Pets can be a wonderful addition to the family, and can even be a stress-reliever. For many Americans, COVID-19 lockdowns presented an ideal opportunity to bring home a new pet because they were stuck in their houses anyway.
But although pets can be cute, they'll do more than just steal your heart — they can play a big role in emptying your bank account.
In fact, the costs of pet ownership can be far higher than most people are aware of. To see just how costly pets can be, FinanceBuzz asked 835 U.S. pet owners how animals have affected their lives — financially and otherwise. Here's what we found.
- 43% of Americans have gotten a new pet since March 2020.
- 93% of pet owners agree that having a pet improves mental health and 69% said they show more affection to their pet than their significant other.
- 64% of dog owners said they spend more than $200 per year on routine care, including 14% who said they spend $500 or more annually. 43% of cat owners said they spend more than $200 per year on routine care, including 9% who said they spend $500 or more annually.
- Pet owners plan to turn to credit cards if their pet has a major medical bill. To cover a $1,000 bill, 47% would pay with a credit card, but 42% of those respondents would not be able to pay off the balance immediately.
- Only 30% of pet owners have pet insurance. Those who are insured are utilizing it: 50% had to file a claim in the last year.
Pets are filling a void during the pandemic
COVID-19 has profoundly affected American life for the worse, so it comes as no surprise that many Americans have experienced increased stress and other mental health issues. For many who are feeling alone or frightened, pets provide the answer.
As many as 93% of pet owners believe having a pet improves their mental health, and nearly 70% say they show affection more often to their pets over the course of the day than they do their significant others.
A desire for companionship and stress relief are just a few of many reasons that 43% of Americans have added a pet to their family since March 2020. Another big reason: Pets can require training and time getting acclimated, which more people are now able to provide as they've shifted to work-from-home situations and recreational and travel opportunities have been curtailed.
Are new pet owners ready for the costs?
Pets can bring more than just love and companionship into a home, though. They also serve as a new financial responsibility — one many owners may not be ready for.
Just under 64% of dog owners indicate their spending on routine care exceeds $200 per year while 14% of those canine-owners incur $500 or more of expenses annually. And although cat owners don't spend quite so much, 43% still shell out more than $200 per year and 9% more than $500.
With the country officially in a recession, suffering high levels of unemployment, and many Americans still finding themselves working reduced hours, these added costs could be an unwelcome financial shock.
Pet insurance can protect against costs — but only if you have coverage
Pet insurance is one of the best ways for animal owners to control their costs and make expenditures on their animals more predictable.
Pet insurance policies are generally designed to cover big expenses, often including those resulting from either injuries or illnesses, depending on whether you choose a comprehensive plan or accident-only coverage. Many insurers even allow you to add on wellness plan riders to help defray the cost of preventive or routine care as well.
Despite the fact that pet insurance policies can prevent costly surprises, just 30% of pet owners indicate they currently have coverage.
The majority of pet owners who’ve purchased a policy believe pet insurance is worth it, with 93% reporting they're either “somewhat” or “very satisfied” with their insurers. These high rates of satisfaction can be partially explained by the fact that policies are widely used, with as many as half of all pet owners filing a claim over the past year.
Unfortunately, many people forgo pet insurance because they fear they can't afford it, with 32% citing costs as the obstacle to obtaining coverage. Although finding the funds to pay premiums can be a challenge, paying insurance premiums on a regular schedule is often easier than coping with a large surprise bill when companion animals become sick or hurt.
For other pet owners, it's a lack of knowledge that is an obstacle to obtaining coverage, with 9% of survey respondents indicating they hadn't heard of pet insurance. Close to 27% of pet owners simply hadn't considered it — perhaps because it can be difficult to think about a frisky new puppy or kitten becoming sick one day.
How to handle unexpected pet bills
Without insurance, many Americans find themselves struggling to pay for care, or forced to take on debt to do so. In fact, 47% of survey respondents indicated they would use their credit cards to cover a $1,000 veterinary bill and 42% of those using cards would be unable to pay off their balance immediately.
A $1,000 credit card bill comes with substantial interest charges when not paid in full, so those who find themselves in this situation should consider looking for a credit card offering a special 0% promotional interest rate. These 0% APR credit cards make it possible to pay off purchases over time without interest, which allows pet owners to get their animals the care they need without increasing the price due to borrowing costs.
Of course, it's best to plan ahead and prepare to cover expenses through savings or an emergency fund if you don't have insurance. Just 12% of survey respondents said they would pay a $1,000 vet bill through savings, but those who don't currently have funds set aside may wish to make this a financial goal.
Is pet insurance worth it?
Pet insurance can be a smart purchase because it can help you pay for emergency veterinary bills. If you would prefer to pay premiums on a predictable schedule rather than be hit with surprise bills, buying a policy is likely right for you. In some cases, pet insurance is also offered as a job benefit, which can help to defray premium costs and make this option even more affordable.
However, if you have a hefty emergency savings account and spending a lot on your animal's care wouldn't compromise your financial goals, you may wish to self-insure by earmarking money in a special account that's available and ready to use for whatever your companion animal may need.
Methodology & who we surveyed
FinanceBuzz surveyed a nationally representative sample of 835 U.S. adults who own at least one pet on Sept. 16, 2020. Sixty-eight percent of respondents own two or more pets, and respondents are primarily dog owners (49%) and cat owners (32%).