The Cost of Pets: Pet Insurance & Emergency Financial Assistance

Have you considered the lifetime costs of having a pet?

Pets are expensive. One of the reasons that rescue groups will do home visits and make vet reference calls before adopting out dogs is to try to gauge whether the family is a good fit for the pet. We want a safe environment and we take the lifetime cost of a pet into consideration. Most adoption applications will ask the potential adopter how much they think a pet will cost annually. We want them to either already know that its expensive or google it and be prepared for the unexpected costs of dog ownership. The sad truth is that many pets will be surrendered to an animal shelter, and face euthanasia, because their families could not afford their care.

Having a pet can cost more than $1,000 in the first year alone, and well over $500 each year after. Depending on the pet and the circumstances, the costs could be much higher.

If you need to fence in your backyard for your new pet, you’re looking at spending thousands of dollars. After that, there are two basic cost areas when owning a pet: the initial costs (adoption costs, vaccinations, leash, collar, tag, crate, bed, bowls, and maybe training) and then the general costs over your pet’s lifetime (food, toys, routine vet visits, flea/tick and heartworm prevention). Depending on the breed, grooming can be a relatively minor cost or a large one. (Long haired breeds require much more grooming than short haired breeds, and so called designer dogs like doodle mixes can require daily home grooming to avoid matting and expensive professional grooming.) Pet food will be a large portion of your yearly pet budget, especially if you have a large dog. Training is an optional cost. If you’ve never owned a dog, then professional training can be worth the cost to reduce behavioral issues. Once you know how to train a dog, you are pretty much good to go on your own unless you have serious behavior problems. When you travel, or you have to work late, you might not be able to give your dog the attention it needs. Hiring a dog walker can help during the day (a half-hour walk averages around $22 per dog). Boarding your dog you can expect to pay from $25 to $45 per night.

Medical costs are going to be the most expensive aspect of owning a pet.

The average vet visit can range from $50 to $400, and routine dental care is about the same. Dogs need vaccinations (against kennel cough, canine distemper, canine hepatitis, canine parainfluenza, coronavirus, leptospirosis, lyme disease, parvovirus, and rabies). These vaccinations will cost between $60 to $70 on average, with the rabies vaccine costing an addition $15 to $20. Puppies require frequent visits to the vet for their vaccinations, but after a year old, most vets recommend yearly visits. As your dog ages, you need to take it to see your vet at least twice a year. Your pets also need monthly flea, tick and heartworm prevention. The risk of a dog’s being infected with heartworm disease each year is 1 in 200, about the same odds as you being diagnosed with cancer. It only takes one mosquito bite. Heartworms are completely preventable, but can be very difficult to treat. The cost of heartworm prevention medication is around $25-40 for 6 months, depending on the weight of your dog, or $50-80 annually. The cost of treating heartworms starts at $400 and can be more than a thousand dollars, again depending on the weight of your dog. Heartworm treatment is a painful, prolonged ordeal for the dog, involving months of strict crate rest.

Add in routine expenses such as ear and dental care. Plaque and tartar can build up on a dog’s teeth and lead to gum disease. Ear and dental care is around $40 monthly, although specific dental treatments can cost upwards of $1,000 depending on the severity.

The cost of preventing illness is always less than the cost of treating it. 

If you adopt from a rescue or shelter, there is a good chance your dog will have already been spayed or neutered. However, if you have to pay for it yourself, expect to spend up to $200. Spay/USA is a nationwide network and referral service for affordable spay/neuter services.

Certain breeds of dogs are more prone to medical problems than others. Any animal bred to look a specific way likely has chronic health issue as a result. Some breeds are infamous for them. Most flat-faced dog breeds have chronic respiratory issues. German Shepherds are prone to eczema and hip dysplasia. Bulldogs face a myriad of joint issues and skin issues. Poor little King Charles Cavalier Spaniels are prone to brain injury because their skulls have been bred almost too small for their brains.  Generally, mutts are healthier and less prone to these types of chronic illness.

 

A sudden illness or injury to your pet can mean an emergency visit to the veterinarian. Are you able and prepared to pay for that? 

