Gloria Nye | 11/21/2008 9:03:09 PM
Pets are an important part of many American families. During a recession or downturn in the economy, however, when millions have lost their jobs, businesses are failing or cutting back, record numbers of homes are in foreclosure and credit card debt is at an all time high, families are desperate to cut expenses.
Under these conditions, animal shelters are reported to be at capacity and unable to rescue all of the pets being given up by the financially strapped owners who can no longer afford to keep their animals.
Before getting any pet, especially during the holidays, be sure you can afford the ownership costs for the projected life span of that animal, advises LSU AgCenter family and consumer sciences area agent Dr. Gloria Nye.
“Even a free pet can be expensive to maintain,” Nye said.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), annual costs for a dog can range from approximately $1,000 to $2,000 in the first year, depending on the size of the dog. That figure does not include kenneling if the owner has to travel, which can easily cost $15 to $25 per day.
Cats cost slightly less per year, but most people have more than one cat, and cats live longer on average, so costs for cats over time are about the same or more than for dogs.
Rabbits cost slightly more per year than cats, and guinea pigs cost slightly less. Even the costs for the care of small rodents, birds and fish can be $200 to $300 per year.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, Americans spend an average of $350 per year in medical expenses for a dog. Diagnostic testing or surgery can cost $1,000 to $5,000. Americans spent $36 billion on their pets in 2005, and $8.6 billion of that spending was for veterinary care.
“If you work, be aware you may have to take long lunch hours, miss or leave work or go home more frequently to walk or care for a dog,” Nye said. She also reminds pet owners that a pet left alone at home may do damage to rugs, furniture, floors, woodwork, screen doors, draperies, the yard or garden, your neighbor’s or mail delivery person’s good will, etc., which may be costly to repair or replace.
“Cost-to-own is usually associated with car buying, but it is relevant to pet ownership too, and time should also be factored in as a cost to any potential pet owner,” Nye said.
The family economist recommends a Pet Ownership Expense Worksheet for Children and Parents, which is available at: http://www.valueyourmoney.org/parenthood/pet-ownership.asp.
“If you already own a pet and you are experiencing financial difficulty, ask the local animal shelter, the ASPCA or Humane Society if they know of a nonprofit or low-cost animal hospital in your area that you can use for pet medical services,” Nye said.
Shop around to find pet medical care you can afford for preventative annual exams. Buying cheaper pet food to cut costs does not save money if your pet’s health deteriorates and you have to pay for additional veterinary care and treatments or prescriptions.
Spending more for quality pet food can save money in the long run because better-quality pet food can prevent weight gain, kidney stones and other health problems that will cost more money to treat.
“Do not jeopardize your own financial security to care for a pet you can no longer afford,” Nye said, advising, “Ask for help.” Contact your local food bank and animal shelter to ask if pet food assistance is available.
Even in tough times, it is not all glum. As one pet owner said, “We pet owners live longer and less stressful lives than those who don’t own pets, so maybe there is some cost savings to us in the long run.”