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There's no such thing as a free puppy

Got your emergency fund in place? Good. Now set one up for your pet, to deal with any minor (or major) issues that might arise.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 20, 2014 2:12PM

This post comes from Donna Freedman at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyWhen his greyhound started vomiting nonstop, personal finance blogger Jacob Irwin was worried about the dog but not about how he'd pay the vet bill. He and his fiancée had a separate savings account for just such an emergency.

Dog (© moodboard/Corbis)"We looked at past vet bills and determined that we would need to have a good amount of money on hand for health issues," Irwin wrote in a post on his website, My Personal Finance Journey.

A good amount, indeed: Three days' worth of tests and treatment came to $1,100. The couple maintains $2,000 in an account for two dogs and a cat.

Got your own emergency fund in place? Good. Now start one for Fluffy, Phoebe Mae or Furio.

Having a separate account for your animal companion just makes sense. Sure, your pet may lead a charmed life and never get sick, eat something from the trashcan or be attacked by another animal. Don't bet on it.

Not that accidents or illness are the only reasons to have a pet EF. All sorts of associated costs could nibble away at your budget. That new kitten is darling but now you’ll need to pay a pet sitter during your long business trips. You love your Rottweiler pup but he's putting a real bite on your homeowners insurance premium.

And don't forget damage, because pets are, well, animals: They dig, chew, spray, scratch and otherwise indulge themselves on furniture, landscaping and family heirlooms. They also get sick; my sister's dog recently got a truly horrible case of gastroenteritis. She had to cough up $783 in vet bills plus an additional $170 for a professional carpet cleaning.

Be prepared

Serious issues can arise without warning. Ellen Cannon's 5-year-old cat, Zito, stopped eating and wasn't drinking much water. The vet determined that the cat's kidneys were abnormal and that one of them probably wasn't functioning at all.

In a post on Get Rich Slowly, Cannon explained that the treatment cost about $3,000 and turned out to be the wrong thing to do. The cat pulled out her feeding tube, refused to use the litter box and even bit her owner. Meanwhile, Zito's littermate was hissing and growling at her; the two had to be separated for Zito's safety.

After four days Cannon realized the treatment was harming rather than helping, and decided to have her beloved cat euthanized. The loss made her realize that her other cat's vet bills would surely rise as he grew older.

"So that woke me up to needing to set money aside just for that," Cannon says. She now puts about $500 away per year.

Sometimes the issue is age or a chronic condition. You might need to hire a dog walker to prevent your 12-year-old hound from dirtying the floor before you can get home from work. A cat suffering from bladder issues needs not just treatment but special (and more expensive) foods for the rest of its life.

Automate it

That's why it's just smart to plan for illness, accidents and the irregular expenses associated with animal companions. Start your fund by figuring out what expenses might crop up in the coming year. (Irwin based his fund on past vet bills, but you might want to raise that amount as your pet ages.)

Divide that amount by 12 and set up an automated monthly withdrawal into a separate account at your bank or credit union.

Should you factor in pet insurance premiums? Depends on whom you ask. Consumer Reports suggests that pet insurance is rarely worth the price, although it may be cost-effective in some cases. You could also think of your pet EF as "self-insurance."

Certainly it pays to shop around. A site called Pet Insurance Review offers feedback from insured-pet owners. It's also essential to read the fine print very carefully, especially if you have a pet known for breed-specific issues (which may not be covered).

Bottom line: A lot of owners say they'd do anything for their pets. But needing to shell out hundreds (or thousands) of dollars can be a major blow to the budget. Use your head as well as your heart, and prepare for pet-related issues by setting up a fund to cover them.

Readers, do you have a pet emergency fund?

More on Money Talks News:

Feb 20, 2014 5:30PM
Properly caring for my dogs is expensive, but is way cheaper than the shrink I would need if I didn't have them.
Feb 20, 2014 3:22PM
Pets are members of your family.  All I can say is that the first 6 years of your animals life, you  probably won't have to spend more than the $250 a year your vet charges to give shots, brush their teeth and give them a general exam; however, as your pet ages, things start to get complicated, just like they do in aging people.  Even if your pet does not have an unexpected condition such as diabetes, kidney failure, or cancer, there will be some problems as they age, and that costs a lot of money.  If you can't afford to take care of your animals, don't adopt them.  I am not saying you have to be able to afford chemo, but you should be able to pay your vet for reasonable medical problems such as a broken bone, tooth removal, cyst removal, hernia repair, etc.  These things cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars.  if you cannot afford these costs, a small bird, rodent, or fish are good options for pets that don't usually involve some high maintenance costs.   Relating to birds, parakeets, cockatiels and conures make great pets, and the expenses are low, but parrots are expensive, destructive, and extremely noisy.  They are unsuited for apartment living due to their noisy and destructive behaviors, and their vet bills can reach very high.  Also due to their longevity and need for constant attention, they are unsuitable for changing family dynamics.

Feb 20, 2014 5:39PM

President Obama and Bill DeBlasio should do something about expensive vets. They are the reason why there are so many homeless pets. They are too damn expensive. Greed.


I'll take money out of my 401K if one of my two cats get seriously sick.


I found an injured pitbull last summer. It was about 100 degrees out. His paws were burned and bleeding. I was not afraid. As I approached him he whinned and came to me. I gave him water, picked him up, put him in my truck and took him to a pet hospital.I had to leave him overnight. They charged me $650. The vet said I should put him to sleep instead. He kept telling me pitbulls are vicious dogs. He was holding the dog and I asked him if the dog seemed vicious to him to which he replied he did not know the dog. Idiot. I paid then drove to NJ from NYC to a no kill shelter for pitbulls.  On the way out the hospital, the dog took a large poop inside on their carpet. Poor thing had not been walked. I left the poop behind. Couldn't believe they charged so much for a gel to put on his paws. The dog did the right thing. The hospital was full of ****.

