The Most Expensive Pet To Own (Annual & Lifetime Costs Ranked)

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Updated: 19 February 2024
Written by
Cara Carlone
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Owning pets can bring a priceless amount of love and enjoyment to any individual’s home, but it’s no secret that they can also be a significant expense in one’s budget. Plus, of course, the longer your animal lives thanks to a happy, healthy life provided by you, the more they cost overall.

If you’ve been thinking about getting a pet for your family but are conscious of the costs, our team at Insuranceopedia.com have calculated the overall annual and lifetime costs of 12 of the most popular pets in the US – from cats and dogs to small reptiles and hamsters. Here, you can assess exactly how much pet ownership will cost you over the lifetime of your pet.

Key Takeaways

  • Dogs are the most expensive pet to own per year – but when we rank pets by lifetime expenses, parrots take the top spot due to their average lifespan of 50 years!

  • Fish are the cheapest pet to own, with low maintenance costs and a smaller (2 year) life expectancy

  • The biggest annual cost for many smaller pets is pet insurance – which is why many small pet owners may choose to forego insurance for these types of animals altogether

  • Owning a dog will cost you almost double per year what it costs to own a cat – and almost 10 times the cost of owning a fish!

Max Coupland, CEO of Insuranceopedia, comments:

One of the biggest annual costs of pet ownership is often pet insurance – after essentials such as food and grooming. For larger pets, however, it’s often a small investment in comparison to the thousands of dollars pet owners without insurance could face in vet bills one day.

With any pet, it’s essential to weigh up the cost of insurance each year in comparison to the average life span and likely medical costs associated with owning your pet.

Dog’s Are The Most Expensive Pet Annually – But Parrots Have The Highest Lifetime Cost

When compared annually, dog’s are the most expensive pet to own. This is perhaps unsurprising due to their size and higher level of needs. A dog will cost an average of $3,057 annually – which covers things such as pet insurance (an average of $655 a year or $54 a month), food costs, annual vaccinations, housing costs including bedding, toys, bowls, leads etc, and the one-off cost of adoption, which averages $466.50.

Food costs for a dog average $510 per year, or $42.50 a month. The exact cost of feeding your dog will depend on its size, the frequency you need to feed your dog (some dogs require 3 meals a day whereas others are fed once or twice a day), and the quality of the food you buy.

Likewise, vet costs for dogs average $1,100 per year, which includes things like health checks and dental care. Depending on your dog’s overall health, this could be much higher or much lower – your insurance may also affect the cost of vet visits.

Using the average life expectancy of 10 years for dogs, dog owners will pay out approximately $31,039 over the course of their dog’s life. Smaller breeds often have a longer life expectancy – but will also have a smaller food bill. Larger dogs, meanwhile, tend to have a smaller lifespan but can have higher maintenance costs.

Parrots Have The Highest Lifetime Cost

While dogs cost the most to own each year, parrots rack up the highest lifetime bill by far – averaging $47.6k in their lifetime! This is because while the annual cost of owning a parrot is comparatively low ($951 per year on average), a parrot’s long lifespan of 50 years on average means you’ll be paying out for your pet for a long time!

It’s wise to consider this factor if you’re thinking about adopting a parrot and to confirm its age first. A fully matured, adult parrot may live for another 10 or 20 years, for example, whereas a hatchling parrot could live a full half a century!

Year-to-year, parrots are relatively low cost. An annual vet check up will set you back about $150, while insuring a large parrot is likely to cost around $300. Once you’ve got your parrot’s cage, toys, and accessories set up, your biggest cost will be food – which should be somewhere around $300 a year.

To put these costs into perspective, the average annual US salary is $59,540 as of 2024 (according to the United States BLS), so the lifetime costs of owning a parrot is almost as much as an entire year’s salary for the average American!

Cats Are The Third Most Expensive Pet To Own

Third in the ranking is cats, for both annual and lifetime costs. A cat living an average of 15 years will have an estimated lifetime cost of $22,742 – or $1,503 a year. The biggest annual cost is cat insurance, at an average of $400 per year, followed by an estimated $375 per year for food.

Cats are the second most expensive animal to adopt, averaging $192.50 for one cat, and rack up an estimated $80 – $287.50 in health-related expenses per year. In addition, owning a cat will cost you approximately $168 a year in housing costs, such as bedding, toys, scratch posts, litter and litter trays etc.

Small Animals (Rabbits, Guinea Pigs etc.) Cost Between $937 – $570 A Year

Another common pet group to own are small mammals, such as rabbits, guinea pegs, ferrets, and hamsters.

As the largest of the group, rabbits are also the most expensive pet to own in this category – costing an estimated $937 per year or $8,071 in their longer lifetime of an estimated 8.5 years. Next are guinea pigs and ferrets, both costing an average of $5,000 in their lifetime – with slightly higher annual costs for guinea pigs, $824, compared to ferrets ($794) who have a slightly longer life expectancy than guinea pigs.

Hamsters, meanwhile, are the smallest and cheapest pet in this category – cost an estimated $570 a year or $1,530 in their short lifespan of 2.5 years.

It’s important to keep in mind that all of these costs include an average annual pet insurance cost of $250 ($370 for rabbits). While this may be one of the bigger annual fees associated with pet ownership, it’s important to consider how much you could need to pay in vet bills and medical care should your animal become unexpectedly sick or injured.

Costs of Owning Snakes & Small Reptiles

Snakes and small reptiles, such as lizards, are another common type of pet to own in the US, and are relatively low in costs. Snakes, living an average of 9 years, will cost an average of $798 each year in food, veterinary care, and miscellaneous equipment – which comes out to $7,212 for their estimated lifetime.

Snakes will tend to have higher veterinary costs if they do encounter medical issues as you’ll need to take them to an exotic pet specialist – which can cost around $210 per year for medical check ups.

Small reptiles and fish are amongst the cheapest to own as pets. Small lizards will cost around $492 each year or $1,530 in their average 3-year lifespan. The highest cost here is pet insurance, averaging $250 a year.

Fish Are The Cheapest Pet To Own

Fish, meanwhile, are the cheapest pet to own out of the 12 we assessed. We looked at the costs associated with a Betta fish, one of the most popular types of fish for amateur fish owners to buy. With an average life expectancy of 2 years, fish will cost an estimated $347 per year or $565 in total.

This includes a cost of $80 for a tank and approximately $50 for a light, heater, and filters, plus an estimated $210 per year for food for your Betta.

Methodology

To create this ranking of the cost of pet ownership annually and by each animal’s average lifespan, we first created our list of 12 of the most common pets. Then, we used online sources and independent research from large pet stores such as PetCo.com to compare the average cost for food, bedding, toys etc for each animal, calculating an estimated annual cost for each.

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