Budgeting for a pet

Last year I put out an advert for a house cleaner to come by once a week. One of the responses came from a young woman who said she wanted to buy a guinea pig and was looking for a part time job to help her afford it and care for it. 

I ended up bringing aboard another applicant. But I think of this woman from time to time and wonder what became of her guinea pig aspirations. I hope it’s okay.

Her heart may be in the right place, but I felt her finances were not.

Pets are not cheap. While you may be able to purchase a pet for a small amount (unless you get it from a specialist breeder), or even get one for free, the cost of raising a healthy pet can be higher than you would think. 

It’s a bit like the printer and printer ink sale model, or the razor and razor blade sale model, or the vacuum and vacuum bag model. The cost of the main product (printer/razor/vacuum) is surprisingly cheap. But to keep it working well, you need to buy expensive refills (printer ink/razor blades/vacuum bags).

Similarly, a pet bought for a small price can feel like a bargain – but healthy food, accessories, veterinary care, pet insurance, and pet-sitters are expensive. And the expenses continue for years. 

If you are considering a furry addition to the family, make sure you consider and budget for the potential costs involved. 

Cost of owning a dog versus the cost of owning a cat

According to the PDSA, you should expect a dog to cost at least £4,500 to £13,000 over their whole lifetime:

  • Small dog breeds: £4,600 to £8.900
  • Medium dog breeds: £7,000 to £11,000
  • Large dog breeds: £5,700 to £13,000

It also costs about £500 - £1,000 per year for a house cat. They live for an average of 13-17 years.

If you believe your finances can accommodate the costs, and are ready to start budgeting for a dog or cat, then take a look at the average pet expenses below. This should give you a clearer idea of what to budget for:

Set up costs

Before bringing home a pet, you should look to acquire some basic items: a bed, cage and/or carrier, a brush, toys, a collar, lead (for dogs), ID tag, food bowls, food, initial vaccinations, monthly wormers, scratch-post and litter-box and litter (for cats), a microchip and neutering.

  • Start-up costs range from around £370 for small dogs to around £425 for large dog breeds.
  • Start-up costs for a cat add up to about £250.

The pet itself

The cost of dogs and cats can range from free to very expensive. The animal is more likely to be expensive if purchased from a breeder. 

Preferably, you will adopt (and not “shop”) for a new pet from a shelter. They are overflowing with lovable future best friends. Even when adopting from a shelter there’s often a fee to cover their costs. 

  • Rehoming fees can be range from £100-£200 for dogs, and about £75 for cats.

Vaccinations and neutering

Animals, especially young ones, need vaccinations. If you adopted your pet from a shelter, this may have already been done and the cost included in the adoption fee. 

And don’t be a fool, get your pet neutered. This cost will vary based on the dog’s size and where you take it. Depending on your circumstances, neutering can be done for free or discounted through animal charities. On average, you can expect costs to range from:

  • £110-£230 for a male dog, and £150-£400 for a female dog. 
  • £40-£80 for a male cat, and £50-£100 for a female cat

Pet food 

Pet owners are legally obliged to provide their pet with a suitable diet. The amount of pet food you need will depend on the animal’s size. 

And prices really do vary. Most pet stores carry both low-cost options, all the way up to the more expensive, organic, free-range end. 

  • Cat food: £15-£50 per month, per cat (£180 - £600 per year)
  • Dog food: £15-£60 per month, per dog (£180 - £720 per year)

Vet fees and pet insurance

As a pet owner you are also legally obliged to meet your pet’s health needs. This includes protection from pain, injury, suffering and disease and treatment if they become ill or injured.

Vet bills do not come cheap. Nor does pet medication. It’s a good idea to get pet insurance and set up an emergency fund in case cash is needed for expensive vet treatments. Pet insurance may seem pricey, but it’s a bargain when you consider that pet insurance claims can run into the thousands.

  • Pet insurance for a dog: average £287 per year 
  • Pet insurance for a cat: average £150 per year


When you travel you will need to pay for the pet to be looked after if you can’t take it away with you. If you’re lucky, a good friend will look after your pet for free. Otherwise, you may need a pet sitter.

  • Pet sitters charge between £10-£15 per hour

If your heart is set on adopting a pet, but are unsure how to budget for a pet, use a budgeting app like Money Dashboard. This open banking app makes it easy to see a breakdown of your finances, decide where you can save money, set budget goals, and track your success each month as you save towards them.

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All content is for informational purposes only and is the opinion of the author. Nothing on this website should be interpreted as "advice". Money Dashboard Ltd make no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors or omissions or any damages arising from its display or use.

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