Jeanette A. Tucker, Nye, Gloria
For many Americans, their pets are an important part of the family. However, during a recession or downturn in the economy, 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 find ways to cut corners with expenses. Unfortunately, as families are forced to cut back and downsize or relinquish their homes, keeping a pet becomes much less affordable or even impossible. 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 them.
According to a 2003-2004 national survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), more than 1/3 of all Americans were pet owners, owning more than 65 million dogs and 77 million cats. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), annual costs for a dog can range from approximately $1,000-$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 $15-25 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-$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. Be aware that if you work, you may have to take long lunch hours, miss or leave work, or go home more frequently in order to walk or care for a dog. Also be aware 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. Even a free pet can be expensive to maintain. Cost-to-own is usually associated with car buying, but it is relevant to pet ownership, too. And time also should be factored in as a cost to any potential pet owner. Before getting any pet, especially at Christmastime, be sure you can afford the ownership costs for the projected life span of that animal. A helpful Pet Ownership Expense Worksheet for Children and Parents 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 non-profit or low-cost animal hospital in your area that you can use for pet medical services. Shop around and find pet medical care you can afford for preventative annual exams. Cutting costs by buying cheaper pet food 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. 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 says, “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.”