One sign of a great society – or, at least, a prosperous one – is how much attention is paid to our pets. After all, for all the simple joy human beings get from owning pets, it still takes a little bit of compassion, generosity and cold, hard cash to own a pet and to treat it right.
Consider the case of a farm family I used to know. When they purchased their farm, they brought with them a big, shaggy Newfoundland breed – not terribly bright, but lovable just the same. They fed it twice a day, made sure it saw the veterinarian for shots and received other medical needs when the need arose. It was a member of the family.
On the other hand, this was a dairy farm and when the previous owners left, they left behind a barn full of wild cats and a Beagle, who also lived in the barn.
Except for some gratuitous milk most days, nobody fed any of the cats or the dog who also lived in the barn, spring, summer, fall and winter. They were considered working animals and even the Beagle hunted for his chow. He lived a good life, too and grew old with the cats. He also didn’t have any undue health issues, save for the point that he was exceptionally deaf. He was friendly and socialized. He just wasn’t a pet.
This tells you what it must have been like for dogs and cats in the good old days. They did not all curl up around their master’s feet in front of the fire. Animals, traditionally, worked for a living. Pets are an different breed entirely, so to speak. Pets are a modern idea and they are spoiled and lovable.
How many pets and how much is spent on them is the crux of the matter. I loved that beagle in the barn, but his owner never spent a dime on him. Not even a penny.
Today, in America, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 36.5 percent of U.S. homes have a pet dog, averaging 1.6 per household, which totals 43.3 million family members who go roof, woof and arf when they have something to say. In addition, 30.4 percent of U.S. households make room for a cat and even more – averaging 2.1 per household for a total of 36.1 million felines. Add to that 3.6 million pet birds, 1.7 million horses, 57 million fish, nearly a million ferrets and way too many hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, turtles and “other rodents,” a fairly ignoble category that includes rabbits, racoons, skunks and woodchucks, I suppose.
Reptiles: We’ve got them, too, 732,000 of them, although none of them reside in my house, thank you.
And it turns out, we spend a lot of hard earned cash on these furry, feathery and scaly family members. We spend money on food, beds, medicine, sweaters, things to chew, things to not chew. Birds get bored. So do dogs. Cats get leukemia and we spend money on kitty chemo. Seizures in puppies cause panic attacks and online searches for the best remedies and treatment. We even take out insurance on our pets. And we buy flea and tick medicine, collars, leashes, food dishes and scratching posts. We spend money on kennels when we go away for the weekend and then, just to make it up to them, we buy them a treat and take them to a fur stylist for a trendy haircut.
It adds up. According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent $23 billion on pet food in 2016, $14.4 billion on various supplies and over the counter medicines, $15.7 billion on veterinary care, $5.2 billion on grooming and boarding and $2.2 billion on purchasing the pets in the first place.
Would you like to get a dog? The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals warns consumers that the average small dog will cost $1,314 in their first year, while a medium dog will cost you $1,580 on average. For a large dog, expect to lay out $1,843 in the first year.
And that doesn’t include the new rug, by the way. (Haha.)
Pet care for other animals also costs real money. The average spent on a cat in the first year – the year you buy the collar, the scratch post and the rubber ball with the bells inside – is $1,035. Rabbits tend to cost even more, averaging $1,055 in expenses for the first year.