The price of love/ How Much Do PETS COST?
Pet ownership is on the rise nationally. The past decade has demonstrated almost continuous growth in the percentage of American households that have pets. Currently, 61 percent of U.S. households own a pet, compared with 56 percent in 1988, and the amount that owners spend annually makes the pet industry a Leading Worldwide enterprise. In 1999, pet owners will spend approximately $ 23 billion dollars on pets, a figure that is expected to rise to $ 28.5 billion by the year 2001, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. For families considering buying a cat or a dog, the initial cost of the pet is only the tip of the iceberg, to be followed by annual routine costs for the rest of the pet's life. And people are indulging in more than routine costs for their pets as well, because seven out of 10 pet owners consider their cat or dog to be part of the family. In a survey this year, the APPMA found that 62 percent of pet owners give their pets gifts, up from 45 percent in 1996. Although Christmas remains the top occasion for gift-giving, many pets receive gifts anytime or for no special occasion. So what do pet owners spend their money on? And how much do pets really cost? Pet owners need to know the answers for smooth financial sailing or face a titanic surprise well after falling in love. ROUTINE COSTS Dogs and cats are the principal pets responsible for the rise in pet ownership, according to the APPMA. The current level of dog ownership is the highest recorded in 10 years, and more than five out of 10 U.S. households that have a pet, own either a cat or a dog. For many pet owners, the first big financial outlay is the cost of the pet itself, especially if the pet is a purebred cat or dog. Bailey and Hershey, purebred Labrador retrievers cost $ 600 and $ 900 respectively when they were bought as puppies from a Hanover pet shop in 1997. Since slightly more than one-half of dogs owned are purebreds, their owners pay significant up-front costs for them. The average spent to purchase dogs is $ 89, but this includes people who got their dogs free. This compares with an average cost of $ 15.92 for a cat; 70 percent of owners reported that their cat was free. After the initial purchase price, pet owners must consider spaying or neutering their pets. They should take advantage of promotions run annually by veterinary hospitals, especially if they own more than one pet. Vaccinations, registration with the town and a rabies shots are other expenses encountered by the pet owner. Pet owners spend the bulk of their money on annual care. Annual care costs are primarily for food and veterinary visits. Both cat and dog owners tend to buy dry, premium-brand pet food, the cost of which can add up, depending on the size and number of the pets. Dog owners took their pets to the vet an average of twice a year and spent an average of $ 152 in 1998 on veterinary care (excluding diet, board and grooming). Cat owners took their cats once and spent an average of $ 68. The American Veterinary Medical Association says pet owners spend about $ 200 annually on pet health care, making that the top expense. After food and veterinary care, dental care ranks as the biggest expense that pet owners should, but often do not, spend their money on. "Dogs and cats have the same dental problems that people do," said Robert Powell, the hospital administrator for the Veterinary Centers of America, based in Weymouth. "When you smell that doggy bad breath, that is a sign that your dog needs his teeth attended to." Dental care costs approximately $ 200 a year for an annual exam, which includes cleaning, polishing, and a checkup, and $ 300 for an older dog and the blood work necessary to the exam. Boarding costs are also a significant annual expense. Debbie O'Brien, owner of the Happy Paw Kennel in Braintree, charges $ 15 a day for 24-hour care. She understands that owners have to be comfortable with where they leave their dogs, and recommends that people check a kennel carefully before boarding. Reserving room early, especially around the holidays, is the best strategy, and "people will spend the money if they know where their pet is going," she said. EXTRAORDINARY SPENDING "We see a wide range of attitudes among pet owners; for some of them, the pets are like their children; for others, they are more detached and are willing to make an economic decision around, say, euthenasia," said Richard Powell. For people in the first group, the possibilities are almost limitless. Pet owners can buy greeting cards to send from their pet, small seasonal purchases, fancy monogrammed beds from L.L.Bean, and special