There’s no such thing as a free puppy or kitten. But sometimes our hearts are attached before we fully realize the financial realities and other responsibilities of being a pet owner.

Why bring up the cost of pets? Because, according to, “every year about 13 million American households adopt a dog or a puppy and within 12 months, half of them have been taken to a shelter.” While the relinquishment of a pet can be for many causes, costs are listed as one of the highest reasons. Pet ownership is not a right. It is a choice and should be made with the realization that you are taking both emotional and financial responsibility for a pet for the length of their life.

So what is the real cost of that puppy in the window? Much higher than you think when you calculate lifetime costs. There are many variables, but the general average for lifetime care for a dog falls roughly between $8000 and $20,000+ – the wide range reflects adoption vs. purebred costs, first year care, training, boarding, annualized veterinary care, pet food and then senior care for pets living to age 12 and more. And, unexpected costs such as emergency care, cancer treatment or chronic disease issues can raise that total very quickly.

And, what about cat costs? Cats are generally less expensive than dogs, but overall, the cost of owning a cat for its life span of 15 year can be $5000 to $15,000. Again, that wide range reflects the broad range of potential pet care needs and choices.

Some pet care costs cannot be avoided, but others can be moderated by good choices. Adopt a pet rather than purchasing a purebred. Work closely with your veterinarian to ensure your pet/s receive regular preventive health care such as examinations when well and ill, appropriate vaccinations and screening diagnostics, and regular home and veterinary dental care. Purchase pet insurance when they are young to help make your pet health care dollars go further. Feed a high quality food that fits your budget. Keep your cat or dog active – don’t allow them to become obese.

The real cost of pet ownership comes down to how being a pet owner makes us feel. For the majority, the joy of interacting with our pets and their distinct personalities is priceless. That unconditional love and companionship provided by our pets is well worth their maintenance costs. Enjoy them – and work with your veterinarian to keep them as healthy as possible throughout their lifetime.