Published: November 26, 2010

November 27, 2010    

Andrew and Julie Sacks estimated that they spent $15,000 a year on Skye, their black Labrador. He has a dog walker to take care of him when they
are at work, and he goes to camp when they go away.

PEOPLE love their pets, but how often do they think about the costs? The question is akin to asking which child we love more.

Yet the reality is that pets cost far more than many people expect. And right now, as the economy continues to stumble, those costs have become a burden to many people, like the cat lover who cannot afford medical care or the horse owner struggling with boarding fees.

The problem is that the general information out there is not realistic. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates the cost for a large dog at $875 a year for food, medical expenses, toys and a few related expenses, and $560 for first-year setup costs. The estimate for a cat is $670 a year, with first-year expenses of $365, for a total of $1,035.

When I looked at these numbers, I thought they were taken from Voltaire’s “Candide”: derived from the best of all possible worlds. This month alone, my wife and I spent $600 on one Labrador retriever with a bladder infection who needed some kidney tests and $300 on the other one for an injured paw. This did not include the food for the two of them and our Maine Coon cat, nor their monthly flea and tick medicine or heartworm pills.

So with the holiday gift-giving season under way, I write this column for parents who may be asked by children for a dog or a horse. Remember that the costs need to be factored in.

RESPONSIBILITY FACTOR Many pet lovers scoff at talk about expenses. Dan Denbow, co-manager of USAA’s precious metals and minerals fund, said he had purposely never added up all the expenses from his four dogs, two cats, hermit crab and aquarium.

“No, I’d be afraid to,” said Mr. Denbow, who lives in a rural town north of San Antonio. “It’s a lot of money, but it’s just something we’ve ended up doing.”

But the expenses have added up. One spaniel charged a porcupine five times — with a cost to remove the quills at $250 per poke. Another dog had buckshot removed from its hindquarters. Only the hermit crab has been cheap: food, water and an occasional cage cleaning.

Mr. Denbow said he was fortunate to have a good job to cover the costs, but added. “I realize some people have to make that decision — can I spend $300 to have this fixed?”

City pets can be a more expensive proposition.

Andrew and Julie Sacks of New York estimated that they spent $15,000 a year on Skye, their black Labrador. Skye has a dog walker to take care of him when they are at work. And he goes to camp in Pennsylvania when they go away.

“It’s all about the right team,” Mrs. Sacks said. “We’ve been so lucky to have them.”

Some people may find this excessive, but what else are they going to do with him? He needs to be walked during the day and he needs to be boarded when they go away. Kennels are not cheap, with board costing a minimum of $50 a night.

But they are not complaining. Mr. Sacks, who runs Agency Sacks, a consultant that works with the affluent, said Skye’s brother Moose recently had a sock removed from his stomach at a cost of about $6,000.

HORSE SENSE Of course, people who have horses will say that dogs and cats are cheap in comparison. And this is where otherwise intelligent people can make expensive mistakes.

A thoroughbred racehorse can be purchased for as little as $1,000 at Keeneland, the premier horse auction in America. But Chauncey Morris, its sales marketing associate, cautions against thinking a less expensive horse will be less expensive in the long run. Just because the price tag is far below the $4.2 million paid by Benjamin Leon Jr., a Miami health care executive, at Keeneland’s yearling auction in September, does not mean that the maintenance costs are far less, too.

“To keep a horse in training in the U.S., it will average $40,000 a year,” Mr. Morris said. “It’s the same for the $1,000 horse or the $4.2 million horse.”

(For dreamers, Mr. Morris said Zenyatta, the champion mare, was purchased at the 2005 yearling sale for $60,000 and won about $7 million in her racing career.)

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Replies to This Discussion

I honestly don't think dog ownership is that expensive (not compared to human child expenses anway!). My dog never asks me for a cell phone or a car--although she is an "adolescent" now. Doesn't care about new clothes or the latest fads. She eats the same thing pretty much every day--high quality dog food, but still, per meal, not that expensive! I take her for a walk every day myself--no need to pay a dog walker to do so--and am SOOO glad to have that bonding time and just the time to relax and reflect during the day. I, or my husband, also take her to play fetch/run to her heart's content every day. No need for doggy day care. There are people, I'm sure, who spent lots of money (arguably unnecessarily) on their pets, but I don't think that's the norm. I think what our dogs truly want is quality time with us...not day care, dog walkers, or "camp!" I'm happy to give that and feel like I get as much as I give. We do have pet insurance for our dog, Brady, but it's less than $200 a year and it's nice to know that if she has some major medical issue, it won't hit us so hard.

Jean Marie, like you, I have been so saddened to hear the numerous stories of families forced to give up their pets due to hard economic times. I can't imagine making such a decision :( It breaks my heart to think about it.
Beautiful dogs! I agree that "ownership costs" aren't an issue and giving my dog, Brady, up isn't an option either. I have also become her groomer as she now has decided she doesn't like to go to the groomer we had been taking her to! I don't know what happened, but she now throws a fit when I try to take her in to get bathed groomed. She is perfectly lovely with me at home in the bathtub (although we both end up soaking wet), so I don't mind and am fine with the fact that it saves money--she's a large breed with a double cost so I always got charged "extra!"
I think you are probably right, but I always took her for an "express groom" where they are generally done within an hour or so and evertything is "out in the open" and visible. I've seen her getting the final groom treatment and she's seemed fine. Maybe she's just more comforrtable with "Mom" doing it, which I'm more than fine with. I certainly don't want to cause her any stress. :) y
Here's my baby...

Another wonderful, well thought out and educational post, Syd!
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