10 Hidden Costs & Rules of Pet Ownership

Here's my list of what adoption agencies and pet shops don't tell you about your future pet. After we adopted our adorable dog, (that's Scruffy in the main photo), purchased the hamster(s) and accepted the turtles, we discovered these hidden rules & costs of owning pets.


1. Don't rely on the kids


The adoption agency and the pet store will give you the 411 on kids & pets. With over-confidence, you will assume that you know the inside story about families and animals.

Yeah, Yeah! After two weeks, the kids will get tired of the pet and you will be in charge of cleaning out the fish bowl, changing the newspaper in the hamster cage and walking the dog.   Duh! You know that already.  

And of course, as a responsible adult you will nod and mentally re-organize your agenda.

Here's my warning: You bought it; it's really yours. Really think hard about what pet ownership will mean to the adults in your home.  

It's like taking home a new baby. For the next 18 years, you will be responsible for potty duties, burping, early morning wake-up calls, training and other 24/7 duties. And like distant relatives, your kids will occasionally -- maybe often -- drop into to play with this baby, but most of the time, the pet is all yours.


2. A sick dog can be worse than a sick kid


A child with a cold or sore throat will tell you how much it hurts, how long it hurts and where it hurts. You'll have clues about when and if a trip to the doctor's office is really necessary.  

But a sick dog can't tell you much. There are no word clues to discover if the pet is deathly ill or just suffering from a minor ache.  

Without a clue, you will feel compelled to visit the Vet often, which translates into huge medical bills.


3. Animals complicate vacation plans


Even short-trips can become a planning nightmare when you have a pet. I have traveled with a dog and hamster and it's often difficult to find accommodations for pets.   If you're staying in a private home, your friends and family might welcome you, but have doubts about your pets.

There are hotels and motels that accept animals, but you have to do a lot of homework to find a place that's open for pets. What's more, these establishments may also have house rules, restrictions or extra fees for pets.   Doggy daycare is expensive. If you leave the pet home, your vacation plans must include pet sitters, walkers, feeders and emergency numbers.  

What's more, you'll need a Plan B. For example, a friend of mine with an extensive, expensive fish tank had to rely on a back-up battery-operated lighting and feeding system when the electricity went down in our area.

He was out of town when our neighborhood was dark and his rescue efforts involved phone calls to neighbors and friends.  


4. Watch out for odors


Pet owners have to be especially aggressive about animal odors in the home.

Our turtles, for example, did not have much of scent. But when the filter on the turtle tank broke, the odor became overpowering and we had to change the water daily until we could repair the filter and water pump.   For a brief period, our home smelled like a water treatment plant on a bad day.

Yuck!  Likewise, even slight odors from hamsters, cats, dogs and birds can cling to drapes, carpets and sofa cushions.  


5. Be on the alert for allergies


My middle son is allergic to birds; my daughter is allergic to hamsters. We learned the hard way.  

For instance, during the two-plus years that we owned a series of hamsters, my daughter was constantly rubbing her nose and sneezing.  

We were in denial about the cause. But guess what? My daughter's allergies disappeared when our last hamster was put to rest.


6. Pets bite back


Dogs, cats, rabbits, gerbils and hamsters can bite and scratch.  

Most pets are excellent around small children, but little kids often pull on pets (tugging on tails, ears, etc).  

As part of the family petting zoo, even a patient animal may occasionally bark or nip out of frustration.


7. Guard the home office


Warning: If you have a home office, be prepared to relocate to a bathroom or closet when your dog barks during a telephone interview or sensitive conversation.  

Most people will be amused or tolerant of the situation, but some will have doubts about talking with you while a dog barks in the background.  


8. Education is a commitment


Even if you pay to have your pet professionally trained, you will have to invest time and energy to educate your dog, cat, bird or hamster about house rules.  

Puppies are very hard work, albeit worth the effort.  


9. You will become a competitive pet owner


When I had my first child, I secretly compared my baby to others.   I was very proud when my baby walked and talked before other babies.

My children are tweens and teens and I have become a competitive pet owner.

I compare my dog's manners, appearance and personality to other dogs on the street.  

I'm trying to re-train my Type-A personality. But, honestly, I've had better luck training my dog.  


10. You will love, love, love your animal.


Yesterday, a woman in my building was on the verge of tears. She's a grandmother, with an 18-month-old grandson.

"The little one died," she said.

