyfriend decided to purchase pet insurance for his dog.

About a month later, his dog got sick and died. Unfortunately, the insurance company refused to pay because he’d only had the insurance for a month. As a result, he ended up paying thousands of pounds on his credit card.

I say all that to say that pet emergencies can be expensive. And the time to buy pet insurance is when you first get your pet.

If you do not have pet insurance or money saved back for expensive healthcare, your only choice may be to euthanize a beloved pet with a medical condition.

Pet Insurance: £123-$158

You can expect to pay £10-£13 per month for pet insurance. If you’re on a tight budget, that might seem like a lot, but it can save you thousands of pounds in credit card bills during an emergency.

Final Budgeting Tips for Potential Pet Owners

The true cost of pet ownership is complex. Before deciding on a pet, you need to decide if owning a pet will fit your budget. If you cannot set aside £700-£1400 for emergency vet bills, pet insurance is also a good option.

Owning a pet is a huge responsibility. Be sure you’re financially ready before taking it on.