dog financesIn 2012, Americans will spend $52.87 billion on their pets, the American Pet Products Association calculates.

To put that figure in perspective, let's break it down: The average dog owner spends about $248 a year on routine vet visits, $407 on surgical vet visits, $419 on food, treats and vitamins, $274 on boarding, $78 on travel expenses and $73 on grooming.

Add it up, and you get $1,251. That's close to what we spend on electricity to run our homes ($1,413), telephone services ($1,178) or household furnishings ($1,467) each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest Consumer Expenditure Survey.

If you're surprised, you must not own a dog. Or a cat, fish or turtle. Keeping one of these friends under your roof adds up fast. Trust me. I've been to the emergency vet in the middle of the night, and my wallet has the battle scars to prove it.

I don't think there's a pet owner out there who isn't looking to cut costs. Here's how to do it:

• Don't pick a pricey pooch. For some of you, it's too late, so file this away for next time. But if you're in the market for a pet and you're undecided about what to get, remember: As a general rule of thumb, the bigger the animal, the more expensive it is to shelter and care for. So, if your budget is tight, a cat or small dog may be your best bet.

According to APPA's latest survey, cats are cheaper than dogs in nearly every category, including boarding, vitamins, grooming, food and routine vet exams. Large dogs come with large expenses: They cost more to feed. They cost more to board. You may have to pay a heftier pet deposit if you rent, or more in homeowners' insurance if you don't. Consider breed, as well, says Dr. Douglas Aspros, a Westchester, NY-based vet and president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. "It's worthwhile to do a little research and find out what problems the breed you're interested in is prone to. Breeds that have more arthritis, for example, may mean x-rays, anti-inflammatory drugs, even new hips."

• Fido doesn't need the fanciest food. Of the expenses that come with owning an animal, food is one of the biggest. And feeding your pet high-quality food may save you money on medical care down the road. But don't be fooled by shiny packaging and flashy slogans. "It's important to be critical here; some brands spend a lot more money on marketing than they do on the food itself," explains Aspros. Pick one that is made by a manufacturer you trust, and lists animal protein high on the list of ingredients. Then save some cash by clipping coupons and stocking up when the brand your pet likes is on sale. Finally, don't overfeed. It will save you money on food now, and on pricey medical bills due to obesity later.

• Put preventative care in your calendar. This can really cut costs in the long-run. Spay and neuter early on, shell out the cash for necessary vaccines, and subscribe to regular check-ups. And you can save here, too, mainly by calling around and comparing prices among vets. Other tips: Keep an eye on the calendars of local animal organizations -- many host events with free or low-cost shots. And ask your vet if her or she has samples of medications or manufacturer's rebates.

• Consider pet insurance. I like Aspros's rule of thumb: "Pet insurance makes the most sense for people who know that when a problem occurs, they're going to want to do the best thing for their pet, and yet they're going to have a hard time saving enough money to handle that calamity when it happens." In other words, if you would drain your bank account and max out your credit cards to save your pet's life, it's probably worth getting insurance.

• Shear the grooming expenses. When it comes to grooming, it goes without saying that I'm for DIY. Regular brushing will cut down on visits, and when you do visit the groomer, get their fur cut short -- it will take longer to grow out, thus pushing off your next visit. And if you board your dog, it's time to make friends with other pet owners, so you can swap care instead: They watch your pup while you're out of town this summer, you return the favor when they travel for business in the fall.

• Don't buy supplies new. Both Craigslist and yard sales are overflowing with leashes, bowls, collars and other items you need for less.

-- With Arielle O'Shea

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Diane Podolsky

I agree with Dr. Aspros. Pet insurance is a wise buy for pet parents when they shop carefully for a plan that fits their needs. Taking your pet for regular checkups saves money in the long run, too. "An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure." Whoever said that was right.

Missing from the list of money saving suggestions is dog training! Dog training lessons, private and group classes, are a great investment. Well behaved dogs can be cared for by family and friends at no or minimal cost. Trained dogs are less likely to chew up your stuff or anyone else's. When dogs are housetrained, you save money on carpet cleaning and replacement. The list goes on and on.

Diane Podolsky, CPDT-KA, CTC
The Cultured Canine

October 13 2012 at 5:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nick Quotes

A lot of negativity and spite in these comments - Jean is just trying to help pet owners save a bit of money during these tough economic times! Regarding pet insurance Aspros's I couldn't agree more but would add that if you can't afford $5,000 to $10,000 for life saving treatment then pet insurance is the only way to ensure you can pay if your pet gets sick or injured. Financial Euthanasia is all too common these days (just ask a vet). Learn more at

September 25 2012 at 12:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What a dumb article. Dumb advice. Why even write it ? Does anyone even think about what they write - or just write in some blithering way and hope that because she is writing it, we are just going to believe it ?
Some places, like bigger cities the better food is more expensive, better means less junk.
Some dogs get skin conditions from the cheaper food - which could mean a visit to a vet
and any other expense associated with it.
Grooming here could run an easy $100.00 per visit - nothing fancy, just standard rates.
Pet Insurance - does she even know what she is talking about ? Doesnt seem so.
How did Jean Chatzky get this job anyway ?

