Friday, April 9, 2010

Are you prepared for a companion animal?

Paws of Cat

Pets are expensive. When I lost one cat to illness, leaving me with one 16-year-old cat in early stage kidney disease, I saw my food, water and litter expenses nearly cut in half. However, the veterinarian visits remain about the same as I need to monitor how quickly the kidney disease is progressing. Having a robust emergency fund is helpful when your pet is sick as debating cost of treatment versus current resources is a difficult choice when you would rather consider is the treatment going to add to your companion's quality of life?

Here are a few strategies for keeping pet costs from sinking your spending plan:

Put pet costs as a line item in your budget. I quickly noticed that without a category for "Cat care", I easily blew my budget when I had to purchase anything for my cats. When I did put in a category, I found that costs were less troublesome to manage and I was less stressed about that large purchase of cat litter or treat of canned food. Make sure veterinary visits are covered. Hopefully, your pet is in good health and visits will be no more than once a year. Add a little extra to the spending plan for chronic diseases or unexpected illness. This amount will need to be adjusted if there is prescription food or medication is required for continued health.

Start a savings fund. If I had any money left from my "Cat care" category, I put it in a savings account. This would help with the vet costs or if anything changed in the pet's treatment. My cats have undergone teeth cleaning, surgery, antibiotic treatment, overnight visits to the vet and various diagnostic tests. These costs really add up, another argument for funding a pet expense fund or reinforcing your emergency fund. I have raided my emergency fund more than a few times due to cats visiting the vet, undergoing a battery of tests and dealing with the diagnosis. Save more than you think you will need. Depending on where you are, pet treatment can get very expensive.

If you are in the "considering a pet" stage, start saving now so you have a cushion when you select your companion animal as expenses can quickly add up.

Keep fewer or smaller animals. I could afford two cats without too much trouble, but it was definitely harder in graduate school when I less income. However, there is a big difference between one and two cats when it came to expenses. I have had a rat, several lizards and fish in previous years. All of these animals were less expensive to keep than my furry felines and rewarding companions in very different ways.

Make sure the animal is right for your lifestyle. A cat is a better choice for someone who is not home during the day rather than a dog that needs regular attention, letting outside and walking. A smaller animal requires less time for cleaning and caring than a large one. Be sure the animal suits your interests and time commitment.

And finally, a piece of advice:

Commit fully to taking care of your companion animal. By taking in an animal, you are committing to his or her well-being. Are you ready to see your pet through to the end of her life? Aging animals become more expensive and can develop chronic, expensive illnesses. There may come a time you will have to consider euthanasia. Becoming the caretaker of any living creature is a great responsibility. Make sure you are ready, both emotionally and fiscally, for all that is involved in dealing with your animal companion.

Knowing how expensive my cats can be, I am still glad I was able to care for them. Both have given me unconditional love and I am committed to being with them for their entire life's journey. As with everything in life: hope for the best, prepare for the worst and love your life's companions whatever form he or she takes.

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