Dogs and Money

I’m in confessional mode today, thanks to House of Two Bows, who goes so far as to publish her dogs’ expenses every month. Our September expenses were positively outrageous, even by our standards, so I am not going to follow suit exactly.

People talk very little about the financial side of owning pets. Most Americans don’t like to talk about money. Many choices we make with our dogs, from food to toys to veterinary care, are a reflection of our own lifestyles and income brackets. Optional items bought for pets can seem like waving a big flag: “Look at Me! I have so much extra money that I spend it on my dog.” Unless you are deliberately using your pet as a vehicle for conspicuous consumption, like a movie star or socialite, that can be a little uncomfortable.

I sincerely believe that most Americans would be better off, both emotionally and financially, if money weren’t such a taboo. Hence the following rambles about our dog finances:

The fact is, we spend a lot of money on Silas. This is partly optional, partly not. We don’t have kids. We drive paid for cars. We consider it to be living fast and loose if we eat out once a week. So why not spend some money on the dog? He has a few $25 toys. He wears a $60 leather collar. His dog bed is the $150 model from LL Bean. None of those are regular purchases, but they’re there. (The dog bed was his Christmas gift last year; the collar was his first birthday present. He’s gentle enough with toys that nice ones are worth the investment. [See how intensely I feel like I have to hedge? And you all are a sympathetic audience.])

Silas is also just a fairly expensive dog, in a day-to-day, non-traumatic, kind of way. I’m not complaining, just stating the facts. His average vet bill is right at $120, not including neutering. That’s a real number, not a guess. So far this year we have been to the vet in March, April, May, June, August, and September. At one point his special food was costing us $250 a month. His raw diet is pretty economical in comparison–quick and easy math puts it around $60 a month–but it’s still more expensive than the top-of-the-line kibble he ate before, which was closer to $40/month. That $60 is before I add supplements, which add up really quickly, or treats. Fortunately we come off easily in the medication department. Silas doesn’t need regular flea control, and his heartworm medicine is fairly cheap. The cost of his food allergies is reflected entirely in his diet, unless he has a bad skin flare up.

I’m sorry I only have observations right now, rather than a grand conclusion.

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7 thoughts on “Dogs and Money

  1. “See how intensely I feel like I have to hedge?”

    Indeed, but we do it all the time in our heads, in such a flash — I know it helps me to sort it out in text/tables. And there are some purchases that I can’t always justify, so I smack myself on the wrist and carry on.

    This has been a VERY useful exercise for me. There are months when it feels like I spend a lot, but it’s never going to be “too much.” I can look at the numbers and say, hey, that’s more than I can actually afford in the long term, so I have to scale back next month. Keeping track of finances over time also helps me figure out what my overall average is. Meanwhile, of course I’m just as susceptible to frivolous purchases as any good consumer in a capitalist society. LOL. But these are little lives that I’m responsible for, and “too much” implies that these dogs are excessive when they’re actually essential.

    I also live in a ridiculously expensive area for pet health and services. I think some of the differences in veterinary costs are shocking in other parts of the country… and that regional disparity is something that I think also needs to brought into relief, especially as I think about where I might move after graduate school — as it could be anywhere.

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    1. Our individual service charges at the vet seem pretty reasonable, but we always seem to need a dozen things. And, yeesh, this summer was rough.

      I’ve always kept very close track of the finances; I’m kind of a budget geek. I do feel like I need to watch more carefully what is essential and non-essential in the dog money. A book here, a new toy there adds up. All of his things get lumped into the same category as a “required expense” which is patently untrue.

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  2. I don’t feel we really spend that much on just our dog. But I do spend a lot on things my dog and I enjoy together. She is not only my pet and companion but she is also my hobby. Since I don’t have very many of those I try not to feel guilty about the dollars I spend on agility classes and workshops and fun matches. It’s money for both of us and even if it seems like a lot when I add it up, I think it’s worth it.

    Besides, no matter what, our dogs are still a lot cheaper than human kids.

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    1. Oh, I think guilt and awareness are, if anything, opposite of each other. Spending money deliberately and with at least a little thought is an entirely different thing from “Hey, why’s there no money in the bank?”

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  3. I’m a terribly frugal person so I can’t help but wonder if I’m spending too much or too little on Honey. I don’t skimp on her food or health care. But I hesitate to spend on collars and toys (although I’d really like to) because I know I can find a use for the money that would benefit more people (and dogs).

    That said, we track our expenses and had a real shock last year. Thanks to Honey’s squeakeyectomy, pets was the third biggest spending category after our mortgage and charity. Wow!

    This is a thought-provoking post. I hope you’ll reflect on it again and post when you have some conclusions. It is interesting and important to talk about our choices.

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  4. I have kept a rough running tab of costs related to Bel. These do not include food or regular vet expenses, but it does include her original price ($300) but not the trip to get her. And it includes all her major vet bills, and includes all vet bills incurred by Toby because of her attacks on him. I asked my friend M. if she thought I was accurate (she’s got a better memory and a better head for numbers than me) and she said I was probably lowballing it. We’re at about $12,000 now. I like to trot that number out on the Shiba forum a lot, when people are trying to justify buying a “cheaper” puppy from a mill or byb.

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    1. I believe it. Our number, including food and a good number of frivolous expenses, is over $3000, in less than 18 months. No major vet bills, although we had a skin growth removed and biopsied that pushed his neuter up to $600. The frozen raw food he ate for a few months (his stomach was so bad that he wouldn’t eat anything else) was $250-ish a month. His training classes aren’t optional; not as long as we’re in a city this big.

      Some of that, like I said, is frivolous. Expensive treats, that kind of thing. (Although he can’t eat the cheap ones, these days.) But this summer was basically $260-$500/month just for food and vet bills.

      We can afford it, and I don’t begrudge it at all, (as I can understand you might with crazy Bel), but I do hope we don’t continue at this pace forever.

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