5 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Pet Together

I’m not kidding when I say that getting a dog has been one of the biggest milestones of my adult life.

It’s also been one of the biggest financial decisions I’ve made in my adult life. Between The Dog’s average monthly costs to the emergency fund I’m saving up just for him, he has not been cheap.

Worth it?

Of course.

But definitely not cheap.

I was thisclose to getting a dog before I met The Boyfriend, and going it alone as a solo dog owner. Honestly, the only reason why I didn’t go ahead with it? The Boyfriend made a great point that if we moved in together someday, we could get a dog together.

Having someone to share the cost and responsibility of dog ownership sounded pretty sweet, I’m not going to lie, so I held out. I’m glad I did, because now we have The Dog, who is just the best ever.

But adding a new pet – dog or otherwise – to a couple isn’t the same as adding a sassy succulent.

They don't even really need water, you guys.

They don’t even really need water, you guys.

Dogs and other pets tend to need a bit more time, money and effort, so before you bring home your new furry bundle of joy, it’s so important to make sure you’re on the same page. There’s no better way to do that than to talk about it – but how can you make sure you don’t miss something?

I gotchya covered, with five questions you need to talk through before adding a pet to the mix. Having these things figured out – or learning them the hard way afterwards – has been a big part of adding The Dog into our lives.

1. How much time are we each willing to spend on the pet?

I’ve always owned up to being a crazy dog lady, and I would have readily accepted a partner who was willing to do a bare minimum of work – including the simple act of tolerating the dog hair everywhere – in order to achieve my dog-ownership dreams.

But it’s worth checking in with the other human you’re acquiring this pet with, to see what their expectations are. Are they willing to split the pet responsibilities 50/50? And if yes, what do they expect that 50% share to look like?

With a cat, maybe it’s an easy split of litter-box-cleaning and snuggling duties. But if you’re looking at a dog, there’s a lot more to consider, including training classes (recommended even for adult dogs if you’re rescuing!) and daily walks – yes, plural.

Your entire goal should be to figure out how much work you’re both willing to and expecting to take on – because if there are big discrepancies, you should know about them now.

Fish are always an option, you guys.

2. How much money are we each willing and able to spend on the pet?

Other than time, the big thing you need to figure out when it comes to pet ownership is the money.

I know, this is a personal finance blog, no one is surprised that I’m bringing this up.

But it’s true what they say, that pets can be expensive. When I calculated how much money my dog costs me in an average month, even I was surprised, and I talk about money all the freaking time.

It’s important going into the “Should we get a pet?” conversation, that you know what you’re getting yourselves into from a financial perspective. That includes not only how much money you can spend, from a pure numbers perspective, but also how much money you’re willing to spend. That one is a bit more nuanced, because sure, you could spend $1000 a month feeding organic chickens to an exotic alligator, but do you want to?

Really?

Wouldn’t you rather save yourself a nice emergency fund or something?

Especially if you live with an alligator?

Look at your life.

Look at your choices.

In all seriousness, you need to have a frank conversation about how much you think your future pet will cost you in a year, and whether you’re both willing to shoulder that cost. If you’re not willing to spend that much, or if one of you is less able to, how will you manage the expenses?

3. Who will have the ultimate responsibility for the pet?

If you’re married, you can have a breather and take a pass on this one.

For the rest of us Unmarrieds?

Real talk: you need to have a plan for what happens to your furry friend if it lives longer than your relationship does.

In most cases, this means woman-ing up and having the tough conversation about who ultimately keeps the pet. If it feels rough – it might, no one likes to think about this stuff – here’s what has worked for The Boyfriend and I.

  • Keep it short and sweet. When you’re bringing it up, don’t go into it planning to have a drawn-out, hour-long conversation about the potential demise of your relationship. Go in with a plan, and have a suggested outcome based on both of your relative levels of interest in the pet, and your financial means to support it.
  • Remember why you’re even talking about it. Pets end up in shelters all the time because neither person was able to keep them after a relationship ended, either due to financial reasons or because their new housing situations wouldn’t allow it. You’re just being a good pet owner by touching base about which one of you is likely to be able to support the pet as a solo owner, housing situation and all.
  • Be prepared for it to impact other decisions. If you’re going to keep the pet after a breakup, maybe that means something in terms of how much of the pet costs you’re going to cover for now. As an example, I cover all the vet bills for The Dog, since in the hopefully-very-unlikely scenario of a split, he’d come with me.

4. What boundaries do we each think need to be enforced with the pet?

I wish I was kidding when I say that “Can the dog lie on the couch with us?” was up there in terms of the list of things The Boyfriend and I disagreed on strongly, but alas, it’s true.

It was one of our more… uh, memorable conversations.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it lasted for all of about 20 minutes, and we sorted it out pretty quickly. But still, it was something that we hadn’t talked about ahead of time, so when those big brown doggy eyes were looking at us, pleading to be let on the soft, pillowy couch?

Logic was not exactly top of mind.

My bad.

That’s why if you’re getting a pet that will have the run of the house – I’m thinking dogs and cats, but maybe you’re looking at a domesticated pig or a really free-spirited rabbit – you need to talk boundaries before the pet arrives with its googly-love-me-and-let-me-on-the-couch eyes.

Is the pet allowed to sleep with you? Is it allowed on the couch? Do either of you feel really strongly about feeding it table scraps?

This sounds silly, but I’m not kidding that having these conversations ahead of time will save you so many headaches.

5. How will we prepare for likely expenses?

Pets can be ex-pen-sive.

This is just a basic truth about life.

Pets don’t have to be expensive, and they aren’t always expensive, but they can be. You never know what might happen after your furry bundle of joy worms its way into your heart and then breaks its leg and needs surgery and whoops, there goes your house downpayment to pay off the vet bills.

Will one of you shoulder the responsibility of figuring out whether you need pet insurance, a pet emergency fund, or both? Will you both contribute to ongoing and emergency vet bills? Is this something that falls squarely on one person – for example, the person who has the ultimate responsibility for the pet?

You know, as I read through this list, it feels like kind of a downer post.

“Look at all these depressing things you need to think about, like the dog not sitting on the couch with you, and the potential demise of your relationship!”

But at the same time, these are all real-life questions that I had to face, either before or after we added a dog to our little family, and I’m so – so – glad we did.

If we had ended up standing at the register at Pet Smart, screaming about who was going to pay for all the new-dog-gear, instead of calmly talking about how much we could each afford to spend well ahead of time?

Man.

THAT would have been a downer.

In the interest of saving a poor Pet Smart employee from the most awkward transaction of his or her life – because you know you’d be in that person’s memoirs, guaranteed – please, please have these conversations before you get a pet.

They’ll help you realize how much pet you can handle, how much you should expect to spend, and (hopefully) save you from future fights.

When you put it that way, this is downright romantic.

Have you ever added a pet to an existing relationship? Or are you planning to soon? I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially if I overlooked a major consideration!