We have one really nice rug in our house: a Turkish wool number that my husband inherited from an aunt.
That sum paled compared with what a relative could have faced in vet bills when her dog developed a series of serious but treatable ailments. The bills topped $16,000. Luckily, she had bought pet insurance right before the first diagnosis, and most of the bills were covered.
"That 'free' dog has cost us $10,000 so far," Powers wrote on my Facebook fan page.
Dogs aren't the only animals that cost their owners money. Readers described surgeries to treat horses with colic, cats that required diabetes medication and dental treatments, and even a lizard that received two months of expensive care before it died.
The point is: Pet ownership can be expensive, above and beyond the costs of acquiring, accommodating, feeding and grooming the animal. Bad luck or poor preparation could leave you facing catastrophic bills.
|Share of total|
Grooming, boarding, other services
Live animal purchases
Source: American Pet Products Association, 2010
And that's assuming your pet never hurts anyone. As I wrote in "Your dog's bite could bankrupt you," a single act of aggression could cost you $25,000 or more. Even owning certain breeds of dogs with a reputation for aggression can mean losing your homeowners insurance.
If owning a pet is important to you -- and believe me, our dog has brought immense joy into our lives, in addition to minor property damage -- then here are some suggestions for how to cope:
- Do your research. Before you seek out or agree to adopt a pet, make sure you understand the setup and continuing costs in both money and time. This chart from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals outlines the first-year expenses you can expect for various types of animals, ranging from $235 for a fish to more than $1,800 for a large dog. Rescue groups and discussions with other owners of your type of pet can help you understand the time commitment involved. Also, check with your homeowners insurance company to find out if it blacklists any dog breeds. If so, consider other breeds or shop around, since insurers differ considerably in what they will and won't cover.
- Pet-proof your house. Just as you'd take safety measures before bringing a baby into your home, you'll need to consider hazards to your new pet. That means removing or securing toxic plants, electrical cords, small objects and even clothing (especially underwear, which both dogs and cats will eat). If you have both a dog and a cat, you'll need to figure out a way to prevent the canine from treating the litter box as a candy dish. (Yuck, I know, but what's called coprophagia isn't uncommon with dogs.) Daily vigilance in keeping hazards away is essential.
- Invest in training -- and diversions. Our dog trainer Paul Owens, a co-author of "The Puppy Whisperer," notes that if you don't keep your dog occupied it will become "self-employed" in positions such as gardener (digging in the yard) or interior decorator (chewing up the furniture). Proper training and appropriate toys can help. Ask friends for referrals to trainers or check with a pet store. Chain pet stores often offer affordable group classes.
- Consider pet insurance. Experts are still divided about whether pet insurance is worth the money. Consumer Reports advises setting up a savings account to pay for vet care, but if you're the type of person who would do anything to save your animal, pet insurance can make more sense.
Liz Pulliam Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "Your Credit Score: Your Money & What's at Stake." Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. She also helps middle-class families cope at Building a Brighter Future.
Published Dec. 31, 2010