Seeing a box of “free” kittens or puppies at the local flea market or in the back of a truck outside the store can be very tempting for any animal lover, but you have to take a minute and ask your self one important question, can I afford a free pet?

Before you ever take on the responsibility of owning a pet, regardless of the type of pet you choose, you need to be financially ready to handle their proper care.    At the very minimum, all pets will require shelter, food and water, and veterinary care.   Researching your pet’s needs and planning out a budget before you bring them home will help make pet ownership much better for everyone.  Different pets can have different life expectancies and a wide range of expenses that will be your responsibility for the lifetime of that pet.  Here are a few things to consider before taking on that responsibility:

Besides deciding on the type of pet that you want, you will need to determine how you are going to get that pet.   Are you going to your local shelter or are you purchasing from a breeder?   Local shelters and rescues will have adoption fees.   Often, they will include microchips, spay/neuter, and vaccinations, but not always.   Find out what their fees are and what is included with that fee.  Breeders can be more expensive.   They may have provided some upfront veterinary care, as well, but again not always.   Finding out exactly what you are paying for up front is important in your financial plans.

All pets need proper shelter.   Research what is recommended for the type of pet you are bringing home.  Some exotic pets (such as snakes and lizards) need specific temperature settings and lighting.  Size of the cage/aquarium is important and can vary in cost.   Will your pet need special bedding?  How often does it need to be changed for proper hygiene?  These are questions that you need to think about before you get the pet home and realize it is more expensive than you thought.    If you are getting a cat or a dog, think about if you are going to keep it as an indoor pet, outdoor pet, or both? Whether they are inside or outside, they will need a place to stay safe and secure.    You will need to have the proper supplies for feeding and watering your pet, as well.

Nutritional needs can vary with pets.   While there are many pet foods available commercially, you will have to make sure that you are getting a diet that meets all the nutritional requirements of your specific pet.   You may end up with a pet that has a medical condition that requires a special food, this can make costs go up for you.    Dietary supplements and daily medications may be required for your pet, as well.

Veterinary care can be expensive.   Depending on the type of pet you choose, you will need to be prepared for proper veterinary care to keep them healthy.   Dogs and cats should be seen yearly for a physical exam and vaccinations.   Where you live and the lifestyle of your pet (are they around other animals? or do they never leave the house?) can change the recommendations from your veterinarian.   They may recommend different vaccinations and preventative medications.   Many of these medications are dosed based on the weight of your pet, so larger pets are going to be more expensive to own versus smaller pets.  Puppies and kittens should be seen more often initially for  proper vaccinations and  will have the expense of spaying/neutering , if needed.   Senior pets may need to be seen more often, especially if they develop medical conditions as they age.   While birds and exotic pets may not need to be seen routinely, you need to be prepared for when they do need care.   Check with your local vet to see if they will even care for those types of pets.  You may have to travel for their care.   Aside from routine care, you should also be prepared for emergencies.  Illness, injuries, and emergencies can happen at any time.  You may have to take your pet to an emergency clinic or a veterinary specialist depending on the situation and the timing.  They can be more expensive than your regular veterinarian.   Having a plan and an emergency fund set up ahead of time can help alleviate some of the stress that can happen with these situations.   Veterinary care in these cases can vary from hundreds to thousands of dollars.   Being financially ready can make decision making about your pet and not your financial situation.

There can be many more expenses to think about with any pet.  A few more to consider are grooming, obedience, and boarding expenses.   If you own a breed that requires routine grooming visits, you need to budget for it.   If you are a frequent traveler, you will need to plan for your pet’s care while you are gone.  Whether you have a pet sitter come to your home or you go to a boarding facility,  you will have to pay.  If you are taking your pet with you, you will have to have a secure way to transport your pet (pet carrier, pet seat belt, etc.) and you will have to make plans for when you get to your location.    Obedience classes or puppy daycares can be another expense.  Puppies and kittens can be destructive if not monitored properly, are you ready to handle any damage to your belongings?    All the other supplies that can be a part of pet ownership can add up too.  You may want to get collars, leashes, toys, and treats.   These are all things to consider before getting a new pet.

All pets, no matter the type, are going to have needs that need to be met by their owners.   Research and financial planning are important aspects of pet ownership.   Taking care of these plans now, can make pet owner responsibilities much easier.   Just remember, there is no such thing as a free pet.