Ranking Your Favorite Pets by Annual Cost

a bunny, a dog, and a cat sitting together

Pets are great. In many households, it doesn’t truly feel like a home until you’ve got a few small, inarticulate roommates who destroy your furniture and don’t pay rent.

When you’ve got a budget to contend with, though, it can be difficult finding the financial space necessary to properly care for a little critter of your own. To help prospective pet owners understand what they’re getting into, and possibly to guide them towards a pet that falls into their price range, here are some of the most popular pets in America, ranked from most expensive to least expensive.

#1. Dogs ($700-$2,000 per year)

Dogs are great. They’re loyal, smart, and guileless. Domesticated dogs make wonderful pets for all sorts of situations.

Unfortunately, dogs can also be quite expensive to care for. The range in cost for upkeep is wide and depends largely on the breed. Smaller dogs and mixed breed dogs require less food and have less prevalent health issues, as compared to larger dogs and purebred dogs.

Beyond food, you'll need to be prepared for the cost of routine check-ups and vaccinations. If you're taking a puppy home, you'll likely want to invest in some training, which can be costly (but is a very worthwhile investment). Planning on taking some dog-free trips? Don't forget to factor in boarding or dogsitting costs. 

If you’ve got a space in your heart for a canine friend, but not a lot of space in your budget, visit your local shelter. Most rescues will be up to date on their vaccinations, which will save you a lot of money up front.

#2. Rabbits ($600-$1,100)

You might be surprised to see rabbits here, but rabbits can be high maintenance pets. MyHouseRabbit.com estimates you'll be spending around $85 a month on your rabbit essentials: litter, hay, pellets, and fresh vegetables. You need to be extra careful about your rabbit’s diet – an unhealthy or insufficient diet for any animal is likely to lead to expensive health issues down the road. And unfortunately, healthcare for rabbits can be more expensive than similar care for dogs and cats.

You'll also want to spend some time (and possibly money) rabbit-proofing your home, since rabbits are a bit destructive (and cannot be reasoned with).

#3. Cats ($500-$1,000)

Like dogs, the breed of the cat will make a difference in the annual costs, especially when it comes to potential grooming or medical needs. Another consideration: whether or not the cat is allowed outside. Compared to indoor cats, cats that have free reign to go outside often need more vaccinations and may potentially need more medical care in general.

The biggest routine expenses for cats are generally food and litter. And new furniture, I suppose, if your cat feels like being randomly destructive (not speaking from personal experience or anything...)

#4. Guinea pigs ($500-$800)

Guinea pigs can be much more expensive than you might have guessed. Although they’re small, their food isn’t especially cheap, and much like rabbits, they'll need a regular supply of bedding and hay. Between the bedding, hay, pellets, and fresh produce, you're looking at $40-$60 in monthly costs. Additionally, they'll need a daily Vitamin C supplement, which isn't a huge expense, but something you'll need to keep in mind.

Oh, and guinea pigs are social animals, so you can't really just get one (a pair of guinea pigs of the same sex is the recommended set-up). 

#5. Turtles ($350-$1,200)

Once again, the type of turtle makes a huge difference. Most turtles can live for decades, but the requirements for keeping them healthy will range dramatically depending on the breed. Be sure to consult with a qualified vet for advice and guidance.

The monthly costs for most turtle breeds are pretty low, because beyond occasional vet visits, they don't need much more than food, which will cost you about $20-$40 per month, depending on the quality of the feed. The upfront set-up costs are the biggest hurdle, as putting together an adequate enclosure can set you back hundred of dollars. But once that's paid for turtles can be a very affordable and manageable pet as long you make sure to provide for their basic needs.

#6. Small reptiles ($300-$1,300)

Reptiles come in many shapes and sizes, and their needs can vary greatly. Because most reptiles don’t come from a natural habitat that in any way resembles your house, you’ll have upfront costs related to creating a suitable environment.

After that, the costs will really depend on diet and what it takes to maintain that environment. Some reptiles require fresh fruit. Some just need crickets. Be sure to do your homework before you bring a reptile home to stay.

#7. Ferrets ($300-$800)

Ferrets don’t require much beyond quality food, clean litter, and exercise, making them a viable choice for people who don’t quite have the space or budget for larger, more expensive pets. Unlike other small mammals, though, they do require vaccinations and some other routine healthcare (including dental cleanings, ideally).

They’re banned in certain locations though (California and Hawaii, among others), so be aware of your local laws.

#8. Hamsters/Rats/Other small mammals ($300-$500)

Small mammals are a popular “starter” pet for families and children because they’re inexpensive and don’t require a ton of upkeep. They also have very short lifespans, which is sad, but also means there’s minimal medical costs associated.

Like rabbits, ferrets, and guinea pigs, you'll need to invest upfront in a quality enclosure, plus all the necessary gear for feeding, watering, and exercising you're tiny little roommate. Past that, your monthly costs will mostly be in bedding and food, both of which are fairly inexpensive.

#9. Birds ($200-$400)

Many small birds kept as pets can live for decades. Luckily, small birds like parakeets are also very inexpensive to care for. You have the cost of food, toys, and the occasional medical check-up. And that’s about it.

#10. Fish ($50-$200)

We tend to think of dogs and cats as the most popular pets in America, but fish actually outnumber each two-to-one. The set-up for fish ownership can be pricey, depending on the number of fish and the size of the tank. But once you actually have the fish (depending on the fish) upkeep is pretty inexpensive. Just get the right kind of food, serve it in the correct amount, and keep the tank clean. Most fish will cost you less than $5 a month. Now that’s a budget-friendly pet!

If you're considering a pet, but aren't sure if you can afford one, take the time to put together a thorough budget. If you need help understanding your financial situation, budget counseling is free and is available 24/7. 

Tagged in Advice for families, Reducing expenses

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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