Although the companionship of an animal is priceless, their upkeep costs money, and too many people get involved with pets before realizing they can't actually afford to take proper care of one. Our pounds are overflowing with creatures who were evicted by owners who found themselves in over their financial heads.
But the cold financial facts shouldn't keep you from sharing your love with a four-legged, furry friend. You just have to know how much you should expect to spend. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimated that in 2007, 37.2% of our households kept at least one dog, and 32.4% of us kept at least one cat, making the two animals the most popular domestic pets by far.
Of course, depending on your pets' temperament, it's easy to have both a cat and a dog. But if you broke down the costs of each, assuming both animals are healthy, how do the expenses differ? In each category, which costs more, dogs or cats:
To save the most money and to save a life, don't use pet stores. Get your pet from the pound or ASPCA. You're more likely to get a mutt or mixed breed there (which, if you ask me, makes a more healthy and emotionally stable animal), but if you insist on a purebred, there are many purebred rescue associations that you can find online by breed: Pugs, Dalmatians, Pit Bulls, and other popular breeds are often discarded when their owners tire of trends.
Even the ASPCA charges a fee for adoption, although the cost of starter health care (spaying or neutering, shots, micro-chipping) are folded into that. Expect about $75 for an adult cat or $125 for a kitten (which requires more care). Dogs cost $75 to $200, depending on how much health care they require. Most expensive: Dogs
Spaying and Neutering
Shots and routine health care are more or less the same, although when it comes to surgery, you'll generally pay more for a larger animal. At the vet's near my house, a cat costs $160 to neuter, and a dog costs $290. Most expensive: Dogs
Routine health care
Some pure breeds are afflicted by particular health issues -- for example, Cocker Spaniels get ear infections. But assuming that your pet is generally healthy, your basic health care costs for standard preventative procedures don't differ much. Most expensive: Tie
Setting up your home
Dogs, unlike cats, need more equipment: a leash (start at $12, with optional harness for $15 to $30). Your dog's energy levels and your schedule may require you to put it in a crate at bedtime and when you're not around. Those cost between $100 and $225.
Some expenses will be the same. You'll pay the same price for a pet carrier (for cats and small dogs) and food and water dishes no mater which animal you adopt. Flea powders, collars, and other routine care items also come with negligible price differences. Cats can claw furniture, but puppies can be just as destructive. In time, proper training can even the score.
The next time you're in a pet store, though, notice how many of the products, including toys, are for dogs. That's because dogs seem to go through toys at a faster rate than cats, and owners tend to indulge their emotive personalities more. Dog toys also cost a tiny bit more, or $5 to $9 per toy as opposed to $3 to $5.50 for cats.
Cats aren't big on treats, either. A $2.50 jar of catnip and a few cheap felt mouse decoy toys will satisfy them for weeks, while dogs go through Milk Bones ($7 a pound), generic biscuits ($6.50 for 2 pounds of the Petco brand), and pig ears ($17 for a dozen). Dry snacks are the cheapest route here, and they're good for dogs' teeth, but soft treats are popular, even if they're much more costly ($6 for 6 ounces of Snausages is a typical price). Most expensive: Dogs
Dry food is always cheaper than wet food, but animals are picky, so you never know what you'll have to buy until you see snouts turning up at what you've served. Here, the price is pretty close: about $1.50 to $1.75 per pound for dry for both cats and dogs.
Cats eat less food than dogs, though, which can make expenses lower. Cans of wet food contain less food for felines than for canines, making them cheaper than single-serving meals for dogs. Figure on 60¢ to 90¢ for a can of wet cat food versus $1.50 to $2 for a can of wet dog food.
Then again, dogs are more likely than cats to settle on dry food. That means cats tend to eat less food, but it's more expensive per weight. Assuming your dog eats a half-pound of dry food a day (75¢ to 87¢) and your cat eats one can of wet food a day (60¢ to 90¢), the cost is pretty much even.
There are other variables, such as if your animal requires a special diet, but that can happen to either a cat or a dog. Your dog may be enormous, with an enormous appetite to match, but assuming you've got a small- to mid-sized dog that doesn't mind dry food, the cost is close to a cat's appetite for wet food. (If your cat likes dry food, good for you! That's the cheapest route of all.)
If your pet eats dry food, buy it in bulk bags for even more savings. That way, you'll pay $35 for 20 pounds ($1.75/pound) of cat food, versus $11 for 4 pounds ($2.75/pound). Buying in bulk for dogs creates similar savings, and since dogs usually gladly dig into dry food, buying in bulk is more feasible with man's best friend. Most expensive: Tie
The poop question
You have to pay for your pet's meals both coming and going. For cats, a pan filled with litter will do the trick. You'll use about 2 pounds of litter a week. Petco's cheap house brand costs $18 for 30 pounds, or 60¢ a pound, and the fancier (if that's the word) Yesterday's News brand goes for about 73¢ a pound. So for a cat, you'll spend about $1.20 to $1.50 a week to help it take care of business.
This is where the expenses really mount for dogs. If you have a yard, pooping is free as long as there's someone around to let it out. If you don't, or if need someone to walk it, you'll pay. Poop collection bags cost $9 for 60 or $15 for 120, so you'll spend about 12¢ to 15¢ each time your dog goes to the potty. Assuming that happens twice a day, you'll spend $1.68 to $2.10 a week for bags. That's not much more than cats. So if you walk your dog yourself, it's a tie.
But if you work a lot, or travel a lot, you'll pay more for a dog. If you have to leave home for a couple of days, a cat can make do with plenty of water, food, and a clean litter box. But a dog will eat your house. They require daily attention and exercise, while cats generally don't.
Hiring someone to walk your dog will hit you for $15 to $25 per walk. Hiring someone to walk your cat is just an exercise in madness.
And when you go away, boarding a cat costs about $15 a day, while dogs start at $18 for animals under 30 pounds and scales up for heavier dogs, typically capping out in the mid-$20s. That's the price in both a typical town (Penrod Kennels in Milton-Freewater, OR), and in the big city (Barks 5th Avenue in Houston), although there's no shortage of luxury kennels and indulgent doggy day care facilities to milk you of far more cash. Most expensive for apartment or city people: Dogs.
The results are clear, and it's not even by a whisker. For most lifestyles, dogs are higher-maintenance so they're more expensive. Although cats and dogs tie in some arenas, there's not a single category in which cats are pricier.
Some dog owners might say there are some benefits to the extra spending. Dogs can be taken with you on vacation, they can play with you at the park or accompany you on long walks, and they're vastly more social and playful than cats. A cynical pet owner could argue that they get more return for their dollar on that count, though of course, the self-reliance, low maintenance, and soothing presence of a cat are selling characteristics on their own.
There are lots of variables, including where you live, the size of your pet and the amount of free time you can spend at home taking care of your it, and the health of your animal. But with all things being equal, cats have the edge.
You can significantly cut down on surrogate-attention and poop-maintenance costs by having a house and yard of your own, but if you're like the majority of Americans, you will have to factor in the price of cleaning up after your dog, and you have to allow for plenty of daily exercise, which may require some financial outlay.
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