Feb 20, 2014 5:04PM

I had two beautiful, loyal, affectionate, smart, black labs, Hope and Honey. After Hope tore her ACL and $3000 later (took money out of my 403b to pay for surgery), I purchased pet insurance for both girls. I am so glad I did. I never wanted to be in the position where I had to make the choice to put either of them to sleep because I couldn't afford vet bills.


Both Hope and Honey had pet insurance for 6 years up until their deaths. Sure enough, Honey ended up also tearing an ACL about two years after Hope, then needed surgery on her ear, then needed a CT scan when we found a brain tumor after her stroke. Hope needed surgery to remove a cyst from her back, then developed laryngeal paralysis and needed surgery to tie back one of her laryngeal flaps so she could breathe. I would not have been able to keep my girls alive for the 13 years without it. They suffered minimally and received more hugs kisses throughout it all then I could ever count because I was able to tend to their health needs (and pain).


I have a cat now that Hope brought home after Honey died from the brain tumor. That cat is also insured! Within a year of having him I learned he had multiple pelvic fractures prior to our taking him in that apparently had  to heal on their own (incorrectly, as you might imagine) forcing pressure on his colon. He has a condition called megacolon. I am only $1800 into it, but thanks again for the pet insurance.


Please consider the monthly investment. It may seem like a lot of money (paid $70/month for the two girls), but you will have peace of mind knowing if the need arises, you will be prepared to give your pet what he/she needs to stay with you for their life expectancies.


Sure do miss my girls!

Feb 20, 2014 6:16PM
Since I moved to Las Vegas from Florida my Vet bills are 75% less. Guess some places are just ripping people off!
Feb 20, 2014 6:07PM
I love Maestro and Snow flake,  my precious Toy poodles. We all need to be good to the animals.
Feb 20, 2014 5:28PM
How is it that a medication available over the counter to people requires a prescription from a vet.? This is a rhetorical question answered by others in this section.
Feb 21, 2014 10:46AM
I'm a dog guy but, over the years, 4 stray cats have come to my house.  I found great homes for 3 but couldn't find one for the 4th, a starving kitten.  So I kept him.  That was 12 years ago and now I can't imagine life without him. He's sitting here on the table beside me as I type this.  He is watching the cursor move and purring loudly.  In a few seconds, he will push is nose under my hand so that I can't type.  He thinks that's really funny and make a trilling sound when he does it.
Cats are much more delicate animals than dogs.  If you want them to have long, healthy lives, one of the best things you can do is to keep them inside. Also remember that there are very few houseplants known to be safe for cats.  You never know when yours might chew a leaf.

Feb 20, 2014 7:28PM
We have four dogs, all rescues. If I didn't have them I can guarantee I would be seeing a shrink. My youngest one is just now 2 and has already cost me more in vet bills than my 14 yr old pit has her entire life. she gets into absolutely anything and everything, some things she has gotten into I have no idea how because she is only about 8 inches tall. Guess it just proves the saying where there's a will there's a way
Feb 20, 2014 5:12PM

Shouldn't there be mandatory pet health insurance also?  Shouldn't they be allowed as tax deductions as they are dependent on their owners?  Shouldn't there be free education for them through basic obediance school funded by property taxes and the low cost loans for more advanced training?  Shouldn't you be allowed to marry them, as most of their owners are in a committed relationship with them that last as long as most marriages today?  Shouldn't vetenarians be required to accept only certain amount of payment for treatment?  Shouldn't pet insurance coverage pre-existing conditions?


If we are on the path to socialism why stop with the human species?

Feb 20, 2014 6:32PM
I love dogs but I won't own them anymore because I live in the city now and so many bad things can happen if they got loose and hurt someone. My kind of dog needs a little room to roam.
Feb 24, 2014 10:01AM
You can have a free puppy, just play with your neighbor's.
Feb 21, 2014 3:16AM
I understand that people love their pets but I still cannot get over the fact that pets in this country are better cared for a lot of times than children. It's a damn shame.
Feb 20, 2014 6:50PM
very rude hiting an animal and person, your sick
Feb 21, 2014 11:03AM
Feb 20, 2014 9:17PM

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Feb 20, 2014 7:55PM
thank you for this article mistress of the obvious!
Feb 21, 2014 3:09AM
The moment my cat cost me more than $200 to fix, it's gone.
Feb 20, 2014 6:58PM
Which is one reason I don't own nor will ever own a "dog."  They are the perennial "babies" of the pet world which never quite "grow up."  They drool and  require constant attention to their "potty" needs.  No matter the weather, how you feel, or much else, they must be taken out and walked daily.  Like babies, you cannot leave them alone by themselves for any length of time.  They never quite get over the "teething" period in their lives.  They love to "chew" on anything available.  Come to think of it - babies don't teeth on your shoes or prized objects in your home.  Also, babies are usually diapered and don't "soil" your carpet or floors.  They can cry (or bark) all night just like your little infant.  They also demand "constant" attention which borders on being extremely annoying and excessive.   I prefer my adorable cat.  He is neutered and declawed.  He does not leave messes anywhere.  I can leave him overnight with a bowl of food and water.  He has a litter box and with the new chemicals used in today's litters, it does not smell.  He is devoted to me, requires some affection, but does not smother me with it.  He is also not "hyper" like some dogs. 
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