The startup costs for our furry pandemic friends are well behind most owners. According to Rover.com, initial costs during the pandemic ranged from $720 to $1,810 for cat parents and from $1,315 to $3,290 for dog parents: bowls, leashes, crates, microchip tracking, nail trimmers, poop bags and litter boxes, flea or tick prevention, various types of food, a bed, adoption fees, vaccinations, spaying/neutering and more.
It’s the ongoing costs that are presenting the greatest challenge for financially strapped pet owners amidst surging inflation; some costs are up 30 per cent or more from just 18 months ago. These include food, grooming, vet visits, toys, flea and tick prevention and more.
Depending on the dietary choices you make for your pet, and any regular medications your pet needs to take, these costs can easily double or triple from the typical new range in 2022 of $800 to $3,500 annually for cat parents, and $1,000 to $4,000 annually for dog parents.
Training, boarding, dog-walkers, pet insurance, special medical attention and daycare for your pet can easily add thousands to your annual expenses.
If you’re between a rock and a hard place — do I give up my pet to save my finances? — but are committed to keeping your pet out of the shelter system, let’s go through some options.
Get crystal clear on all the costs you do know about.
Take 20 minutes. Sit down with your pen and paper (or computer) and start to list every expense for your pet that’s coming up — food, training, a vet visit, etc. Sometimes it can be helpful to look at your transactions from the previous month. Don’t forget to include the less obvious items like pet insurance (if applicable), medical procedures and dog walking. Put a price beside each item and tally it up. If the number staring back at you is scary, take a deep breath. That’s what we are here to work on.
Identify all the ways to save on day-to-day expenses and implement them now.
A few ideas to save are by bulk-buying food, bags and litter, by using digital coupons, by changing to a cashback credit card or cashing in loyalty points for money or pet products. Are there adjustments you can make to your pet’s diet that would allow for the food costs to come down? Can you make your pet’s treats? Are there adjustments you can make to your lifestyle in order to DIY things like dog walking and training or eliminate boarding costs? If you’re really in a jam, most food banks and animal shelters will have some pet food reserves to help you get by.
Delay all the nice-to-haves and use the time to save up instead.
No, you should not delay proper medical treatment for your pet, including dental care. But almost everything else can go on the back burner. If you planned to upgrade a crate or install newer security gates, see about stretching the useful life of what you already have. If it’s an absolute must-have, then the second-hand market is a good place to start or borrow from a friend. If you had planned to adopt another animal to keep your pet company, hold off.
Raise some money or ask for pet support.
If you were already thinking about upgrading your job and salary, keeping your furry friend is extra motivation to take action. Additional work available? Take that second job, extra shifts or become the go-to dog walker for your condo building (it pays up to $20 per hour). Weigh the financial benefits of extra work against how much time you have available because your pet still needs you. Get extra creative and sell items you don’t need on Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace — shoes, toys, electronics, etc. — and they use this money to cover costs. If you’ve got friends and family who care about you and your pet, it’s OK to ask them for help with practical essentials.
Build up reserve funds so you won’t get caught in this position again.
If you begin to have flexibility in your budget, start saving — for yourself and your furry family. Having emergency reserve funds can help pay for unplanned vet bills or even cover the basics like food if you find yourself out of work. Building a reserve might mean you’re going to need to make sacrifices to your lifestyle. Skip the takeout and put that $40 into your reserve fund. Then save in regular intervals, for instance weekly or biweekly, in perpetuity.
Some pet owners incorporate pet insurance in their regular monthly budget, and the prices and coverage range widely. This insurance is designed to cover a portion of the medical expenses. I would suggest that if you do not purchase pet insurance, then you allocate the same amount of money into your emergency reserve fund — say, $65 per month — should you need that money to pay out of pocket for your pet’s future medical bills.
Be honest with yourself if you need to find a new home for your pet.
A lot has changed over the past two years. You may find yourself returning to the office and not being home enough for your pet. You may be suffering from high inflation, making it impossible to keep up with your bills. You may be facing job loss. If keeping your pet isn’t an option, start a thoughtful process of seeing if you can find a new, healthy and happy home for them. This is hard, but it will keep them out of the shelter system.
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