Pricing pets: The true cost of dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and other critters

By: Tudor Robins

Author: Canadian Living


Pricing pets: The true cost of dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and other critters

By: Tudor Robins

My neighbour and I have a great deal going. He lends us his dog, Max, for half an hour every day and my kids walk Max. We get the benefits of having a dog without the cost and my neighbour gets his dog walked for 50 cents a day – a quarter to each boy. Unfortunately not everybody has such obliging neighbours and not all the prices associated with pet ownership are so reasonable.

With the help of Tara Jackson of the Ottawa Humane Society, we've done a roundup of what you can expect to pay to keep various pets.

Dogs (Life expectancy 10 to 18 years)
Bottom line: $1,071 per year.
Rewarding? Definitely, but dogs also consume a fair amount of your time and money. The following prices are based on estimates done by the British Columbia SPCA:

One-time costs: Purchasing basic equipment including a crate, collar and leash, food and water dishes and toys will likely cost between $125 and $200. Prices for necessary services such as spaying or neutering, microchipping or tattooing and licensing fees vary more widely; however, Jackson points out that spaying and neutering and microchip/tattoo costs are included in the cost of adoption at most shelters.

Ongoing costs: Food and treats for a medium-size dog cost about $650 per year, but that's just the beginning. You also need to factor in vet checkups, nail clipping, grooming and vacation pet-sitting or boarding. In total the BCSPCA puts annual costs at $1,071.

Ways to save
Choose your breed carefully. A smaller dog will eat less, saving on food costs. If you work long hours and don't want to pay for doggie day care, choose a quieter breed. Get a short-haired animal to avoid paying for professional grooming.

Cats (Life expectancy up to 20 years)
Bottom line: $835 a year.
Many people think of cats as a low-maintenance alternative to dogs, but the BCSPCA estimates it will still cost you $835 to keep a cat for one year.

One-time costs: Basics like food and water dishes, a collar, brush and comb, litter box and scoop, scratching post, cat carrier and a few toys add up to over $100. Just as with a dog, you'll also need to pay for spaying or neutering, microchipping or tattooing and licensing fees.

Ongoing costs: Cat food and treats come to about $350 per year and other costs, including vet checkups, nail clipping, grooming, litter, antifurball medication and vacation pet-sitting or boarding, make up the rest of the $835 total.

Ways to save: Brush your cat regularly to save on grooming costs. Consider adopting from your local shelter so that shots, spaying or neutering and microchip services are included in the adoption cost.

Page 1 of 2 – Find out what extra costs are involved in taking care of a pet on page 2.

Small animals (Life expectancy: hamsters and gerbils, two to four years; guinea pigs, five to eight years; rabbits, up to 10 years)
Bottom line: from $250 to $450 per year
Yearly costs vary from a low of about $225 a year for hamsters and gerbils to about $450 each year for a rabbit.

One-time costs: Much depends on the setup you choose for your small pets, but you'll need some type of a hutch or cage, dishes and a water bottle, a brush and, for rabbits, you may also decide to get a collar and harness and litter box. Spaying or neutering is recommended for rabbits.

Ongoing costs: Both pellet food and fresh fruit and vegetables are needed -- amounts and costs vary. You'll also need to buy some type of bedding, typically timothy hay or shavings. Annual vet checkups are recommended but should cost less than for cats or dogs.

Ways to save: Check out the starter kits offered at many pet stores or consider getting equipment secondhand.

Birds and fish
Birds and fish are generally quite affordable – they cost less to feed than larger animals simply because they eat less. However, with proper care, both can live for many years so they are still a long-term commitment.

While setup costs vary depending on the type of cage or aquarium and accessories you choose, expect to pay between $100 and $150 for a reasonable starter kit. Ongoing costs also vary depending on the type of bird or fish you choose; however, for birds count on buying seed, gravel or grit, a mineral block and cuttlebone, as well as various other supplements and vitamins. For fish, factor in food, supplements, nets and cleaning supplies.

Extra costs
The biggest extra expense you're likely to face with any pet will come from unexpected vet bills due to illness or injury. Many companies now offer pet insurance to help with those costs, but don't forget to factor the cost of premiums into your budget.

While calculating the total cost of owning a pet is a large step towards responsible pet-ownership, Jackson says there are many other factors to take into consideration before bringing an animal home. "We caution people to really, carefully and critically evaluate their lifestyles before considering adding an animal to their family," she says.

For help deciding which pet is best for you, Jackson recommends visiting your local shelter or talking to a veterinarian.

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Pricing pets: The true cost of dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and other critters