You need to understand what you are signing up for when you become a pet parent

My dog had been feeling under the weather right after Christmas, and we were feeling concerned. He’s been the fourth member of our family since 2008. Gifted initially as a dog for my son, he quickly became daddy’s dog and a Cujo to everyone else.

My wife noticed that one of his K9 teeth was loose. This dog has had dental issues throughout his life, and now at age 13, it seems that they are getting worse. Of course, we spent money regularly to have dental cleanings and had several teeth pulled on other occasions.

We made an appointment and took our boy in to get checked out. The dentist confirmed that the K9 needed to go and another nine teeth to boot.

Dog Dental service is expensive

The estimated procedure cost was $1,300. Gasp!

A few significant events recently occurred in our lives before we received this unexpected dental bill for our beloved pet. I quit my job in late November, walking away from a good job searching for something that wasn’t so stressful and demanding on my time. Oh, and Christmas just happened. That holiday that people love, love, to spend money on.

After I caught my breath from the gut punch delivered by my friendly veterinary dentist, I calmly proceeded to schedule the procedure. This expense wasn’t in my plan for 2022. We only had a few items in our budget for our boy, Turk. They included his veterinary plan, grooming, and a line item for food and treats — no line item for a $1,300 dental procedure.

How was I able to calmy schedule the procedure and move on? We were prepared for an emergency, something many in America are not.

According to Bankrate —

Only about 4 in 10 Americans have enough savings to cover an unplanned expense of $1,000, meaning more than half would need to find other means to pay for an unexpected car repair or emergency room visit…

My beloved pup had his dental procedure and has fully recovered. He’s more like the toothless abominable snowman than Cujo these days. Oh, and he loves to get up at the crack of dawn to get a treat. Note to self and you, the reader, don’t give your dog cookies at dawn to train him to go outside to potty. He may be 13, but he’s got a good memory, and going potty is not his motivation for getting up so early.

Here are five steps to help you avoid financial disaster when getting an unexpected medical bill for your pet.

  1. Don’t get a dog

OK, if you are a dog lover and can’t be convinced to forgo a human’s best friend, like me, you will need to read on for more steps. However, the simplest way to avoid financial trauma when your pet needs medical care is not to have the pet. You can also avoid financial hardship by working on steps two and three before getting your pet.

According to the ASPCA, the annual cost of ownership of a dog is nearly $1,400 a year and more if the bread requires professional grooming. My dog is 13 and is professionally groomed. Based on the estimates, we’ve spent over $22,000 to care for him in his lifetime.

Dogs are a long-term commitment. My dog is 13, and my sister’s most recent pup lived beyond age 18. I argue that owning a dog is a commitment similar to parenting a child. You need to understand what you are signing up for when you become a pet parent.

2. Build and manage a budget

The best way to get a handle on your finances is to understand every dollar that comes in and every dollar that goes out. You will likely be surprised how much you spend on meaningless and redundant stuff.

There are many ways to budget, and in my experience, some are more effective than others. I’m personally fond of zero-based budgeting, which gives every dollar you have a job. This type of budgeting is only based on the money you have, not future income. You Need a Budget (no affiliation) is a budget product that uses this methodology.

Not every budgeting method works for everyone. You need to try a few out and see what works and is maintainable.

The budget is vital because you need to know where you can cut back in the event of an unexpected bill for your pet. Dining out is an easy win for me. My dog’s health is worth more home-cooked meals to me. Maybe you’ve been saving for a nice vacation. Is your pet worth pushing out that vacation? To many of us, the answer is absolute, Yes!

3. Build an emergency fund

It’s much easier to build an emergency fund once you have a budget. Understanding the puts and takes in your accounts is crucial. Identify dollars you are spending and not getting value in return. Trim the fat and apply those funds to your new emergency fund.

Don’t be fooled. This step is challenging, especially if you are battling debt. There will be days when everything seems to go wrong, and you take steps backward instead of forward. Persistence is crucial to success.

It took me years to fight off bad debt and create a 3–6 month emergency fund. There were times that I felt it would never happen, but I stuck with it and eventually won the battle to build my emergency fund.

4. Consider Pet Insurance

Pet Insurance may be a good option for you. I view this type of insurance as an extended warranty, and I avoid those at all costs. I don’t carry insurance on my dog and can’t say if it would have benefited me. Based on my pet’s age, according to NerdWallet, a typical insurance premium for a dog in his teens is ~ $500, and covered procedures still have deductibles to cover.

Do your research to see if Pet Insurance will help you. Many employers now offer this type of insurance, and even Costco has a product available.

5. Decide why you are spending the money on your pet

This one is by far the most challenging step. You have to be honest with yourself. Are you spending money on your pet’s medical procedures for the pet, or are you doing this so that you do not have to let go of your beloved family member?

The harsh reality of pet ownership is that you are likely to outlive your pet. Many people are afraid to let go and dump money at alarming rates to care for a pet with no quality of life. Costs to care for a dog with cancer make my $1,300 dental bill seem like peanuts.

My suggestion is to confide in someone you trust for a second opinion about the treatment you are about to fund for your pet, especially if the animal is elderly. Is there really a quality of life left for your loved one? You need someone that can be honest with you and sees the situation through a different lens.

With careful preparation, you can avoid a financial disaster when caring for your pet’s medical needs. As most pet owners would, I would give up an awful lot for my dog. Do yourself a favor and set yourself up for financial success instead of trauma when you need to care for your beloved four-legged friend.