I thought about titling this post something click-baity, like “How my cat cost me 100k,” but that’s not really how we roll in Smith Land. We’re all about bad puns and dad jokes here. All joking aside, today we’re talking about something that comes up quite a bit in the FI community – the cost of responsible pet ownership. Don’t worry, I promise that there will be lotsof gratuitous Sisko and Scooter pictures along the way.
We’ll cover this in three ways. First, what are the responsibilities of pet owners to their pets. These are baseline needs that must be met. Then, I’ll talk about how much being a responsible pet owner has cost us personally and whether pet insurance is a good idea.
your responsibilities as a pet owner
I like to think about our responsibilities as pet owners in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. (I thought I was cool and had come up with my own way of organizing these ideas, until I Googled it. Rats!)
Simply put, you can decide for yourself how much you want to put into your pets. For some people, pets are meant to be working animals with a specific function. Only the bare necessities are provided for these animals (i.e., food, water, basic vet services). Pets, in this case, are viewed as property.
Others see themselves as the guardians or caretakers of their pets. In this view, pets are sentient creatures who have personalities, thoughts, emotions, etc. Guardians tend to feed their pets a better quality of food, make sure grooming is done (nails, teeth, etc), and will usually allow their pets indoors.
Then there’s pet parents. These folks see their pets as children who are part of the family. They do everything that the other views do and then some. For example, you might see an increased use of doggy day care or boarding. Small dogs might wear shirts or ride in car seats. Essentially, all of the pet’s needs and then some are met.
I think, in modern times, most typical pet owners fall somewhere between guardians and parents of their pets.
the financial cost of pet ownership
I was only joking a little bit when I said I could have titled this post, “how my cat cost me 100k.” Since February 2015 (when we started using Mint to track our finances), we have spent about $11,000 on pet care for an average of $223 per month. Had we invested the same amount of moneyfor 26 years at 3%, we could have saved $103k. In other words, owning a pet is a huge decision that could impact your journey to fi.
We tend to the take the “pet parent” approach to pet care and, while we’ve tried to be frugal, sometimes I simply can’t help myself. Now you know how we ended up with so many dog shirts!
In terms of food, Sisko is on a prescription diet to help control the formation of urinary crystals and Scooter eats a combination of dry and wet food. We buy their food every other month for about $50. Since Sisko’s food needs veterinary approval, we special order it through chewy.com. Sisko also gets a fair number of treats throughout the day, usually for doing what he’s supposed to.
Safety and security are big things for pets (and their humans). Sisko has a crate stocked with his pillows, blanket, and favorite toys. He’s crated (and gets to listen to the radio) when both Justin and I are out. Otherwise, he uses his crate as his “room” and hangs out there whenever he wants. He usually chooses to sleep with us. Sometime ago, I crocheted him a blanket since I’m not a fan of him under my blankets with me while we’re sleeping.
In addition, we have lots of dog “gear” including leashes, his car seat, outfits (weather depending), toys galore, paw protectors, his snuggle carrier, etc. Most of these we’ve acquired slowly over the last six years. I usually buy things to solve problems. For example, Sisko wears booties during the winter months because I don’t know what kind of deicer that our apartment complex or the surrounding areas use. I don’t need Sisko accidentally ingesting something that will make him sick. I don’t break out food and gear in my money records as separate expenses. Altogether, pet food and supplies make up about 40 percent our spending.
In addition to all of the stuff, we also make sure that Sisko gets lots of socialization opportunities. We walk him almost every day. On the gross days – which there are fewer of in Colorado – we make sure to get in a play session. When we first got him, and again a year later, we took him to a basic household manners class. As a chihuahua, we don’t expect much from him by way of commands. However, he knows the ones that really matter to us: bed, sit, and come. About once a month we go to small dog meet up. It’s exactly what it sounds like. About twenty small dogs are let loose at the dog park and happy chaos reigns for about an hour. It’s good for Sisko to be out with other dogs his size that he can rough and tumble with. Socialization is fairly inexpensive with training at about $100 and each small dog meetup at $5.
