The Lifetime Costs of Companion Animal Care
Companion animals are extremely popular in the U.S., with more than 90 million homes including a cat or dog. The emotional place companion animals hold in peoples’ hearts is clear—7 out of 10 U.S. caretakers consider their animals part of their family.
As with human family members, however, there are financial costs to adequately caring for cats and dogs. Unfortunately, around a third of caretakers will face an unexpected payment in providing for their companion animal that will burden them financially, and nearly half underestimate the lifetime costs of care. A recent study commissioned by Synchrony, a financial services company, sought to illuminate the true costs of companion animal care, ranging from their birth and first-year expenses through the end of their lives. In doing so, they hope to enable caretakers to adequately care for their companion animals and also highlight supportive resources.
To carry out the study, Synchrony sent an online survey to 1,200 companion animal caretakers and 100 veterinarians in the U.S. to get a representative picture of the country, both in terms of the overall population and regional vet practices. They also included a quantitative component to focus on animal-related financial decisions and medical care. Among the sample of caretakers, 745 (62%) lived with dogs and 455 (38%) lived with cats.
In the first section, the report highlights big-picture findings, many of which confirm intuition. For instance, people get closer with their companion animals over time and see their cat or dog as a central part of their household. To put numbers on this, roughly half of study participants say they see their animal as a family member, almost a quarter see them as companions, nearly a fifth view them as children, and just under 10% think of them as a best friend.
While money can’t buy love, the study shows that in 2020, U.S. animal guardians spent nearly $110 billion on their companion animals. Yet, this amount by itself fails to illustrate how prepared people were to spend that money. A core purpose of this study was to explore how financially ready (and able) people were to provide for their companion animals. In the survey, 45% of dog caretakers and 38% of cat caretakers said that they had initially thought they were financially ready for the expenses, but ultimately weren’t. Indeed, for 25% of caretakers, an unexpected expense of $250 or less was a burden. Some of the most common sources of unexpected costs were vet visits, needing surgery, being hit by a car, sickness, and emergency care.
Overall, the study found that even a basic level of animal care can incur thousands of dollars in costs over the course of a year, with dogs being, on average, more expensive to care for than cats. To illustrate, one-year care for dogs ranged from roughly $1,300 to $3,000, and for cats, $1,000 to $2,500. Importantly, the study notes, these one-year cost estimates do not include health insurance, wellness plans, spaying/neutering, technology purchases, or initial costs. Zooming out further to look at the lifetime costs—including adoption, spaying/neutering, food, health insurance, and general care—caring for dogs ranged from nearly $20,000 to $55,000 (or $100 to $300 per month), with cats at $15,000 to $45,000 ($80 to $250 per month). For perspective, these costs can equate, or exceed, many people’s one-year wages.
In closing, the study offers some resources to better help caretakers prepare for and provide adequate care for their cats and dogs. Budgeting ahead of time is an important step, especially when it comes to understanding the likely costs of proper care. Similarly, “pet insurance” may help guardians protect themselves financially while ensuring they’re able to offer care for their companion animal when unexpected expenses come up. Finally, some respondents felt that credit cards dedicated to animals’ healthcare would be a good option, especially those that offer rewards that can be used for veterinary treatments.
The study addresses an issue that animal advocates care deeply about, namely adequate care for all of the animals in our lives. While some people consider the financial aspects of bringing a new animal into their lives, many people don’t consider this component of animal guardianship. Furthermore, even among those who do take it into account, they often underestimate the true costs of caring for an animal. Thus, educating and supporting people in these costs can be a useful way to strengthen the human-animal bond and ensure companion animals get the care they need to thrive.