The True Cost of Having a Dog

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Written by Cory Eckert

You’re finally at a place in life where you can get your first dog. You can’t wait to pick out the new addition to your family, enjoy long walks in the country and play fetch on the beach. Before you do, it’s important to understand the commitment you are taking on in terms of financial cost alone.

Why? Because Looking at the statistics, 98% of people who own pets underestimate how much their pet is going to cost. It’s a great idea to understand the cost of having a dog before you take that leap.

In this article, we will try to breakdown the most common costs and help you get a rough idea of what dog ownership can truly cost you. We’ll start at the beginning...

Getting Your Dog

When most people decide it’s time to make the leap and get a dog, they already have an idea in their head about what breed of dog to get. This decision is often times formed by their own life experiences, opinions of friends and family, or they just fell in love with the looks of a certain breed.

Unfortunately, that’s about all the real research that goes into it more often than not. From basic behavior traits to commonly inherited health issues, there are tons of things you can learn about a breed before ever starting your search and knowing ahead of time can certainly help form your decision.

For example, dogs like our golden retriever are susceptible to hip dysplasia and have a high occurrence of cancer. This information is readily available and we are ready mentally and financially to carry that burden should it arise.

Bottom line, before you purchase or adopt a dog, do some research on the breed (or breeds if mixed) to get an idea of what you are in for.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) has identified 202 breeds of dogs in the US while international organizations record 344 dog breeds worldwide. This doesn’t account for all the crossbreeds and designer dogs. This is a great place to start your search for information an any particular breed of dog.

Do Your Research

What are your travel habits, do you walk or run frequently, how much space do you have, are you ok never wearing black again due to shedding hair? These are all questions you will need to consider and so many more when you are thinking about what dog breed to bring into your home.

Whether you are looking for a lap dog or a running partner, you should be aware of and research the breed qualities before you make your decision. Your best bet is to go online and take a breed selection test which will allow you to answer a series of questions to help identify the right breed of dog for you.

The American Kennel Club has loads of information about each specific breed of dog. Once you narrow down your choices, you can look at the information on each breed. You can research how much exercise your dog will need daily, what the personality traits are for that breed, how large he/she will get, how much they will eat, will they shed, and what is the life expectancy.

Another neat feature the AKC offers is a side-by-side breed comparison chart. You can choose up to 5 breeds to enter and they will provide a comparison of each breed. This is a great way to narrow down your choices.

As you get closer to choosing a final breed, be sure to pay special attention to common health issues for that breed. Medical expenses will stack up fast for some conditions.

Purchase or Adopt

As you are doing your breed research, you will get an indication of how much it will cost to buy a purebred puppy. Depending on the breed you choose, getting a puppy from a reputable breeder will typically cost between $300 and $1,500 and for some breeds could be much MUCH higher.

If you do go the breeder route, find a breeder with a good reputation. You want to make sure both parents are healthy, have good temperaments, and that the puppies were born healthy and cared for properly.

You should put as much care and time into researching your breeder as you did choosing a breed if not more. Be sure to visit the breeder on multiple occasions, get references, ask to see the parents of the pup you are considering, ect.

If adoption is more your style, you should have plenty of dogs to choose from. It may be more difficult to find a young puppy, but you will be greatly rewarded in adopting a dog of any age. Sometimes it’s easier to start with a dog already house trained so keep an open mind on your options.

Adopting a dog is often cheaper than purchasing one, but it is by no means free or cheap. Don’t underestimate the cost of adoption. Shelters do a lot of work upfront that you would be paying for if you purchased a puppy from a breeder. Some shelters fly dogs in from other countries to be adopted, especially after a natural disaster. The cost of the airline ticket will be reflected in the price of the adoption.

The upfront fees a shelter will have covered for the price of the adoption, which can range from $200 to $800 and will often include some of the following:

  • Wellness exam
  • Spaying or neutering
  • Vaccinations
  • Heartworm tests
  • Flea and tick treatments
  • Deworming
  • Microchip

If you are on more of a budget, shelters often waive adoption fees for older dogs, or dogs who have been there a while and they would like to see adopted. They also run special events that you can keep an eye out for and pay less for your adoption fees.