I almost passed out from grief and empathy. But then I realized that she was talking about her little dog. (She had two dogs). Upon learning that her grandson was well, living and healthy, (thank goodness), I felt such relief.

But then I felt another wave of grief and empathy.   My neighbor really loved her dog.  

Bottom Line: I highly recommend pet ownership. It's a great way to forget yourself and celebrate life. But caring for a pet is a huge responsibility. By the way, this article from MSN Smart Spending has great tips about pets:

The costs of pet ownership (and tips to reduce them)

Editor's note: Sharon Harvey Rosenberg (The Frugal Duchess) will be joining Wise Bread as a full time blogger in August. In the mean time, she'll be dropping by with a few guest posts a week.  You can find more great tips from Sharon in her book Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money or in Wise Bread's new book 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.

Can't wait until August? Here are other great posts by Sharon on her blog The Frugal Duchess. Enjoy!

Additional Photo Credit: Dr. Hemmert, Josh, Ricky, Nicholas Wang, Keuynish, bokswagen, Toms Baugis, Bev Sykes, Marianne Perdomo,

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Guest's picture

I would add that you should not count on your spouse either. I don't particularly like dogs. Each time my wife adopted one, I issued the basic "OK, but I don't want to have anything to do with it" disclaimer. We now have four. However as the person who works from home, I end up taking care of them by default. I'm also the budgeter, and we're always going over. We budget $35 a month for four dogs, my parrot, an abandoned bunny we rescued from the park, and eight chickens. It's a rare month I don't have to pull money out of our grocery budget for pet food. I feel bad about that. No one seems to get $35 out of enjoyment from them. I'm still not quite prepared to frugal them onto Ol' Roy dog food though. I love them in spite of my objections.

Guest's picture
brian mack

a very, very good article- anyone who has LOVED and i emphasize
LOVED an animal knows the pain when they die. personally,
i won't print how much i grieved over having to put my best
friend to death-

Guest's picture

While I agree it is the age-old story that Mom and Dad end up taking care of whatever critter the junior members of the family decide they want (and therefore has a great deal of truth to it), I do want to point out that you *can* get kids to be responsible pet owners. Yes, it takes some nagging. But pets are a great way to teach kids empathy and responsibility, especially since the costs are so very high when the kids mess up. My daughter was responsible for the cat box and feeding and she learned pretty quickly what was needed and expected - of course, the cat box was in her room at one point.

Kids need and deserve the chance to be responsible and helping them be responsible for a living creature will help them be responsible parents later on.

Guest's picture

Pets are great, but so much work. I recommend getting a Chinchilla. Like a rabbit/squirrel, so soft and best of all, nocturnal. When you go to work, he's sleeping. When you come home, he's wide awake and ready to play.



Rich By 30 Retire By 40

Guest's picture

I love all my pets, (2 dogs and 12--yes, 12--cats--all of whom are fixed!) especially since I can't have kids. I volunteer at one of our local no-kill shelters, too. I have been blessed that one of my many talents is cleaning out a litter box! Adopt a homeless animal! They are worth every penny!

Guest's picture

Great article. I just started budgeting by category 3 months ago and have found we spend much more monthly on our one dog and one cat than we thought.

I haven't made any adjustments in spending for them as I don't think I waste in this area, but it was eye-opening. Having said that, I think the pets add more to our lives than their cost.

Guest's picture

Vets have gotten awfully good at guilt-tripping when you don't spend for top-of-the-line tests and treatments.

I am from a small town and had always gone to vets that mostly deal with large animals.

So when we moved to the city I just picked the vet closest to the house, and dealt with being treated like a bad person at every visit (really, do the cats need their teeth cleaned every year? How did they survive their first ten years without that?)

But when my (normally very cheap) boyfriend was going to unquestioningly lay down nearly $4000 for bladder surgery for the cat, I comparison-shopped and found a much cheaper ($1000 total for that specific treatment) and incidentally *much* more compassionate vet, who I can trust to tell me the truth about how beneficial treatments are and respect my budget.

I wish it were so easy to comparison-shop procedures at human doctors.

Guest's picture

Great post! And I loved the pictures too.

Guest's picture
Peter T

> 5. Be on the alert for allergies

Allergies were one reason for us to be happy to have two pets already when we got children. Children growing up on farms have significantly fewer allergies than children from cities. The hygenie hypothesis says to this that children's immune systems need activity, e.g. against animal germs; otherwise they might run amok and cause allergies.