holiday wear, such as Halloween costumes and Christmas coats. If your doggy's down, anxious, depressed or aggressive, he can be treated with anti-depressants. Anti-depressants cost approximately $ 50 a month for a 50-pound dog, less if the dog weighs less, more if the dog weighs more, Powell said. Dogs even have their own pregnancy blood test, from Synbiotics Corp. of San Diego, which has recently marketed the test (called Reprocheck) for between $ 20 and $ 30. (Not soon enough to help Braintree's Jim Holmes, who forked over $ 170 last year to get a pregnancy blood test for Baily. It turned out to be a false pregnancy). But the register really starts to ring where health care is concerned. Pets live longer today, and nearly every diagnostic procedure or test available to humans is also available to pets. Pets can receive a magnetic resonsance imaging -- $ 300 for a dog, for example -- or receive cancer therapy, with virtually the same medicines and treatments as people. Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins, the medical director of Veterinary Pet Insurance, said that for some people making an economic decision about euthanasia "is tantamount to murder." For people who are so emotionally attached to their pets, pet insurance is the best way to deal with the unpredictable medical problems that can occur. Pet insurance costs around $ 150 annually for dogs under 7 years old, $ 260 for dogs 7 years and older. "When you consider that the potential payout is several thousand per year, it is well worth $ 20 a month for those people who don't want to have to make an economic decision about the life of their pet." Hodgkins carries insurance policies not only on her own cats, but also on some of her friends' cats. Currently only 1 percent of pet owners carry pet health insurance, according to APPMA. Pets can also cost a bundle for the upkeep and maintenance of their surroundings. Jim Holmes, who recently moved from a house to an apartment, said he had to pay $ 1,000 to repair chewed woodwork and linoleum in the house. Particularly with puppies that chew, upkeep of the owner's home can run into money. But cats also can cause property damage by turning couches into scratching posts and rugs into litter boxes. But despite the expense, most pet owners seem to agree with Holmes: "I wouldn't trade them for anything. The money and the time I spend, that isn't what is important." To Holmes, who has numerous framed photos of Baily and Hershey on the counter of his Meatmarket Deli in Braintree, pets are important for love. --- GRAPHIC: Photo,GARY HIGGINS/The Patriot Ledger - Joe Barrus, 8, checks out a yellow Labrador up close at the Shake-A-Paw Puppies store in Weymouth. Store employee Patrick Sweeney, 16, also offers him a Sheltie and a bassett hound for consideration. Info Graphic, Bob Monahan/The Patriot Ledger - What Spot costs Approximate costs for a purebred dog: from puppy to senior care for a dog who lives 10 years and weigh 50 pounds. Purchase price: $ 300 (varies wildly) Vaccinations: $ 50 Annual physical: $ 100 (x 10 years) Heartworm/flea dip/tick treatment: $ 100 (x 10 years) Annual dental care: $ 200 (x 10 years) Boarding: $ 15 daily (average 1 week a year) Town registration: $ 10 (Annual) Spay or neuter: $ 100 Grooming: $ 25 (once per month) Dog food: $ 25 (Weekly, includes occasional treats) Fecal exam: $ 15 (helpful for older dog in diagnosing ailments) Arthritis Medication for Older Dog: $ 150 annually (x 3 years) Euthanasia/disposal: $ 75 TOTALS: LIFETIME TOTALS: $ 20,720; $ 2,375 in the first year, $ 1,975 annually; $ 2,140 for older dogs NOTE: Prices obtained with the help of the Veterinary Pet Centers of America, in Quincy and Weymouth) ---- - What we spend on pets Demographics by amount of money spent on a dog Comparing dog owners spending above $ 300, some interesting distinctions are presented. Those spending more than $ 300 - More live in the east, north central region - Typically live in larger cities - Are slightly younger (44 years of age) - Have higher annual household incomes - Have somewhat larger households - Slightly more are married - Significantly more have children under 18 years of age -- Those spending less than $ 300 - More live in the west, north central region - Greater penetration of living in rural areas - Marginally older (46 years of age) - Have a lower household income - Have slightly fewer people in the household - Somewhat more are not married - More households have no children under 18 years of age -- Annual U.S. Spending On Pets: 1994: $ 17 billion 1996: $ 21 billion 1999: $ 23 billion Est. 2001: $ 28.5 billion Source: American Pet Products Manufacturing Association