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An emergency fund -- for your pet

There's no such thing as a 'free' puppy or kitten. Here's what you need to know before taking on the responsibility of a pet.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 10, 2012 11:17AM
Logo: Man with dog VStock LLC, Tanya Constantine, Tetra images, Getty ImagesHow much is that doggie in the window? More than you think. Before you even consider getting a pet, you should have a cash reserve separate from your own emergency fund.

What could that cute little puppy or kitty cost you? Anywhere from $640 to $1,500 for the first year and $400 to $700 per year after that, according to one expert source. 

Stephen Zawistowski of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals created a spreadsheet of the estimated yearly costs of pet ownership (see it here on,  taking into consideration everything from litter to leashes to heartworm prevention. published the spreadsheet with the caveat that the estimates are "crude." That's because costs vary from region to region, different people have different ideas of what's necessary, and veterinary costs go up as a pet ages.

Those figures also don't include the cost of getting the pet in the first place. But even if you don't pay a dime, there truly is no such thing as a "free" puppy or kitten.

You CAN put a price on love
Obviously you need not pay every cost included in the ASPCA list. You might already own a litter box, crate, leash or other pet equipment. Some owners learn to groom the animals themselves, or skip "puppy kindergarten" in favor of borrowing books from the library and training their own dogs. (For more money-saving tips, see "10 ways to save on pet supplies.")
Even so, pet ownership costs money. Those ASPCA estimates don't include factors like accidents, serious illnesses or the need to replace pet-ruined items. One woman I know left her newly adopted dog in the car for a few minutes while she did an errand. She returned to find that the critter had chewed the driver's side seat belt to shreds -- a very expensive fix.

If I wanted to get a pet, I'd make sure I had the first year's expenses in a separate account. Each year after that, I'd divide the estimated annual expenses by 12 and have that amount automatically deposited into the pet EF. I'd also investigate pet insurance.

Life happens

Best-case scenario: I wouldn't need all the money because my pet led a charmed life, free of illness, accidents and destructive tendencies. I wouldn't count on it, though.

A co-worker's dog got into the trash and swallowed a piece of corncob; surgery was required to remove it from her intestine. A relative's cat developed urinary tract problems and required special (i.e., expensive) food for the rest of its life.

Life happens. An article on the American Veterinary Medical Association website notes that even the most diligent pet owners may end up with sick or injured companion animals, "but you lower the odds if you are proactive about preventive healthcare and set aside some money or invest in pet insurance."

Your heart may go out to that cuuuuuute little hound at the shelter. But use your head: That animal will depend on you to take care of his needs. Get your financial house in order before you take on responsibility for another living creature.

More from MSN Money:

Oct 11, 2012 7:13AM

People that have never owned a dog before should really know ahead of time how much it really costs before they get one.


Even if they have no health problems those checkups at the vet, preemptive meds etc. can really add up. You can tell by looking at their fur that dirt cheap dog food from the box stores isn't good for them- would you feed your children this?


On the other hand, as a widowed senior, my two labs - George & Gracie (named after Burns & Allen) are PRICELESS!





Oct 12, 2012 3:02PM
I had big dogs for 40+ years, biggest expense is vet bills, here in the Northeast the last couple times were over $500+ each visit just for routine shots etc, and as pooch got older the medication refills over $100 every time. Some breeds like Poodles require frequent grooming which is 10X what it costs you for a haircut.....  Also pet owners need to be mighty careful of your homeowners insurance, if you have a dog they consider a no-no either they will skyrocket your rates or cancel you.......   The food is probably the least cost worry as long as you feed them a healthy pet food diet but not filet mignon. As we head into retirement we miss the dog terribly, we won't have another dog, now that we have more time for one we can't afford it. If you go away for vacations etc most places won't allow pets so look at the cost of a good boarding kennel or pet sitter, they ain't cheap either. Many people are not prepared for the costs, just one more reason the shelters are full.
Oct 11, 2012 1:42PM

i looked at the spreadsheet and did a little bit of adding myself and came up with a whole lot more. this person must not know about all the medicine that add to the vet bill.

they had medical as only $175. hahahah. try doubling that and you would get a closer number.

6 month flea/ heartworm=80


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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.