Dogster lists the most common canine emergencies that signal the need for an immediate vet visit.

*Cost estimates are from Vetary.

If your dog displays any of the above symptoms, or:

  • restlessness
  • inability to lie down comfortably
  • struggling to urinate
  • not eating or drinking
  • severe coughing
  • abdominal distention
  • attempting to vomit
  • loss of use of rear legs

— call your vet immediately and get your pet medical treatment as soon as possible.

Do You Need Pet Insurance? 

It can seem like an unnecessary expense, but pet insurance can help to offset some or most of the costs of diagnosing, treating and managing your pet’s illness or injury.

Maybe you can set up a savings account specifically for pet emergencies. This is not a bad idea, but if you set aside $30 each month, you’ll have  just $1,080 within three years. That can help offset the cost of an emergency treatment, but may not fully cover it, and what if your pet has an emergency before you have saved that much?

 

 

If you’re unsure if pet insurance is worth it, consider how you would deal with an unexpected bill.            If you’ve ever had a pet that was seriously injured or ill and spent hundreds or thousands of dollars for treatment, you’ve probably thought that pet insurance would have come in handy. Ask yourself what would you do if your vet said we can help your pet, but it requires major surgery/seeing a specialist/rehabilitation/etc.  Translation: it will be expensive. If your answer is do it, but you’re worried about how you would afford it, then you should look into purchasing pet insurance.

The cost of pet insurance can range from $15 per month to as much as $75 per month depending on where you live, the age of your pet, and it’s breed. Certain breeds are more vulnerable to specific problems. Pedigree dogs and cats can be more susceptible to illness, congenital diseases, and hereditary conditions. Animals with higher risk factors (like English Bulldogs) will be much more costly to insure than a mutt.

I have my 4 permanent resident dogs covered with both medical and wellness plans with Nationwide. Most companies allow you to customize your policy, selecting from several deductible and copay options to find a premium that fits your budget. Nationwide insurance offers a variety of pet insurance plans from $18-22 a month basic pet wellness plan (covering exams, vaccinations, flea/tick prevention) to $22-34 a month for a medical plan that covers injuries and illnesses as well and offers a choice of annual deductible  (see VetPetInsurance.com).

The best time to insure a pet is when you first purchase it, especially with a puppy. There aren’t likely to be any pre-existing conditions that would increase the cost of insurance or invalidate your pet’s eligibility.

Keep in mind that A) taking out a new policy might not cover your pet until after the policy start date (usually 14 days) and B) pet insurance plans are generally reimbursement plans – you pay the bills up front. Ask how claims are processed and the timeframe for reimbursement. It can be as long as 4-6 weeks.

Try negotiating with your veterinary clinic for a better price or the ability to finance the cost of care over time. If you’re concerned about covering the expenses up front, ask your veterinarian about payment options or Care Credit, a credit card company for health and veterinary care that can offer a plan and a low monthly payment to fit into almost every budget.

Check out your local veterinary schools.  Some run low-cost clinics for limited income clients. The American Veterinary Medical Association’s website and VeterinarySchools.com have lists of veterinary schools by state.

There are a number of organizations providing help if you know where to look. In some cases, the national club for your breed may offer a veterinary financial assistance fund. The following groups all offer Breed Specific Aid:

Bernese Mountain Dog: Berner Emergency Health Assistance Fund 

Boston Terrier: Boston Terrier Rescue Net

Corgi: Corgi Aid

Doberman: Special Needs Dobermans

Labrador: Labrador Lifeline

LabMed: Rx For Rescued Labs 

Labrador Harbor

Boxer: Boxer through Toby’s Gift

Dalmatian:The Jake Brady Memorial Fund 

Golden Retriever:The Goldstock Fund (rescued dogs)

Great Pyrenees: Pyramedic

Westies/West Highland White Terrier: Westie Med 

Have a different breed or a mixed breed? No problem. Check out these groups:

Red Rover Relief provides financial assistance grants and additional resources so pet owners and rescuers can care for animals who need urgent veterinary care.  RedRover also offers financial assistance for victims of domestic violence and their pets.

