How Much is Too Much to Spend on a Pet?

by Thursday Bram · 8 comments

Before I even start to write this post, I know I’ll be opening up a can of worms: for some people, pets are members of the family and entitled to a level of care on par with the rest of the family. For others, pets are great, but are not necessarily worth spending a lot of money on. Each person decides for themselves how important their pets are and nothing anyone else says can or should interfere with that.

There are some considerations about spending on a pet that are worth talking about, however. There are many new pet products coming out every year, making your pet’s care just as important a factor in your budget as any other part of your life.

The Cultural Status of Pets

The way that we, as a culture, treat pets has evolved significantly. Until the 20th century, dogs and cats were more commonly working animals than pets. A cat kept the mouse down, a dog herded sheep and so on. Keeping other pets, such as guinea pigs or rabbits, was also less prevalent. Furthermore, working animals were certainly considered more replaceable, despite an awareness of their value. It’s worth keeping in mind how quickly the way we view animals has shifted.

Now, it is not uncommon for a pet to receive high levels of care that are not out of line with how we treat the two-legged members of our families. There are treatments (albeit expensive ones) for most animal ailments, insurance for pet health care, even specialized diets. If you try, it’s possible to spend as much on a pet as on a child. Keeping your pet spending in line with your own concerns for your pets can be a surprisingly difficult process.

Deciding Ahead of Time

While gourmet pet treats and fancy squeaky toys can certainly add up, the biggest danger to a pet care budget is typically health care. We love our pets and want them to live as long as we do, and while most of us know that isn’t going to happen, many vets will make treatments available that will extend an animal’s life. But those treatments come at a price: a friend of mine spent hundreds of dollars on medication for a pair of four year old white mice (the typical lifespan of white mice tends to have an upper limit of three years). She absolutely adored those mice and, for her, paying that money on the hope that she would have them a little longer was worth it. But that sort of decision is incredibly emotional and often comes on us with no warning.

In the moment, most of us want to do what it takes to save a beloved pet. But at a cost of hundreds or thousands of dollars, it’s a difficult decision at best. When possible it’s a decision that would be better made when your emotions aren’t pulling you in different directions. If you can decide that, in the event of an emergency, you are willing to pay so much towards saving your pet, it can save you from the pain of having to make that decision on the spot. It is easy enough to do with every day matters: you can establish that, on a monthly basis, you’re willing to budget so much towards your pet. That money can include everything from food to sweaters if your pet gets cold.

It’s a much harder decision to make when it comes to your pet’s health. For each of us, the amount we’re willing to spend on making sure that our pets stay healthy will probably vary. We can’t exactly put a number on how much the companionship and love of our pets is worth. But we can tell ourselves that there is a point we won’t go beyond, especially if our pets’ quality of life won’t be assured.

A Personal Decision

Every aspect of our pets’ lives are personal decisions. Where I buy my cats generic kibble and get them plenty of toys, my mother takes her dog to a massage therapist and makes him wear a coat in the cold. There is no set amount that is too much to spend on a pet — rather, there’s a number that you have to come up with for your own pet and your own family. It has to be a number that you can personally live with and that won’t break your budget and, if you can come up with number before you need it, life will be a little easier.

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  • Been says:

    Well, how much is too much to spend on a pet? I believe we can’t know it. When we buy a pet (dog, cat…), pet will be our family. When you have child, you might spend a lot of money on child. However, you may not feel spare no cost. I believe it is same with child. We have to give a lot of love to pet.

  • Justin says:

    I keep spending on our schnorkie (Schnauser / Yorkie) pretty reasonable. I have yet to justify pet insurance but it maybe a matter of time, it seems frivolous but if something happened to the little mutt or he got sick I’d be hard pressed not spend whatever I could afford if it meant he got to stay with us and he maintained a high quality of life.

    • Robert says:

      Good for you!
      Me too.

      A dog is for life, I spend more bringing my dog with me when I move countries than on myself.

  • Sue says:

    I agree that is a good idea to have an emergency fund for one’s pets. I have yet to find a pet insurance that is worth the expense. I feel that going to extremes to keep a pet alive can be selfish in that the animal doesn’t understand why they have to be away from home where painful frightening things are being done to them by strangers. It is an extremely difficult decision to make, to decide to have the pet euthanized because you don’t have enough money to keep it alive. But then allowing an animal to pass peacefully can be the best for both person and animal. I held my cat as she was injected with an overdose of anesthetic and she passed very peacefully. She had a tumor under her tongue and had gotten to where she could not eat or drink.

  • Amy Saves says:

    Back when I was a kid, we had a cat who was with us for over 10 years. She lived outside and we didn’t take her to the vet ever. The only time we did was when she got skin cancer on her nose and the vet couldn’t do anything to save her. I think spending money on your pets is a very personal decision. You just gotta know if it’s within your budget.

  • Casey says:

    For what it’s worth, a shelter and/or rescue animal can be a wonderful contribution to your family. The cost is generally a lot less in the beginning (adoption fees in my area range from 50-105, depending on the animal, and that includes spay/neuter and vaccinations). Also, you get the good karma and feeling of doing something good for another living being. Check out local shelters/pounds/rescue groups in your area. There are great organizations on facebook, and some are even breed specific. (Husky rescues, retriever rescues, pit-bull rescues).

    You may also, like I have, found a vet in your area that will work within your specific payment abilities. We just recently had to put down our beloved 13 year old retriever due to tumors (she had survived parvo twice in her life), and the vet worked with us beautifully on payment arrangements. The worst cost is emergency care needs, so I have savings set aside specifically for that.

  • Bri says:

    Thanks for this insight. I have spent a great deal of money on my pet recently. I live in a foreign country outside of the States. The people here do not think of pets as “family members” the way people Stateside do. Actually, they consume dogs as food. So, it has been hard for me to reconcile spending so much money on my dog that I do. However, the vast majority of purchases have been medically related. As long as your overall financial goals are intact, I think it is important to allow oneself to spend money on a pet as one would a child, especially for those of us that will never have children. Great blog post and thanks for not judging those of us that spend a lot of our little fluff nuggets that bring unyielding joy.

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