Costs of owning a pet can add up quickly

Posted: Friday, September 03, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) Kittens and puppies at the pet store or local pound may tug at your heartstrings, but new pet owners soon find that animal companions can also tug at their pursestrings.

Caring for a pet can be expensive even if the animal has no serious illnesses or special medical needs, which can add considerably to the cost. It's something many families overlook when they're adopting or buying a pet.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which is based in New York, says the cost of maintaining a large dog can run about $660 a year. That would cover food, routine veterinary visits and miscellaneous expenses, such as leashes, bedding, toys and treats. A medium-sized dog can cost about $450, while a small one will run about $300.

Cat costs are nothing to shake a paw at either, with a cat's maintenance running about $350 a year, the society estimates.

Gail Buchwald, an ASPCA vice president, said that for most people, it's an acceptable trade-off.

''I know that $600 or even $300 sounds like a lot,'' she said. ''But of course, what you get back from a pet is priceless.''

That's what Emily Foley, a public relations specialist in Royal Oak, Mich., is discovering with her first pet, Suds, a black and white kitten.

''We had no idea he'd become a line item in our monthly budget,'' Foley said. ''We've spent $500 so far for shots, neutering, declawing, flea stuff, things like that. It really adds up.''

Then, of course, there's the lure of cat accessories, some more necessary than others, she said.

''I didn't know what cats like, so I picked out one of everything,'' Foley said. That included a modern litter box for $30 and an ID tag. ''I also bought him a bed, which he's never used, and a 'kitty condo' with lots of levels for climbing, which he's never used except to scratch a little,'' she added.

But Foley, who said she's had to cut back on a planned vacation because of her cat expenses, said Suds is worth the investment.

''You come home from work and you're bummed out about whatever, and there's Suds doing backflips and racing around and then wanting to cuddle,'' she said.

Carol L. Bowers, Web manager for the Society of American Military Engineers in Alexandria, Va., has two dogs, two parakeets and two finches.

Keeping the birds is easy, she said, requiring just a bit of seed, the occasional bird toy and paper towels for cage liners.

But Jag, a 9-month-old mixed pug-boxer, is a big eater, while Magic, her 10-year-old mixed Labrador, has had surgery twice for cancer and is on a special diet.

The cancer surgeries cost about $3,000, while repair of a torn ligament that Magic suffered several years ago was an additional $1,800, Bowers said.

Then there are the expenses you don't anticipate, like having to have your home steam-cleaned after one of the dogs comes in with a bad case of fleas, she said. Or the fact that on one recent morning, Jag ''got into my wallet and ate my ATM card and a dollar bill,'' she added.

Still, Bowers said that paying for an animal's needs is what pet ownership is about.

''When you agree to take on the responsibility for an animal, you can't bow out when it's tough,'' she said.

In exchange, she said, she gets ''unconditional love, companionship and entertainment definitely entertainment.''

When it comes to cats and dogs, doing some research before adopting or buying can help a family estimate costs over a pet's lifetime.

Daisy Okas, assistant vice president for communications with the American Kennel Club in New York, said people ''know they're supposed to feed their dog, to pick up after their dog, but they don't necessarily think about ongoing costs that are involved.''

Families should start by researching various breeds to find a pet compatible with their lifestyle and likely to fit into their budgets.

''Do you like to run and want a running partner?'' Okas asked. ''Or do you want a dog that will cuddle on the couch?''

She also pointed out that expenses can be much higher for a city animal than a country animal.

''In New York, the annual vet examination can cost $300,'' she said. ''In a rural area, it's probably close to $75.''

Pet owners also need to consider obedience training classes, especially for larger dogs, and walking services if their job keeps them away from home for long hours.

And owners also need to think about what happens when they travel. Both temporary boarding facilities and dog or cat sitters can be expensive.

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