Frugal Pet Ownership Part I: Are You Sure You Want a Pet?

by Nancy Volkers

Some people consider owning a pet to be a luxury. After all, you have to pay for food, litter, veterinary care and "sundries" (brushes, leashes, toys), all for something that is not a need. The most frugal option might be not to have pets at all!

But the benefits of owning a pet can outweigh the costs. Some people own "seeing-eye" or other companion dogs and would have limited mobility without them. For many others, pets offer companionship, love, and protection, and that makes them worth it. Nationwide, there's an average of 2.1 cats and 1.6 dogs per household, so a lot of people agree. And owning a pet doesn't have to be expensive.

When I started this article, I originally thought of "pets" as dogs and cats. But birds, fish, crabs, amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals can all be great pets. An old aquarium, some sand and rocks, a bowl of water and a couple of shells, and you've got hermit crab heaven. A cage with cedar shavings and bowls of food and water -- hamster heaven. (You get the idea.) You don't have to walk them and they won't chew or shred your furniture.

A general rule of pet ownership is that an adult must take ultimate responsibility for a pet. Do not buy a puppy because your six-year-old really wants one and you think it'll teach her responsibility. No child under 10 should be given "ownership" of a pet. They should certainly be involved in the pet's life, but giving sole control of your puppy, or even your turtle, to a young child will ultimately result in neglect of the pet and possibly even its death. Most young children change their minds about what they want approximately 1,000,000 times a month. What if you get a kitten for your nine-year-old and the kitten is no longer "cool" to them after a week?

Don't teach your kids that it's OK to devalue a pet's life by taking it back to the shelter or giving it away just because they think it's "boring" at the time. Yes, it's a waste of money (most shelters will not return your fee, particularly if it's been more than a couple of weeks), but worse is that it teaches kids that pets are worthless objects: if I don't like it I can just get rid of it.

A pet is a daily responsibility, and pet ownership should not be taken lightly. If you're not willing to spend quality time with and money (at least $400- $500 a year on food/litter and routine veterinary care) on, an animal, please don't get one. There are plenty of ways to make pets cost less, but no pet comes free of financial obligation.

Nancy Volkers is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in science and health, but is happy writing about nearly anything. The most recent addition to her household is a Great Dane who eats more than she does. You can reach her at

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