Taking the Bite Out of Pet Care Costs

Spending on pets hit an all-time high last year, topping $53 billion, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA). The highest growth came in pet services — such as grooming, boarding, and pet sitting — and supplies and over-the-counter medications also saw a sharp rise.

How can you take good care of your furry best friend without breaking the bank? The California Society of CPAs offers these tips.

The Breakdown

How much does individual pet ownership cost? According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the price of items for a dog, including food, medical care, and licenses, can range from about $600 to almost $900 per year, depending on the animal’s size. Cats will run nearly $700 a year. (Those figures include estimated yearly health insurance premiums of $225 for dogs and $175 for cats.) Even costs for birds and small mammals average $200 and $300, respectively.

Putting Medical Costs in Perspective

Veterinary care bills added up to nearly $14 billion last year, according to the APPA. If you’ve ever been faced with a pet’s serious illness, you know the costs can add up quickly.

Pet medical insurance has become increasingly popular, but many people question whether or not it is worth the price. One alternative may be to self-fund your insurance by setting aside money each month in a pet medical nest egg. Average annual vet bills generally range between $500 and $1,000. Your monthly savings could help pay off at least some of those expenses, as well as any unexpected surgeries or medications, if they are needed.

If you do decide to buy insurance, read the policy carefully to determine precisely what it covers. What are the deductibles and co-payments? Are there limitations on payouts or lifetime limits? Are there any special service fees?

Also, while it’s likely the policy will not cover a pre-existing condition, find out whether certain procedures—or illnesses common to some breeds—are also excluded. Some breeds are more likely to succumb to certain illnesses or injuries. For that reason, it’s a good idea to do some homework in advance to learn about the breed that interests you and talk to a vet about the medical costs you should expect.

In addition, be aware that premiums may rise as your pet gets older or as vet care rates in your area or state go up.
With all this in mind, add up your vet bills for the past year. Compare them to the insurance premiums you would have to pay and decide whether or not the insurance would be worth the cost.

Save Money Up Front with a Shelter Pet

Of course, the easy way to save money right off the bat is by adopting a pet from a reputable local shelter or rescue organization rather than buying a purebred from a breeder or pet shop. The cost of buying a purebred can range into the thousands of dollars.

Shelter adoption fees, which usually include spaying or neutering and some initial vaccinations, typically add up to no more than a couple hundred dollars at most. By adopting a shelter pet, you can do some good and save money at the same time.

Talk to Your CPA

Keeping a rein on pet-related costs is one of the many steps you can take to hold down your household expenses. If you want advice on any of your family’s financial concerns, be sure to consult your local CPA. He or she can offer smart advice on spending or saving your money wisely.

Copyright 2013 American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

The Money Management columns are a joint effort of the AICPA and the California Society of CPAs as part of the profession’s nationwide 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program.