More than 23 million American households adopted a new pet during the pandemic. And many weren't budgeting ahead.

More than 23 million American households adopted a new pet during the pandemic.

They weren’t alone. Those pandemic pets brings the total number of American households with pets to more than 90 million, or more than 2 out of 3 households—which together spent $31.4 billion on veterinary care for their pets in 2020.

That’s according to a new “Lifetime of Care study” from Synchrony. The study, based on an online survey of 1,200 pet owners and 100 veterinarians,  showed that roughly half of all pet owners—new and old—"underestimated” the lifetime cost of owning a pet, which ranges from $20,000 to $55,000 for dogs and $15,000 to $45,000 for cats.

For the purposes of the study, lifetime expenses include initial costs, spaying/neutering, technology costs, and end-of- life expenses. They don’t include health insurance, wellness plans, or other non-basic expenses.

Other findings include:

  • 1 out of 3 pet owners will face an unexpected pet expense that causes them financial worry.
  • For 1 out of 4 pet owners, an unexpected expense of $250 or less is more than just worrisome—it’s a significant financial stress.

According to the study, more than 50% of pet owners would use a credit card dedicated to financing care for their pet. Yet 86% of respondents don’t have a health-related credit card.

You may already know or suspect a lot of this from your day-to-day practice experience (like the finding that 7 out of 10 owners consider their pet a member of the family), but practice consultant Louise Dunn told NEWStat the study’s findings can still very helpful to practices: “It reconfirms the importance to have clients set up third-party payment options prior to a crisis.”

“Inflation is cutting away at all of us,” Dunn noted. And while she acknowledges that most practices provide a treatment plan prior to doing any work, “We don’t always do a good job explaining the cost.”

“This is especially true with our first-time clients,” she added.

Dunn said the study can help with that. It provides  a comprehensive look at the true costs of pet care so practices can supply their clients with the information they need to know what to expect in terms of pet health care costs for a month, for a year, and even for a pet’s entire lifetime.

Of particular significance to new pandemic pet owners, the study showed that first-year ownership of dogs can run anywhere from $1,200 to $2,800. For cats, the range is $960 to $2,500.

And that does include even include pet daycare, which is likely to become an issue as the pandemic winds down and many first-time pandemic pet owners—who adopted and bonded with their pets during lockdown—go back to work again.

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