That was my vet bill today for annual routine vet visits for my two dogs. And as I paid the bill, it got me thinking about how much I spend on these guys every year. I don’t regret adopting them – not for a second. But I wish I’d thought more about the long-term financial drain before falling in love with them.

When my son begged me for a dog, I thought about chewed up shoes, mystery puddles, middle of the night walks in the rain and snow, the extra responsibilities that would fall on me (no matter how much he promised to take care of them)…and brought home two sweet, cuddly puppies anyway. What I didn’t think about at the time: Thousands of dollars every year in ongoing pet-care costs.

Now, I knew pets came with a lot of expenses – we’d had cats for years, and I was used to those costs. Dogs need even more.

According to the ASPCA, these are the average first-year costs for a

  • small dog: $1,471
  • medium dog: $1,779
  • large dog: $2,008
  • cat: $1,174

Once big one-time costs are out of the way, you’ll still need to budget $500 to $750 a year for regular, ongoing expenses like food, grooming, and routine vet visits. An annual teeth cleaning – which requires anesthesia – for a dog or cat can cost more than $500, and that’s when everything looks good. And bills can pile up even faster when you add in frantic (and very expensive) trips to the emergency vet, boarding or pet sitting when you travel, or daily dog walkers or doggie day care.

So if you have pets or you’re thinking about getting a pet – no matter what kind it is – create an itemized pet budget (here’s a free worksheet you can use) and set up a pet emergency fund (at least $500 to $1,000, depending on your pet). These can fold into your regular household budget and emergency savings, but it’s important to look at the individual expenses for your pet (or pets) rather than a single (often underestimated) line item in your main budget.

Bottom line: If a pet is part of your family, make sure to include all pet expenses – including money for a pet emergency fund – in the family budget. You never want to be in a situation where you have to choose between lifesaving pet care or next month’s rent payment.