I admit I'm a pet lover. I grew up with dogs and cats and two cats currently allow me to live with them (I know who really runs our household!). In this respect, I am much like many more Americans. The pet industry is currently booming. In 2012, Americans spent $53 billion on food, veterinary care, kennels and other services for their pets, according to USA Today and the American Pet Products Association.
Pets often become more than just animals in a household - they become part of the family. They can be amazing creatures that offer health benefits for people, and the number of households who have pets has grown. According to a 2013-2014 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey, 68 percent of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 82.5 million homes. In 1988, only 56 percent of homes had a pet.
The reasons for owning and spending money on pets are many. For some people, pets provide companionship. Other reasons include having an emotional and psychological connection with pets or helping children learn responsibilities. Pets also offer many health benefits and can reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, decrease loneliness and reduce stress. The Centers for Disease Control has also stated that certain pets, like dogs, get people outside and moving, which adds to positive health.
People may think of these positive emotional and health benefits of pets and jump into buying them. They may consider the upfront cost of purchasing a pet, but not realize how much it costs to keep the pet healthy and thriving (or how long certain animals live).
Part of making spending choices for you or for your family is understanding what is involved in owning a pet. Costs differ on type of animal, size of animal (for example, small, medium or large dogs), ongoing maintenance and related materials (litter, bedding, cages, toys, grooming, etc.), food, vet care, age and health of pet, and life expectancy.
Call your local veterinarian for estimated costs of services and check prices at stores for food, materials and other items you may need. Going over pet costs can be a great learning opportunity for children/teens. Helping the family realize that choices have trade-offs and deciding how to spend your time and money are skills that are needed throughout life.
Please note, I am obviously not dismissing pet ownership, but I am advocating for understanding costs and making choices that fit your needs. You might find that you want a pet, but may need to wait a few months. Or you might find that the family is willing to skip going to movies to have that pet cat or dog they have always wanted. Ultimately, you decide if those great big puppy dog eyes fit into your budget!
(Ellen M. Bjelland is an extension agent with the North Dakota State University Extension Service's office in Ward County.)