The Real Cost of Cats and Dogs

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Which Is Cheaper: Cats or Dogs?

How much is that doggy (or kitty) in the window? According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the total annual cost of owning a dog is between $1,314 and $1,843. All you crazy cat people will shell out about $1,035 a year for your little purrmeisters.

Those numbers reflect the basics: food, litter, collar, leash, dishes, cage, toys, scratching post, carrier and medical care. But the figures don't encompass a lot of other potential costs, from pet-sitting to insurance increases.

Is it appropriate to put a price tag on the love and affection a pet can bring? Absolutely! In fact, it's essential to look at the lifetime costs of a companion animal before you get one, or before you take on a second -- or third, or fourth -- fuzzy buddy.

Owning a pet is a lifetime commitment. You can't fall in love with a cute Persian kitten and then ignore the needs of the maybe-not-as-adorable grownup cat. That butterball of a pup will need to be fed, walked and socialized regularly, even when you'd much rather sleep in or binge-watch shows on Netflix. Pets are always going to need you -- and they're always going to cost you, which is why you should factor in not just the SPCA data but other potential costs.

Do You Have the Time?

First and foremost, pets need your attention. Although felines tend to be more aloof, some cats are real cuddlers and need a lot of you-time. To ignore a cat's need for affection isn't only cruel, but can be costly. A neglected kitten might shred the curtains or urinate on furniture.

The same is true for man's best friend. A bored or lonely pooch may take out his stir-craziness on your landscape or the furniture. I've personally seen where canines chewed through fences, even chain-link ones.

Dogs can also get you in dutch with the neighbors or even the police by barking constantly in search of attention. Because dogs are pack animals, it's particularly inhumane to adopt and then neglect one.

Don't have enough time to devote to a pup? Don't get one. If you get very busy at work sometimes -- say, tax season at your accounting firm -- then budget for some outsourced affection by paying someone to tend to your pet or enroll Fido in a doggie day care center.

More Than Just Kibble and Litter

When choosing a cat or dog, beware the kinds of costs that novice owners can't anticipate. Certain breeds need specific types of grooming, so unless you plan to buy clippers you'll need to budget for visits to the pet beauty salon.

Are you willing to clean your pet's teeth? It'll save money (and pain for the animal) in the long run, but not everyone wants to do it. If that's you, then you'll have to pay the vet to do it.

Incidentally, those vet visits will likely become more frequent as your pet ages and health problems crop up. Some people deride those SPCA figures as ridiculously high. But anyone whose dog developed hip dysplasia or whose cat has been attacked by a raccoon can tell you that pets can run up a big bill.

Note: One way to keep health costs way down is to keep your animals indoors or in a fenced yard. Dogs and cats do not need to roam, and owners who let them do so are risking the pet's health and the associated costs.

Suppose your pet has, uh, digestive issues? Fork over additional cash for diagnosis and then the necessary (and more expensive) special pet foods. Add a little extra for rug cleaning, too.

Love to travel? Your trips just got more expensive because you'll either have to board the animal or pay someone to look in on your pet. And if you want to travel with Fido or Fluffy, prepare to pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege.

That Is NOT a Chew Toy!

Pet behavior sometimes seems malevolent, but you must remember that animals don't reason the way we do. That plush sofa you spent so much money on makes a wonderful scratching post. Pets don't understand why they shouldn't gnaw on your expensive leather shoes (those things are delicious!).

It's possible to train them not to do these things. (Need to hire a dog trainer? Ka-ching!) Until that happens, you're on the hook for repairs or replacements. If you're a renter, the landlord will probably want that dug-up landscape or chewed-upon fence picket fixed right now.

Depending on the type of dog you get, you may also have to pay higher homeowner or renters insurance premiums. Large dogs or breeds labeled as aggressive can cost a lot more, depending on the insurer.

Speaking of insurance: If your dog bites the mailman or your cat scratches a visitor and they file a claim, your insurance rates will likely go up. That is, unless you decide to pay out of pocket to make things right. Even the best critter sometimes acts out, so it's always a possibility. Sometimes they even hurt their owners. My sister broke her wrist after being tripped by her excited pup. The result was nine missed weeks of work (she's a dental hygienist). Guess who didn't have nine weeks' worth of sick leave?

Congratulations! You're a Pet Owner!

If you're ready to commit to your first pet, or to add to your current menagerie, get smart about ways to keep costs down. To be clear, that does not mean cheap out on necessary pet care and comfort. What it does mean is using your money wisely.

For starters, pets don't really need lots of toys or -- heaven forbid -- Halloween costumes. They do need vaccinations, spaying or neutering, decent food and supplies, and yearly visits to the veterinarian.

This doesn't have to bust the budget. For help, check out these Money Talks News articles: Animals can greatly enrich our lives. In return, they deserve decent food and care from the humans on whom they depend. If you can't afford to provide those things right now, wait until times are better to get a pet.

And if you don't have a lot of time? Don't kid yourself that your loyal pup or purring kitten will wait patiently for you at home, require a few minutes of your time and then stay out of your hair.

If that's the kind of pet you want, check out a robotic dog or cat. But don't subject a living, breathing creature to distracted or indifferent care. Our animal friends deserve better.

Readers: What are some of the ways you save money while still providing good homes for your furry companions?

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