Top Dog Foundation “Bentley Grant”: for senior dogs (age 10 and over; breed taken into consideration when determining what is “senior”)

The Brown Dog Foundation offers pet owners in temporary financial crisis an alternative to euthanasia when their pet faces a treatable life-threatening condition in order to restore the quality of life for pet and owner.

The Fairy DogParent Grant provides help to those experiencing financial hardship – specifically when faced with a decision on whether or not they can continue to afford to keep their dog or will need to surrender it to a shelter. They can assist with the financial burdens of dog food, medical assistance and general wellness.

Harley’s Hope Foundation works to ensure low income pet parents and their companion or service animals remain together and to prevent at-risk animals from being surrendered or falling victim to euthanasia for treatable conditions.

The Ian Somerhalder Foundation Emergency Medical Care Grant for Animals offers grants of up to $2,000 to US and Canadian animal shelters, rescue agencies, and individuals to assist with costs of urgent medical care for animals that are injured, abused, or neglected.

Shakespeare Animal Fund offers assistance primarily to those on fixed incomes or with annual incomes below $35,000.  (Exceptions are made depending on circumstances.) SAF will pay the veterinarian directly, reducing out of pocket costs for low income pet owners who need to save their pet’s life.

Pet Assistance provides emergency veterinary subsidies to pet owners in financial need for pets that have a good prognosis.

Frankie’s Friends provides grants to help with the cost of life-saving or life-enhancing emergency or specialty care for pets whose families cannot afford the full cost of treatment.

Paws 4 A Cure provides financial assistance to qualified families throughout the United States who cannot afford veterinary care for their beloved furry family members without help. Paws 4 A Cure does not discriminate against breed, age, or diagnosis.

Rose’s Fund for animals recognizes that it takes more than love to save a life, and all animals deserve a chance. They will financially assist, to the best of their ability, pet owners and Good Samaritans who have an animal with a good prognosis for a healthy life, but are at a financial loss.

The Pet Fund is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit association that provides financial assistance to owners of domestic animals who need urgent veterinary care.

 

The Humane Society of the United States maintains a list or pet financial aid resources by state:

ALAK | | AZ | AR | CA | CO | CT | DE | DC | FL | GA | HI | ID | IL | IN | IA | KS | KY | LA | ME | MD | MA | MI | MN | MS | MO | MT | NE | NV | NH | NJ | NM | NY | NC | ND | OH | OK | OR | PA | RI | SC | SD | TN | TX | UT | VT | VA | WA | WV | WI | WY | Puerto Rico


Companion animal owners must often make the difficult decision to put an animal down or neglect medical needs because of the costs involved. No owner wants a pet to suffer because medical care is out of reach. If you are facing an emergency and do not have insurance or savings to cover it, all hope is not lost. Ask for help. 

Your Pet Is Good for Your Mental Health – Rescue You Rescue Me

My parents need a dog. Their little pup passed away a few years back and it was very painful for them. Losing a pet is losing a family member. It can feel devastating, but so much better to have loved and lost than never to have experienced the unconditional love of a dog at all. My parents say that they do not feel ready, but I can’t help but think of all of the benefits of having a dog in their lives. I have a house full of rescue dogs, and I am very happy. Most people think I’m crazy, having 6 to 9 dogs at a time. It is a lot of work taking care of them. So, why am I so happy? What is it that makes this so great and how can it be explained?

I was recently contacted by The Recovery Village, an organization dedicated to helping those struggling with substance abuse into recovery. Because, according to the Mental Health Foundation, the companionship of a pet can reduce anxiety, depression, and stress associated with recovery from substance abuse, The Recovery Village encourages their program alumni to adopt. They have added pet adoption resources on their website and have asked me to add their link to IffyDog. I am all about helping homeless pets, but their request spurred me to finish my research about of the mental health benefits of pet ownership. I’m not in this just for the animals; I love that doing this is making people’s lives better, in the same way that the canine guests of The Cecchine Hotel for Dogs have made my life better. When one of our dogs gets adopted, they get their happily ever after AND we make an entire family happier. Win-win.

