Thursday, November 30, 2023

Looking to adopt a pet? Your new furry friend may cost more than you think

(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Pexels)
(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Pexels)

While adopting an animal means getting a best friend for life, it also can create a burden on owners’ banks accounts.

At the Heritage Humane Society, Catherine Lanning, the medical team manager, said staff try to have serious discussions with potential owners about finances before they adopt. 

“We really try to counsel them,” she said. “If they’re adopting a senior cat with gingivitis, for example, we ask them if they’re prepared for it.”

While potential owners don’t have to list their income on the adoption application, they do have to list where they live and their occupation which gives staff an idea of if they’re going to be able to care for the animal. 

But Lanning said the best way to be prepared before adopting is for people to do their homework before coming in.

Some might have an idea of what breed they want but don’t realize that certain breeds, or mixes of breeds, come with common health conditions. For example, she said with bulldog breeds potential owners need to be educated on the fact that these breeds tend to have more health issues as they get older.

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“When they come and adopt, they have to understand it’s a lifetime commitment,” she said. “You have to be prepared to help that creature get through life.”

She said looking at the weight of a dog also indicates how much an owner might spend. For animals smaller than 35 pounds, there might be more dental issues while animals bigger than 35 pounds might have more cardiac issues.

The size of the animal is going to impact what the owner spends on feeding, heart-worm medications and vaccinations.

Potential owners also have to plan for unexpected medical expenses.

“It’s just like with a child,” Lanning said. “You should have an account and the ability to pay for anything that might pop up for preventive care.”

While some of those factors apply to dogs, Lanning said cats can also be expensive. But in some ways, the costs between the two animals differ.

Lanning said with her own dogs she spent $200 on training when they were young. But with her cats, training wasn’t required.

That can vary for each dog depending on how much training they’ll need. She said dogs such as a small chihuahua that stays in the house might not require a lot of training because they aren’t interacting with the public often.

Cats also tend to eat less.

“While they still require the annual vaccines and preventative care, you’re not taking them to the groomers all the time,” she said. 

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In terms of preventative care, there are some organizations such as Gwendolyn’s Wish and Helping Hands in Richmond, that can help offset those costs.

But Lanning said those organizations might not always be able to help so it’s better to have extra money set aside.

When it comes to unexpected vet costs, Megan Steele, executive director for the Peninsula SPCA in Newport News, recommends pet owners keep up with the pet’s regular check-ups, keep the vaccinations up to date and “be vigilant” about preventative issues like heart worm and other parasite control.

“Pets can be expensive, period,” Steele wrote in an email. “Adding a pet to your family can be very rewarding, but there is more to having a pet than just feeding it, so it’s always important to consider all aspects of pet ownership before deciding on the one that is right for you.”

People who want to adopt a pet from the shelter meet with an adoption counselor to go over the adoption process and to match the person or family with a pet that fits their lifestyle, Steele said.

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Steele said when it comes to veterinary care, she doesn’t think one animal is less expensive that the other but it depends on the pet.

“Cats require a lot of the same things that dogs do: feeding, medical care, even grooming,” she said. “And with cats you may have added expenses like litter boxes and litter.”

Dollar amounts

The more a pet owner knows, the better success they’ll have with their new friend which is probably why the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has broken down the yearly cost of owning a pet depending on the type of animal.

Here’s how much it costs to own a pet annually (without any unplanned medical emergencies): Click here to see the full list.

  • The least expensive animal to own according to the ASPCA is a fish at $27 a year and up to $227 in the first year when aquarium equipment is purchased.
  • Owning a large dog tops at more than $2,000 in the first year with initial medical costs of surgical spay/neutering procedures and can cost the owner more than $1,000 annually.
  • While cats do costs less than large and medium dog breeds, at $809 per year, they are likely to cost more annually than a small dog ($737) which according to the ASPCA will cost slightly less to feed than a cat.
  • Out of the “other” category of pets including rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, and small birds, guinea pigs are the least expensive to own at just a little more than $300 per year with small birds closely following at $317 annually.
  • Rabbits cost the most initially among the other pets at more than $800 as they require surgical spay or neutering procedures and a larger cage to live in.
  • Ferrets are expected to rack up more than $320 in food per year making them the most expensive pets in the “others” category. Annual costs for a ferret is about $570 and almost $100 more than it costs to care for a rabbit in a year.

WYDaily multimedia reporters Alexa Doiron, Julia Marsigliano and Lucretia Cunningham contributed to this story.

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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