How Much Does a Pet Cost?

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What is The Cost of a Pet?

Pets make their owners happier and healthier people, according to the Center for Disease Control. But what about pets for college students? Are pets too expensive for undergraduates?

College students may enjoy adopting a pet, but they require a lot of money, time, and care. While a pet may not suit everyone, researching pet costs helps potential owners make an informed decision.

This guide walks through the best pets for college students, pet costs per month, and other considerations when choosing a pet.

How Much Does a Pet Cost? Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q. What's a good pet for college students?

    While dogs rank as the most popular pets, many college students prefer to own lower-maintenance and dorm-friendly pets. Fish, cats, and small caged animals such as turtles, hamsters, or hermit crabs make good pets for college students.

  • Q. What should I do with my pets when I leave for college?

    Rather than leaving a pet at home, consider bringing your pet to college. A growing number of colleges offer pet-friendly dorms, and off-campus students often bring their pets to college.

  • Q. What pets are low-maintenance?

    A low-maintenance animal makes a great pet for college students. One of the most popular pets, a cat requires minimal maintenance. Other low-maintenance pets include certain birds, small mammals, and fish.

  • Q. What can I do instead of getting a pet?

    Instead of adopting a pet, consider interacting with animals in other ways. Options include volunteering at an animal shelter, offering to pet sit for friends, or even starting a dog walking business.

Types of Pets You Can Own

Over 100 million American households own a dog or cat. While they top the list for most popular pets, millions own other kinds, including fish, rabbits, birds, horses, and small caged animals. Some animals are more suitable than others as pets for college students. Fish offer a low-maintenance route to pet-ownership, while exotic pets cost more and require a greater investment of time. 

The following chart introduces the average pet costs per month, “college-friendliness,” and maintenance level of different animals.

Typical Pet Information
Dogs Cats Horses Rabbits Birds Small Mammals Reptiles Fish Exotic Pets
Average Cost $140/month $93/month $323/month $65/month $114/month $252/month $117/month $63/month Varies
Dorm Friendly? No, except service dogs No, except emotional support cats No No Sometimes Sometimes Sometimes Yes, with exceptions No
Low Maintenance No Yes No No Sometimes Sometimes Yes, with exceptions Yes No

Source:, Money Crashers

What Universities Allow Pets in Dorms?

Some colleges offer pet-friendly dorms for students with dogs, cats, or small caged animals. Most colleges let dorm residents keep fish. Caltech undergraduates bring cats to campus, while the University of Northern Colorado welcomes all kinds of pets to a pet-friendly residence hall. 

However, most dorms do not allow pets other than fish. Before considering pet ownership, review different colleges’ housing policies for whether the school allows furry, finned, or feathered friends. Students at schools barring pets from dorms can consider off-campus housing — but remember, landlords also set their own pet policies.

Adoption Costs

The “start-up” costs for a pet can easily exceed $1,000, depending on the pet. Adopting a dog from a breeder can cost $3,000, while animal shelters typically charge around $100. While some rescues include spaying or neutering costs in the adoption fee, pet owners often cover those expenses out of pocket. In addition, initial vaccinations, a vet visit, and pet licensing costs run several hundred dollars. 

Uncommon pets need more than a collar to take them home. Horses require a trailer, stable, and horseshoes. Cold-blooded animals require heating, fish live in tanks, and birds need a cage. Exotic animals may require a special license or permit. Plus, new owners need supplies like food, bedding, and toys. 

Other adoption costs new pet owners might overlook include a pet deposit for renters, travel costs to visit the adoption site, and microchip expenses.

Experience Costs

After budgeting annual monetary pet costs, consider experience costs. Dogs need regular walks, leashes, toys, and dog bags to clean up after your pet. Spring break may mean paying a pet sitter to watch your rabbit or feed your fish.

Not all experience costs involve money. A pet that wakes you up early in the morning can make it hard to focus when studying later. Pets can also limit your own experiences. Most pets need time and attention regularly, and pet ownership can limit your housing options. Since you cannot bring a horse to most campuses, factor in travel time to visit your horse at a nearby boarding facility.

Reptiles, small mammals, and exotic animals may seem like a good option until your roommate expresses an aversion to your pet. Nocturnal animals scratching around at night can keep everyone awake. Pets need to fit your budget and your lifestyle, so carefully consider both before making a lifetime investment.

Unexpected Costs

Pet owners budget for regular expenses, but pet ownership also comes with unexpected costs. Planning for the unexpected helps prospective owners budget for their new pet.

Medical emergencies can quickly add up. A dog who tears up a chew toy and eats some of the pieces may require emergency surgery. A cat that develops diabetes will need monthly prescription medicine. Emergency vet visits can easily exceed $1,000 depending on the issue. Consider pet insurance or a payment plan to cover emergency medical expenses.

Besides vet expenses, other irregular pet costs include boarding or pet sitting charges, replacing pet-damaged clothes or furniture, and cleaning fees. Some landlords charge pet rent or require an extra security deposit for tenants with pets. Aging pets often cost more as well, both due to increased vet expenses or medical conditions related to age.

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