Dog is man’s best friend. According to a 2015 Harris poll, 95% of pet owners consider their animal a member of the family. I wish that I could say ALL pet owners treat their animals as family members. If that were so, we wouldn’t have to rescue so many abandoned and mistreated animals from shelters. People clearly need help being better people. In many cases, having a dog can help. The other 5%, well, some people don’t deserve a dog or cat, and I hope that Karma finds them. Until then, we rescue homeless and abandoned pets.

So, lets talk about how dogs can help reasonable and responsible owners make healthy lifestyle changes. A dog can add joy and unconditional love to your life, AND the mental and physical health benefits of pet ownership can play an important role in easing symptoms of stress, loneliness, depression, and anxiety. More research is needed before scientists know exactly why it works and how, but there is mounting evidence that animals help improve our mental health.

It used to be that animals were a no-no in a hospital setting because fear of spreading infection. These days animal therapy is being used alongside conventional medicine. Alan Beck, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University, points out that all of the major children’s hospitals now have some kind of animal program in place. We know that animals help calm stress, fear and anxiety in everyone from young children to the elderly.

Who didn’t smile a little when they saw this:

Maybe not all of the science is in yet, but we know that dogs can help. They just make things better.

There’s a reason therapy dogs are so effective:  just spending a few minutes with a dog can increase levels of serotonin and dopamine and lower your anxiety and blood pressure.

Science Says Your Pet Is Good for Your Mental Health

My husband will tell me that there is not enough peer reviewed research yet, but the strength of the human-animal bond has long been studied. 30 years ago psychologist Alan Beck of Purdue University, and psychiatrist, Aaron Katcher of the University of Pennsylvania, first measured what happens physically when a person pets a friendly, familiar dog. They found that the person’s blood pressure lowered, their heart rate slowed, their breathing became more regular, and their muscle tension relaxed — all signs of reduced stress. We feel a secure attachment to our beloved family pets, and spending time with them has some stress reducing physiological effects, whether it is your breathing rate or blood pressure or oxygen consumption or general anxiety level. A study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine  confirmed these effects, and also showed changes in blood chemistry demonstrating reduced amounts of stress related hormones.  These positive psychological effects seem to work much faster than many drugs prescribed for stress, occurring after only 5 to 24 minutes of interacting with the friendly dog. Pharmaceuticals like Prozac can take weeks to show any effect.

Let’s start with the mental health benefits of pets for children.

Number one for me: children learn compassion and empathy through pet ownership. While children are natural narcissists, (I have two) having a pet that they care for is huge. Taking part in routine pet care such as feeding, walking, brushing and bathing can help children learn to plan and to take responsibility. Training a dog to do a new trick can teach children perseverance. Being entrusted with these important roles in animal care can build self-confidence, and having the unconditional love and constant companionship of a dog can make children feel important and help to develop a positive self-imageHaving a dog in the home can also provide a sense of security and can ease separation anxiety in children when parents are not in the home.

 

Pets can help children with learning disabilities learn how to regulate stress and calm themselves. All children, and especially those with ADHD, routinely have parents and teachers reprimanding them and trying to calm them down. Children get as frustrated with adults as adults are with them. A pet is a great listener. Pets are never critical and don’t tell children what to do. Studies indicate that dogs can help to calm hyperactive and aggressive children (both dog and child must be trained to behave appropriately with one another). Both pets and children need to play, and walking, running and playing with a pet is a great way for children to burn off excess energy and relieve stress, making them calmer and more able to relax and concentrate when needed.

Dogs and cats can fulfill the basic human need to touch. Just touching a friendly animal can rapidly calm stress and anxiety. Sensory issues are common among children with autism; dogs have both been used to lessen sensory sensitivity and help children get used to the way something feels, smells, or sounds. Stroking a dog lowers blood pressure and can help you quickly feel calmer and less stressed. Children with autism can find it calming to work with animals and in some cases interact with pets more easily than with people. That may be because both autistic children and dogs heavily rely on nonverbal cues to communicate. Dogs have evolved to become acutely attuned to humans and our behaviors and emotions. They may not understand all of the words that we use, but they can interpret our tone of voice and our body language. Learning to connect with a dog is incredibly rewarding and may increase the ability of children to to build healthy relationships with other people.

