Which Cost More — Cats or Dogs? (And How to Save on Both)

Some of us are cat people, others prefer dogs, but all of us like paying as little as possible to support our furry friends. Here are three ways to take a bite out of your pet budget.

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.

How much dog and cat owners spend on their four-legged family members varies widely. Cats are cheaper than dogs, according to an ASPCA study on the average cost of owning a dog or a cat, but small dogs breeds can be cheaper to own than cats. The group examined capital costs — one-time expenditures such as a leash, a carrier and the cost of getting the pet spayed or neutered. They also tallied recurring costs, including medical bills, food, litter for cats, licenses, toys/treats and health insurance.

The breakdown is as follows:

Small dog: $470 in capital costs + $737 in recurring costs per year

Medium dog: $565 in capital costs + $894 in recurring costs per year

Large dog: $560 in capital costs + $1,040.41 in recurring costs per year

Cat: $365 in capital costs + $809 in recurring costs per year

Of course, those are averages.

“You shouldn’t expect to pay less than this, and you should definitely be prepared to pay more,” the ASPCA says. “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.”

Grooming costs for long-haired dog breeds are not included, but can easily add a few hundred dollars annually. And then there’s the new couch you’ll need after your cat decides it likes that better than a scratching post, or the new carpet you’ll need after the dog decides to leave his mark on yours.

But there are ways for responsible pet owners to control the costs associated with their critters. Consider these tips:

1. Veterinarian bills

Veterinarian checking small dog.Syda Productions / Shutterstock.com

The ASPCA says cats and dogs should see a veterinarian 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, as some vets are cheaper than others. Shop around, and ask friends and co-workers for reviews of their vets, and check Yelp. However, be sure to compare the costs of both regular visits and emergency ones. Emergency trips — like the time my puppy ate a bag of nickels — can be very costly.

Also, check local animal shelters for discount spaying/neutering, shots or other medical services. Some offer them, others don’t, while still others offer them on a sliding scale.

Does your pet need to take medications? You can often get them cheaper than the ones the vet will sell you by shopping around. Kroger, Costco and Walmart offer pet medications, along with a number of internet sites. Sometimes they offer generic versions that, just like medications for people, are substantially cheaper.

Some owners use pet health insurance to save money on their veterinary bills – both expected and unexpected – but such coverage is not cheap. Costs, depending on the age and breed of the animal and where you live, can range from $10 to $32 per month for cats and $19 to $60 per month for dogs, according to Petinsurancequotes.com. Before you sign up check out check out our tips on pet insurance.

2. Food and supplies

Two cats and a dog eating side by side.Irina-Kozorog / Shutterstock.com

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

Food: $400.31

Toys and treats: $75

TOTAL: $475.31

But I spend less than that, and I buy organic. For one thing, 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. Check out “20 Ways to Save Big Bucks on Pet Supplies” for more ways to find cheaper pet food, treats, toys and basic medications.

3. Grooming and training

Fluffy white dog being groomed on table.Lucky Business / Shutterstock.com

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 the story “3 Pricey Pet Services You Can Do Yourself,” I talk about a few pet care skills I’ve learned.

I learned how to groom my dog online. Two great resources for getting those skills:

By doing all my own grooming, I save about $160 per year.

I also skipped dog-training class and instead learned basic commands for my dog and other tricks through 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 for dogs that covers everything from behavioral problems to basic dog tricks.
  • Perfect Paws has a ton of helpful articles on positive reinforcement training for dogs. They also have a section on how to train cats. Good luck with that!

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

Have you been surprised by the cost of having a pet? Share your experience with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Angela Colley
Angela Colley @angelancolley
My personal tag line might be, “There is probably a coupon for that.” At a young age, I mistook my parent’s coupon clipping for a game and I wanted to treasure hunt ... More

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