It seems simple enough to buy that cute bunny in the window or colorful fish in the aquarium, but they still come with high costs and, often, a long-term commitment.
The best way to prepare financially for these little guys is to talk to a vet beforehand, says Dr. Laurie Hess, owner of the Veterinary Center for Birds and Exotics in Bedford Hills, New York. Hess says that many people with small pets don’t think of health care at all until their pets get sick. By that time, however, the problem may have progressed to the point where care has become too expensive for the owner to justify. “Often, the species I treat don’t have the same emotional or financial value as a cat or dog might have,” says Hess. “You want to give your pet a good life, so it’s important to consider this ahead of time.”
We’ve researched the ownership costs for five popular small household pets. Click through our slide show to see if you’re prepared to foot the bill for a rabbit, hamster, bird, reptile or fish.
Sources: ASPCA, MyHouseRabbit.com, CostHelper.com, ExoticPetVet.com, PetPlace.com, ReptileCare.com, PetSnake.com, AvianExoticsVet.com
First-year cost: $1,040
Annual cost: $660
Total lifetime cost (avg. lifespan: 10-12 years): $6,980 - $8,300
Preventive care is the best way to keep bunnies on a budget. Get them spayed or neutered to reduce the risk of cancer and urinary tract infections, two diseases that can require expensive medical care later. The procedure usually costs about $160, but it can be cheaper at an animal shelter. Other initial expenses include a cage and litter box ($125), toys ($40) and grooming tools ($20). The purchase price is usually between $15 and $60, but, as with other animals, adopting is often a cheaper option.
Diet is another important component in keeping medical costs down. The average annual cost for rabbit food is $190; you’ll want to serve the right balance of hay, fresh vegetables and high-fiber pellets to regulate their digestive systems, preventing potentially life-threatening emergencies. To cut costs, try starting a garden in your backyard that both you and your bunny can enjoy.
Because rabbits’ teeth grow continuously, the high-fiber pellets are critical for grinding teeth down. If a rabbit’s choppers get too long, he won’t be able to eat, leading to a high vet bill.
Hess recommends taking your bunny for an annual check-up, which usually costs about $70.
The last annual expense is a big one -- $400 a year for litter and bedding.
First-year cost: $345
Annual cost: $260
Total lifetime cost (avg. lifespan of Syrian hamster: 2-3 years): $605 - $865
With these little guys. supplies will be your greatest expense, with an estimated cost of $210 each year for litter and bedding. To save money, use newspaper or plain, unscented toilet paper. Food averages about $50 a year for basic hamster mix from a pet store. Vet costs can stay low; just be sure to keep some type of chew-toy in Hammie’s cage, because like rabbits, hamsters’ teeth never stop growing. If they get too long, the hamster won’t be able to eat and will require medical care.
Initially, you will also need to purchase a cage ($40) and toys, such as a hamster wheel ($25). Large cages with tubes and tunnels often cost more and are harder to clean, so make your own obstacle course instead with old toilet-paper rolls. As for the actual hamster, he will usually only cost $15 to $20.
First-year cost: $295
Annual cost: $185 (plus unforeseen vet costs)
Total lifetime cost (avg. lifespan of parakeet: 15-18 years): $2,885 - $3,440
A pet bird doesn’t have to cost a lot, but medical expenses can quickly escalate if you’re not familiar with how to care for Sunny. Last year, bird owners spent an average of $190 on surgery, according to the American Pet Products Association. To avert such crises, take your bird to a vet who is familiar with the species, and learn about common diseases that occur and the best ways to prevent them or catch them early. For example, female birds often lay infertile eggs without mating that can become soft, causing them to bind to the bird, resulting in what could be a life-threatening emergency. Hess recommends a seed-only diet and plenty of natural sunlight.
Other first-year costs include the cage ($70) and the purchase price, which ranges from $12 to $65 for a parakeet. After the first year, annual costs include food ($75), toys and treats ($25), and routine vet check-ups ($85). Lifespan varies depending on the species, but parakeets tend to live between 15 and 18 years if given proper veterinary care.
First-year cost: $560 - $1,645 (plus cost of reptile)
Annual cost: $330 - $1,310
Total lifetime cost (avg. lifespan of iguana: 9-10 years): $3,200 - $12,125
Reptiles may be some of the least-understood small pets. They have particularly high set-up costs because they must live under very specific conditions. Proper heating and lighting are vital to reptiles’ health, and an under-tank heater and heat lamp will cost about $100. Glass aquariums are also part of the initial cost, requiring you to spend between $100 and $180 for a 45- to 75-gallon tank with a screen top. Finally, food and water bowls, a thermometer, climbing branches and fake foliage will cost $30 to $55. The price of the reptile itself will vary significantly, depending on what type of species you decide to purchase (a small lizard will be much less expensive than a bearded dragon or a boa constrictor).
In the beginning, also be sure to take your new pet to a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles. Many reptiles must be de-wormed, while others can carry gastrointestinal parasites that can be easily eliminated before they’re passed on to humans. Your vet can also talk to you about the environmental and dietary needs essential to keeping your reptile healthy.
Annual costs include material for the bottom of the tank ($80), food ($100-$1,080) and regular vet visits (less than $100). Food costs will vary greatly depending on what type of reptile you purchase. Some species, such as geckos and dragons, eat crickets, while iguanas eat mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, which will rack up a higher monthly bill. UV light bulbs will need to be replaced once or twice a year (a ReptiSun 10.0 UVB Bulb costs $25 on Amazon.com), and the heating and lighting fixtures will also take a toll on your electric bill.
First-year cost: $230
Annual cost: $20
Total lifetime cost (avg. lifespan of goldfish: 30-10 years): $270 - $410
Unless you’re looking to go the exotic route, with ornate saltwater species and plants, the cheapest pet to own is probably a fish. The set-up will definitely be the most expensive part, with a basic 20-gallon tank costing close to $200, complete with lighting, filters, air pumps and gravel. Some electricity will be used to run the light and filtration system, so expect a slight increase in your electric bill. Unlike with other pets, food will cost only about $20 each year. A freshwater fish could cost you anywhere from $1 to $25, depending on the species.
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