September 25 2012 at 4:46 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Read labels, avoid products listing wheat or corn high on the list (or avoid wheat and corn entirely.) Stick with rice, turkey, fish and meat. Many dogs are allergic to chicken; it can cause itching or digestive issues. Just like with people, manage portion size and trying to see that pets get exercise. You don't need to go broke to keep your pet healthy. Flea and heartworm treatments can be toxic to some pets; investigate alternatives.

September 25 2012 at 12:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This guy is a moron, and that total is waaay above average for one dog. Maybe he should take better care of his dog so that he doesn't have to go the emergency clinic or have "routine" surgical visits. How about the value of the pet to your home too? Why do you even have a dog if you are not willing to part with some of your cigarette or gambling money to treat it well? How about considering Paypal or an insurance policy instead of spouting online about how much you have spent. Also, I don't believe you have spent more than $1200 per year on the dog EVERY year. This is really unreasonable.

September 24 2012 at 11:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to sberth8543's comment
Diane Podolsky

I don't agree. It is rude to suggest that a pet parent does not know how much he or she has spent caring for their cat, dog or other pet simply because you may not have had to spend as much. I have spent much more than $1,200 on my dog's healthcare during each of his 14 years and I am sure that there are others in the same situation. I am also hoping that many pet parents have had lighter expenses and would not accuse them of lying if they said so.

As for routine visits, some dog breeds require dental cleanings, eye exams and other veterinary procedures that you or I might not be familiar with. For example, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels need periodic echo cardiograms to screen for a breed related heart condition. This is not true for other breeds. My Maltese, as an individual, is prone to corneal scratches? Why? Our vets don't know. But it costs several hundred dollars each time it happens and it is a problem which cannot be ignored.

The need to go to the emergency clinic can be a sign of taking good care of one's pet, not the opposite. Negligent pet owners do not notice their pet is sick or injured. They do not go out at 3am to the vet ER to seek medical attention for their pet.

I think I've made my point. Each pet has different medical needs, just like people. Please stop assuming that what is right for one pet and family is necessarily right for another.

October 13 2012 at 5:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How to cut the cost of pet ownership?

Buy an ant colony.

September 24 2012 at 11:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They are really pushing this "BLUE" cat/dog food. The dry food is supposed to be higher protein, less carbs. However, they also make it too high in fat for the average at home puss, and gave my cat pancreatitis. SO SICK! Both of them! Every time I fed it to them, they would vomit violently. They put these little chips that contain cranberry in them. How many cats do you know would eat a cranberry? That's just for the consumer, not the cat. Cats can't digest carbs. The only way they get carbs in nature is by eating a kill who ate carbs and had them in it's stomach. So many cats are getting diabetes and this is why. WET FOOD, NOT DRY!

September 24 2012 at 10:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have 2 cocker spaniels, 1 English,12, 1 American, 11.both spayed and chipped. They are on vegetarian food, with some pumpkin mixed in for more fiber, vitamins, treats, aspirin 81, dasaquin, heartguard, frontline plus. When we rescued the English,(our friend died, we took his dog) she was almost 50 lbs. changed her over to the vegetarian food, within 3 months she was 28 lbs and doing fine. American is a little bigger dog, and 32 lbs. They both get the same everything, and doing just fine, people think they are puppies

September 24 2012 at 9:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The other day I asked my cat if he was a republican or a democrat. He looked up at me with wide eyes and said: "I'm a democat"!

September 24 2012 at 7:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Jean, though a fan of yours, I vehemently disagree with two of your points. Food quality IS important. I've had a dog who suffered from Irritable Bowel Disease; I've talked to enough experts and been in enough seminars, webinars, and conferences relating to pet nutrition and needs to know that garbage in, garbage out, despite the packaging.

In terms of size, it does not matter! Smaller dogs do not have less health problems. In fact, the size of the dog does not necessarily equate with the health costs involved. That's like saying a kid is less likely to get sick than an elderly person.

I agree with the pet insurance and preventative care, but totally disagree on the others. I'd also NEVER groom my dog aside from bathing and brushing. That's best left to an expert I've researched and can trust. Thanks for listening.

September 24 2012 at 3:44 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply