Cats Versus Dogs: Which Are Cheaper?

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We Americans are pet crazy. The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says 30%-37% of American households include a cat and 37%-47% include a canine member. And if you have tried to find a pet during the pandemic, you know that demand for a furry friend is especially intense right now.

The money involved also is impressive. In 2019, American pet owners spent $95.7 billion on their animals. That number is expected to reach $99 billion by the end of 2020, says the American Pet Products Association, an industry group. Whoever coined the phrase, “You can’t put a price on love” probably wasn’t a pet owner.

The North American Pet Health Insurance Association’s website quotes owners’ annual costs for pet ownership from the 2019-2020 APPA National Pet Owners Survey (available for purchase). We include those costs throughout this article.

If you are thinking of bringing a cat or dog into your life, manage these expenses by creating a budget; set aside savings each month for both routine and unexpected medical costs.

Here are a few of the many costs to expect.

1. The pet

Your budget for acquiring an animal will vary, depending whether you buy from a breeder or adopt from a shelter.

Adoption fees for dogs at shelters and rescue groups typically run $100 to $400 but they can go higher. Search Petfinder.com for cats and dogs to adopt to see fees in your area.

The cost of a purebred dog runs from $800 to $2,000, according to Northwestern Mutual Insurance. Purebred cats cost from $300 to $1,200.

2. Medical bills and insurance

Count on at least one annual veterinary checkup, with immunizations, for your cat or dog.

To keep costs down, phone a few veterinarians to ask about prices for checkups, shots and other services. Find out how frequently shots should be given. Also ask friends and co-workers for reviews of their pets’ caregivers. Yelp has recommendations, too.

The adoption fee may (or may not) include spaying or neutering, initial immunizations, a first exam and implanting an electronic microchip with owner contact information. If you have to pay for spaying or neutering, see if you can find a local shelter that supports a spay/neuter clinic with discounted fees.

Pets may need medications, now or as they age. There’s a great range of costs for pet prescriptions. You are likely to save money by shopping around. Kroger, Costco and Walmart offer pet medications, as do a number of online pet supply businesses. As they are for humans, generic medicines often can be used at a substantially cheaper cost.

The cost for pet services, including veterinary care, varies not only by product and supplier but by location.

Routine vet visit (annual)

Dog: $212

Cat: $160

Surgical vet visit (annual)

Dog: $426

Cat: $214

For help with such veterinary costs, Value Penguin’s look at pet insurance says monthly premiums range from $10 to over $100, with most owners paying $30 to $50 monthly for a plan with “decent” coverage.

3. Food and supplies

Some of the costs you’ll encounter are capital costs — one-time expenditures such as pet dishes, bed, a leash and a carrier or crate.

Keep your wallet open, though. Recurring costs include medical bills, food, litter for cats, annual licensing, toys, treats and, if you wish it, health insurance.

You can cut some of these costs by checking out “8 Ways to Cut Your Pet Food Costs.”

Food (annual)

Dog: $259

Cat: $228

Treats (annual)

Dog: $76

Cat: $58

Toys (annual)

Dog: $48

Cat: $31

4. Grooming and training

If you choose to have grooming professionally done, you are in for a good-sized ongoing expense. Not that it isn’t worth it. Many pet owners swear by their groomers’ services, which cost roughly, per year (including grooming aids):

Grooming/grooming supplies (annual)

Dog: $73

Cat: $43

You’ll save a bundle on grooming by taking the DIY route, although you’ll need to purchase tools and supplies to get started.

You can pick up grooming tips and techniques online. For example, two great resources for dog owners:

But should you also budget for the new couch you’ll need after Kitty decides he likes it better than his scratching post. That’s where training comes in.

Training may work out if you go DIY. But problem animals (and their humans) sometimes need a firmer hand. You can learn basic commands and rearing techniques from dog training sites. Here are two:

  • 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.

Bottom line? Animals aren’t cheap. But you can’t put a price on love, right? And with a will to save, you can cut costs.

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