Guest's picture

If I didn't work out of my office at home I don't know what I would have done. Our really old big dog became very ill, lost weight and basically collapsed. I spent a weekend hand feeding the dog because she could barely lift her head. We eventually figured out what is wrong with her but there is no way I could have given her adequate attention if I was working 50+ hours a week on the other side of town and out of town for meetings. Not to mention getting her in to see the vet.

Too many people discount dog training. It isn't optional. An untrained dog will develop all sorts of bad habits. Like eating the linoleum off your floor, biting the neighbor kids or otherwise trashing your house.

Guest's picture

Pets often can be a lot of work but so worth it. Our 2 cats mean the world to us and pretty much run the house. :-) New pet owners though need to be warned of what life changes come with becoming a pet owner. Great article.

Guest's picture

"I highly recommend pet ownership. It's a great way to forget yourself and celebrate life." - I love that =)

Guest's picture

I love this article! I am owned by one cat and would not have it any other way. I am absolutely guilty of spoiling him rotten, but he adds so much to my life that it does not even matter. I cannot understand how people treat pets as a thing rather than an opportunity to take care of one of God's creatures.
They really do just take over your heart, your life, and your home :)

Guest's picture

My puppy saved me money. Coming home every night to a puppy that needed 0:30 walking, 0:15 training, and 0:30 playtime REALLY cut into my hockey-viewing time so I cancelled my Center Ice subscription.

I'd also contend that NOT training your pets is the hidden cost, while training them helps to lower costs. A well-trained pet also helps you out with #9. :-)

Guest's picture

Another grat post here. I have 2 Huskies and I totally agree with everything you said here! I experienced "#7. Guard the home office" today: I was in a business meeting over skype when my Husband came home and got the dog all riled up! SO I totally know what you mean! Thanks for the post!

Guest's picture
martha in mobile

I find that it is appropriate to budget about $1K per dog/cat or large bird per year. Between flea medication, teeth cleanings, shots (parrots need shots, too!), food, toys (for the parrots again -- they need constant mental stimulation), and unplanned health emergencies (especially with older pets), it really adds up.

So when my DH gives me the "googly eyes of love" for a new pet, I squint at him and ask for the $1K up front.

Guest's picture
Todd Eddy

Having a pet isn't just something to sit on your lap at night, it requires some time to do stuff. For example I just got a himalayan cat. Common hygiene tasks include brushing their hair on a daily basis to avoid natting. Also because of their squished face you have to wipe their eyes all the time. These I looked up before hand so I knew what I was getting myself into. A little thing that is also common with kittens is some of the crap (litterally) sticks to the hair on their butt and you have to cut off the hair around there. Oddly this all would seem like work before I had him but really none of it bothers me. He's gotten older and now don't have to worry about seeing surprises on hair by his butt. Also he's used to me wiping his eyes so he's fine with that. Emptying litter box twice a day doesn't bother me as I just worked it into my schedule. But people should understand you are caring for a living thing that depends on you for everything and in the case of dogs and cats can live for a while.

Guest's picture

I have two seniors, and I love them tremendously. They are my `kids'. However, not until I began tracking our monthly expenses via Excel a few months back did I realize how much I was spending on food, medicine, treats & toys. They can be extremely expensive.! We're all on a budget, so stuffed toys are now purchased at the thrift store, and treats have been cut back.

However, because mine are geriatrics, there will be no heroic measures when the diagnosis comes. I've made it clear to my vet that there'll be comfort measures only, no surgeries or the like.

It IS very expensive to own pets, especially large dogs. Our annual check up for the two, including a new prescription for arthritis pain and full blood screen, was nearly $600.

I have now set up a monthly auto savings with ING direct dedicated to Vet bills, so that I'll have funds set aside in advance for the next Vet trip. I'd recommend that to all, it's a good way to budget for the Vet bills.

Guest's picture

Nice article - I took the photo of the tuxedo and ginger tabby hugging each other. http://www.flickr.com/photos/thippie/2809730386/in/set-72157603544525383/

Pets are a lot of work - but totally worth it!

Guest's picture

This is a fantastic article, and I wish more people would read this. I'm fascinated, and disgusted, by how many "College experts" suggest bringing pets to colleges. However small they are, pets require a great deal of responsibility, time, and cash (three things that students often lack). I wish the geniuses at my college would read this article, before adding "small pets" to their "what to bring to college" checklist.