Lest you think we’re neglecting the cat, don’t worry! Scooter’s needs are much lower than Sisko’s when it comes to toys and such. However, he does have a pretty classy cat tree. With his illness (that I’ll talk more about below), we’ve cut back on play time for him and let him tell us what he needs. Mostly, he wants to curl up on a chair and snooze.
There is the issue of the litter box though. I pride myself on the fact that our home neversmells of Scooter’s box. We use a combination of Nature’s Miracle disposable litter boxesand ökokat wood-based litter. (I’ll be writing about our litter process more in the future as it’s one thing I get asked about a lot.) We buy three boxes and a box of litter every three months for about $25. Not to be gross, but poop management is a big deal when you have pets.
All told, how we’ve chosen to care for our pets is a big part of why they cost us so much. Then there are the unknowns associated with pet ownership like illness and emergency care.
should you have pet insurance
About 42 percent of our pet spending went towards veterinary care. This number includes routine vet visits, sick-pet visits, and for 2015-2018 boarding. Both Sisko and Scooter go to the vet at least once per year to get checked out and updated on their shots. Any time we have a non-Sisko friendly overnight trip, Sisko gets boarded. When we lived in Michigan, our vet handled his boarding needs. That’s why it’s not broken down very well. Since moving to Colorado, Sisko goes to a doggy daycare place for boarding. It’s a bit more expensive, but he absolutely loves it. Scooter gets boarded when we’re planning to be gone longer than 48 hours. Thankfully, my brother lives near us now and both boys love their uncle. He’s handling them while were gone on our trips for the rest of the year.
We’ve had our share of sick pets over the years.
We adopted Sisko from the humane society in 2013. He tested negative for heartworm when we got him, and we started him on heartworm preventative immediately. Did you know that heartworm tests only detect the presence of adult heartworms – not juveniles? I didn’t know that either, until Sisko was diagnosed with having a heartworm infection in early 2014. We think he must have had it when we got him and that the test didn’t pick it up. Either way, heartworm treatment is no joke. Little buddy got injected with a drug to kill the worms and had to stay at the hospital for two days. He then had to take thirty days of pills. Thankfully, he loves cat food as a pill delivery system. Not to mention, the months where we couldn’t walk him, and he couldn’t go upstairs without being carried because we couldn’t stress his heart. It was pretty stressful for the humans. Sisko is also one of the rare dogs that needed two rounds of treatment. All in, these treatments were about $1500.
In 2014, Scooter thought that fatty liver disease could be fun. Little did he know that the treatment would involve three days in the kitty hospital, a feeding tube, and endless rounds of lab work. This was during our pre-Mint days, but I think I remember the total ended up at about $3500.
More recently, Scooter was diagnosed with a degenerative spine issue. We’re doing pain management for him which means we’re dosing him twice per day for the foreseeable future. Oddly, this was the least expensive of our issues. Getting him diagnosed took two trips to the vet and x-rays to the tune of $300. Otherwise, we’re looking at monthly medication expenses of about $40. As long as he seems comfortable and still acting like a cat, we’re good to go.
With these expenses, you might think that we would be good candidates for pet insurance. However, we disagree. As Justin talked about in his post about insurance, one should ask themselves “what is the worst-case scenario this insurance covers and how would my family’s financial fortunes be impacted?” In our case, we can comfortably handle the occasional expensive trip to the vet. As Consumer Reports notes, “If you don’t want to pay for pet insurance, consider starting an emergency savings fund for pet care instead.”This aligns with our approach to pet care. We budget a certain amount every month for pet care. Most months we don’t spend that amount and we roll it over to the next month.
As we understand it, pet insurance is similar to human catastrophic health insurance. It covers the big, unexpected things, but not routine veterinary care and not pre-existing conditions. Insuring both boys prior to their issues would have cost about $80 per month. For just the time we’ve had both of them (and tracked expenses in Mint) that would equate to approximately $4100, approximately the same as what we spent for vet care in actuality (but not an apples-to-apples comparison since our number includes wellness and boarding).At the end of the day, it’s for you and your family to decide if pet insurance is worth it.
Do you have pets? Are they insured? Where do you see yourself in the hierarchy of needs?