Caring for a dog can help adults make healthy lifestyle changes 

Keeping you fit and active

Research has repeatedly found that daily dog walks are linked to weight loss. Yes, getting a dog may help you lose weight! Dogs encourage exercise and taking your dog for a walk, hike, or run are fun ways to fit exercise into your daily routine. Studies indicate that dog owners are far more likely to exercise every day.  Health experts recommend that average adults fit in 2 hours and 30 minutes worth of moderate exercise each week. Dog owners are way more likely to hit that goal.

Have you ever tried to have an exercise buddy, to keep you on track? Ever been let down? A dog provides support like a human exercise buddy, only with greater consistency and without any negative influence. Your dog will always show up to take a walk or play fetch.

 

The key is that you have to show up – you can’t let your dog (or yourself) down. Consider it a responsibility to the dog, rather than exercise for yourself. As a bonus, increased exercise will eradicate many behavior problems in dogs, and keep them fit and healthy at the same time. Knowing that your dog may have an accident in the house, or become destructive without his or her walk, can be big motivating factors. One study indicated that walking an overweight dog helped both animals and owners lose weight and found that people who got a dog walked 30 minutes more each week than they did before. A study in the journal Gerontologist found that older adults who walked dogs experienced lower body mass index (BMI), fewer doctor visits, and more frequent exercise.

Improving Cardiovascular health

The American Heart Association links owning a dog with both reduced risk for heart disease and greater longevity. Studies indicate that having a dog is linked to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, all of which contribute to better overall cardiovascular health and fewer heart attacksDog owners who do have heart attacks have better survival rates than non pet owners. Why? People with dogs have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. It may be the extra exercise that playing and walking require, but it is believed that the affectionate bond and social support provided by dogs reduces overall stress, and stress is a major contributor to cardiovascular problems. One study found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted a shelter dog, their blood pressure declined significantly within the following five months.

Improving your social life

People who have more social relationships and friendships tend to be mentally healthier, but maintaining an active social network can become more difficult as we age. Retirements, illnesses, deaths of friends and family, and relocations are all obstacles to maintaining a healthy and active social life.  Dog owners frequently stop and talk to each other on walks, or while visiting a dog park. Our dogs give us something in common and so are a great way for us to spark up conversations and meet new people. People really open up and want to talk about their best friend. If you are looking to meet people, you can’t go wrong with a dog park or a training class. You just might get a date out of it.

 

Staving off depression and providing companionship

Although depression is caused by many factors, one of the most common is loneliness. Dogs can certainly help with that. Most dog and cat owners talk to their pets. Companionship like this can help prevent cognitive decline and illness and can even add years to your life, whereas isolation and loneliness can trigger symptoms of depression. Caring for a pet can make you feel needed and wanted, and take the focus away from your own problems. Therapy dogs have been shown to be effective in easing depression for a variety of people. Dog owners in some demographics (including isolated elderly women and HIV-positive men) are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets. Some research indicates that non dog owners in these demographic groups have 3 times higher odds of depression diagnosis than dog owners. We do not have sufficient research in other demographic areas, however the problem is widespread.  The National Institute of Health estimates indicate that 50% of the population experience at least one mental disorder in their lifetime and that at least 25% have suffered a mental disorder in the past year. And depression is considered by some to be more socially and physically disabling than many chronic physical illnesses. We know that a pet can be an excellent companion, providing a sense of security, making owners feel valuable and needed, and just being there to share the routines of the day with. Dogs are an excellent motivator for people to get more active, well known for encouraging their owners to get out and play fetch, or take walks. We know that healthy exercise can substantially boost our mood and ease depression. Bonus: Pet owners over age 65 make about  30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than non pet owners.

