3 Tips to Identifying the Real (Hidden) Costs
I love animals. I own a dog and love cats, but am very allergic to them, or I would probably own a cat too. I am not here to advocate against pets. My dog is 13 years old and he’s my first dog ever, so I’m aware he’s not long for this earth — although my family and I will be crushed when he passes.
By owning a dog, I have tacitly committed to walking him daily, picking up his poop, getting him shots, finding him care when we’re traveling and many more. There are many ways to find out the lifetime cost of a pet with a quick google search. I’ll refer to these as the known unknowns.
From my brief estimate (not thorough):
- Food: $500-$1000+/year (depends on size of dog + food quality)
- Vet: $250-$500/year (will vary)
- Medication: $100-$300/year (flea/tick, heartworm, etc)
- Grooming: $300+/year (depends on coat type)
- Boarding: $250/year (depends on your travel)
- Accessories: $50+/year (leash, bowl, poop bags, bed, blanket, etc)
$2500+/year is the total of these items, which can definitely increase very quickly and is probably a bit low. Most people are vaguely aware of these before buying a pet whether they do a pet budget or not. We gladly commit to these costs even if we are still a bit surprised when every vet visit happens.
Another known unknown “cost” is picking up poop. Most people know that getting a dog comes with the responsibility of keeping areas clean after your pet poops. But most probably don’t think of it in the sheer volume. If you assume a dog lives 10-14 years (depends on breed, of course) and they poop 1x per day, you are looking at 3,650–5,110 poop pickups over the course dog ownership.
Kids who are negotiating with parents to get them to let them get a dog tend to promise to take care of the pets, but they don’t envision the entire stack of work that will be needed in the appropriate volume.
The more interesting costs I’m trying to identify are the unknown unknowns.
One entire segment of cost that is not commonly discussed is stress. My dog is very interested in eating his own poop and will do so whenever possible. After partaking, he often barfs it all back out in my house, usually on my couch or rug (my personal theory is pets will find the toughest article to clean in your house and then make a mess on that).
Recently, my dog did this and made a mess on my couch which happened to be my newest piece of furniture that is cream-colored. I spent about 2 hours taking off covers and scrubbing, in addition to cursing under my breath. In the moment, I was pretty frustrated and even might have told my wife that this was the last dog we would own.
Do I regret getting a dog? No. Would I trade him for anything, again no. But are my eyes more open for if and when we ever get another pet? Yes.
Another unknown “cost” or unknown known example comes from cat ownership. Cats will instinctively scratch any furniture, clothing, walls, etc that it chooses, causing wear and tear on your furniture. You may not feel this in your wallet since you aren’t replacing worn couches due to scratches on the legs, but your “cost” comes in the form of your aesthetic enjoyment of the couch minus the damage that was done.
Tips to Identify Unknown Unknowns
Being mentally prepared for all scenarios isn’t always possible or necessary. For example, figuring out how much additional dog hair will be on your carpet per year isn’t relevant, but possibly just knowing that there will be extra carpet vacuuming needed can be enough.
I would start first by making a 2x2 grid that is shown above and start to bin your different items into categories.
- Gain experience from others.
My favorite ways to crowdsource experience from others is Reddit and Youtube. Both are treasure troves of other people documenting their experience, often with visual how-to’s or even detailed images/documents you can steal. You can also go to Quora or Medium for additional input or even pose your own questions directly if you aren’t finding what you are looking for.
2. Conduct a preliminary test.
Owning a pet doesn’t seem like it would lend itself to bootstrapping or incremental increases, but you can be creative here. You can dog sit somebody elses’s dog, visit the Humane Society and interact with dogs there, or even sign up to volunteer at a rescue. The key here is this would be something that is reversible and you could bail or decide not to continue depending on what you find out. Maybe you find out that the breed you’ve always wanted is very active and requires twice daily walks of 45 minutes or more (even in the winter).
3. Find a mentor/advisor.
This is a more in-depth version of the first tip, but here you are establishing a two-way dialogue. This is key for delving more into the nuances of the big decision you are trying to make. Talking through your assumptions will help you realize what they are. It may even be helpful to use some seeding questions such as:
What are the toughest parts of _____?
What didn’t you expect when you began _____?
What did you wish you knew before you started______?
I hope this benefits some part of your decision-making process and helps you to think through more of the total impact to your life. Of course, not all unknown unknowns will be bad — some will be very pleasant surprises that delight you, but being aware of what may cause you money or stress in advance will help you make better informed decisions.