College students and the expense of owning a pet

By Lindsey Bornhorst 

When Mary Kathryn Lynch, a junior at the University of Georgia, decided to take on a pet, she said she considered the decision for months, knowing it would be a full-time responsibility.

Lynch ultimately purchased a small dog, but acknowledged the decision has changed her college experience.

“If I go out, I definitely have to be home like two hours before most of my friends,” Lynch said. “If I have class, I have to go straight home to feed him. Pretty much any time in between that I have, It’s for him. So yeah, he’s a big-time commitment.”

Lynch’s dog is a cavalier King Charles spaniel that initially cost $3,000, and she estimated that she spends roughly $100 per month on her dog, which includes food, treats, and veterinary bills.

Aside from the costs, Lynch also said owning her dog affects how she plans her day. For example, if she must study for a test, she has to leave her apartment to study on campus because the dog can be a distraction, she said.

According to a report by the American College Health Association, college students have high rates of stress, loneliness, anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that pets can increase oxytocin levels, reducing those anxious feelings.

However, contrary to the medical benefits, pet ownership can be expensive. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the estimated first-year total of owning a dog is $3,221. Beyond that, the ASPCA estimates the annual cost to be $1,391.

Despite the cost and responsibility, Lynch said she is glad she made the decision, describing her dog, Benny, as her companion and best friend. She said he gets her out of the house, doing activities together.

Although the companionship of a pet may be beneficial, a financial consultant with Fidelity Investments, said owning a pet while in college may not be a smart financial move.

“Some people have good relationships with their dogs and at school to help them, kind of, go through the stressful times of school, but financially, with how much I’ve seen the cost of dogs,”said Paul Bates, “You generally are better off having, having your money saved up in other ways.”

Bates said if a college student is to own a pet, they should make a saving plan and allocate money for emergencies.

Also, Bates suggested that whatever dog a consumer chooses to buy, it is best to pay outright. Financing a dog can build up ongoing expenses.

“Financially it’s just a negative,” Bates said. “There is no financial positive to a dog unless it’s some type of service animal.” But he said there can be an argument made in favor of the emotional support a pet can provide a college student.

Bates suggested students interested in pet ownership should consider owning a cat or another lower-maintenance animal rather than a dog, which he compared to having a “14-year-old kid” around.

He said you could leave it at home alone for a while, but it still needs food, medical care and attention. Additionally, unexpected costs come with owning a pet, such as vet visits and boarding fees.

“It’s just ongoing costs,” Bates said. “You’ve got to add up all the cost structures, not just food. Food’s a minor thing, honestly.”


Lindsey Bornhorst is a journalism student at the University of Georgia

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