Reducing stress and anxiety

The companionship that a pet offers is a great way to reduce anxiety and stress.  This is why The Recovery Village encourages their program alumni to adopt. People performing stressful tasks do better when there’s a dog around, and studies indicate that dogs ease tension at the office. Prisoners have shown positive long-term changes in their behavior after interacting with dogs. Playing with your pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax. Alzheimer’s patients may exhibit a variety of behavioral problems related to an inability to deal with stress. Research at the University of California at Davis concluded that with an animal in the home, people with Alzheimer’s  have fewer anxious outbursts. A dogs companionship seems to mitigate emotional flare-ups and decrease aggressive behavior.
Touch and movement are two healthy ways to reduce stress. Petting a dog can lower blood pressure and can help you quickly feel calmer. Dogs live in the moment, they can help you become more mindful and present. A study in the journal Science explored how oxytocin, which helps us feel good, is boosted in both dog and human when a dog owner stares into eyes of their dog. 

 

Adding meaning and purpose

As we age, the things that previously filled our days and gave our lives purpose will change. We will retire and our children will move away. Caring for a pet gives older adults a sense of purpose and reward, and gives structure and routine to the day. Our pets expect a consistent feeding and exercise routine. Whether you are happy or sad, depressed, anxious, or stressed, when you wake up or come home, your pet is happy to see you and wants to be fed, walked and cuddled.  There is nothing like waking up to wet kisses and coming home to a wagging tail. Our pets provide unconditional love and they give us a sense of purpose, a way to not just focus on our own needs.  They give us a reason to get up in the morning. They need us.

 

Choosing to rescue and adopt a dog can provide a great sense of fulfillment, knowing that you are provided a home to a 
pet that may otherwise have been euthanized.

In so many ways, our bond to our pets can help us to live mentally healthier lives.

 

Tax season is going to be ruff…but fostering a pet is tax deductible!

I can deduct that?? Woof! Fostering a pet is tax deductible! …just in case knowing you are saving little furry lives isn’t enough.

If you were a rescue foster family this year, be sure to write off your foster dog or cat expenses. The expenses have to be directly related and solely attributable to the rendition of services to a qualified 501(c)(3) organization. You can deduct unreimbursed out-of-pocket spending on things like:

  • food
  • medicine
  • veterinary bills
  • crates
  • leashes, collars, tags, and harnesses
  • gas for mileage driven (for charitable purposes, you can deduct 14 cents per mile)
  • a portion of your utilities (as long as a a specific area of your home is only used for the care of the animals and nothing else)
  • cleaning supplies, even the paper towels you use to clean up after your foster while house training (we buy them along with Lysol Wipes by the case around here….) are deductible.

*While you CAN deduct expenses you incur while volunteering, you CANNOT deduct the time you spend volunteering. Trust me, the experience is reward enough.

So, if you foster a cat or dog for an animal-related 501(c)(3) organization, document all of your expenses. If audited, you will need to provide a list of itemized receipts. Save any and all receipts, and, if your unreimbursed expenses add up to over $250 for the year, obtain written acknowledgement from the charitable organization that confirms your volunteer or foster status. The written acknowledgement must contain a description of the services provided, a statement of whether or not the organization provided any goods or services as reimbursement, a description and good faith estimate of the value of any goods or services provided as reimbursement and a statement that the only benefit you received was an intangible one (if no reimbursement was made). This must be obtained on or before the date you file your tax return for the year that you made the expenditure or the due date for filing your tax return for that year.

If you are not yet fostering…this is just one more reason to save some furry little lives in 2018. Check out the animal rescue groups in your local area. There are both breed specific and general rescues. Love Labs? Check out Nola Lab Rescue.

This is the amazing group that I currently foster with  – we always need more fosters!  http://www.takepawsrescue.org/foster-form

Fostering is not expensive. Take Paws Rescue covers the cost of all vetting, and can provide crates, food, anything you need really. Some groups ask that you provide your foster’s food and or crates, collars, leashes, harnesses, toys/treats.

Can’t foster? Your charitable donations to a 501c3 rescue organization like Take Paws Rescue in New Orleans are fully tax deductible and help save furry little lives.