Be sure to research your shelter just as with a breeder. There are plenty of sketchy, out for cash shelters around and you should avoid supporting them when you can. That said, there are plenty of breed specific rescues out there as well and they are often times fantastic places to look for your new family member.

So the cost of getting a dog on average would run between $200 and $1500 depending on the route you choose and the breed of dog.

Initial Equipment You Will Need for Your Dog

If you are still wondering why 98% of people underestimate how much they will be spending on their dog, you haven’t walked into a PetSmart lately or maybe never heard of companies like Bark Box?

Understand that getting a dog is a lot like having a kid. You want the best and latest in toys and equipment and in the doggy world, the fun stuff is limitless and there are thousands of companies out there ready to cash in on your new found love.

Try to contain your initial enthusiasm or you will probably blow the roof off your budget. Start with the basics. Figure out how much this dog is going to cost you each month. Then, if you can afford the fluff, go ahead and indulge your dog.

Let’s take a look at the basic necessities and supplies you will need when you bring your new dog home.

Beds  

The price of a dog bed is going to vary with the size and quality of the bedding. It is best to invest in higher quality beds that are easy to clean and durable. Otherwise, you will be buying beds more often which will turn out to be more expensive.

It is important that dogs have a comfortable place to sleep and rest. Just like people, they need uninterrupted rest time. You might want to consider two beds, one for a common area like your living room and one for where you want them to sleep (maybe next to your bed) so your dog always has a place to call his own. Beds will usually cost between $50 and $100 a year.

Crate 

Crate training is a very popular training method for puppies. It reduces the number of accidents the puppy will have in the training process, and it gives them a safe place when you are away. Once a routine is established, most puppies enjoy the safe space of a crate. Remember, dogs are den animals after all.

If you are choosing a crate, you can get your basic folding crate for around $50. Conversely, designer crates can cost over $500 for those looking for upscale quarters for their dog. As your dog grows, so too will the need for a larger crate. You can expect to spend around $400-$500 on crates in the lifetime of the dog if you buy quality products that do not break.

Toys

Unless you want your dog chewing on your shoes, bedspreads, and furniture, you will want to have toys available. Indestructible dog toys are not cheap. Do not waste your money on cheap toys. You will be cleaning up the pieces of the toy in just a few minutes and you may have an expensive visit to the vet when your dog ingests a piece of that toy.

There are thousands of choices for dog toys and the latest trend is the once-a-month box of dog toys delivered to your door. You can customize the toys from small dogs to heavy chewers. In any case, whether you are visiting the pet mart or ordering online, you need to budget $50-$300 a year for dog toys.

Collar and Leash

You will need a minimum of one leash and collar for your dog, preferably with ID tags. Again, don’t dollar-store this important piece of equipment. If your collar or leash breaks the consequences are not worth the savings. 

A good chew proof quality leash and collar can last you several years and you can expect to pay between $20 and $50. You may even find that you need a good harness if your dog pulls on walks.

Grooming Supplies

Dogs don't require too much in the way of hygiene, but there are some grooming supplies you'll need to get ready if you own a dog. For now I would start with the basics, a brush of some kind and a good nail clipper or grinder.

Depending on the type of coat, you may need an undercoat rake and you will certainly need some type of brush. These will help you keep your dog's coat looking good and reduce shedding in your home.

In addition, you may need nail clippers and grinders if you intend to take care of your dog's nails on your own. I would highly recommend learning how because doing this simple chore yourself can save you thousands over the lifespan of owning your dog.

Beyond these basic supplies there's a huge selection of other things you could spend money on such as shampoos, bathing supplies, ear care supplies, paw ointment, and so much more. 

Pooper Scooper

Last but not least in the "Initial Equipment" section is a good pooper scooper. You'll need to clean up after your pup rather it's in your own yard or on long walks.

A good pooper scooper or at least poop bags are going to be a required item to have on hand in any public area. 

What Ongoing Expenses You Can Expect

Most people are good about budgeting and setting money aside for housing, transportation, food and medical expenses for themselves, but when you get a dog, it’s equally important to create a monthly budget for his/her needs.

Too many people get a dog without understanding the cost of having a dog. You are actually making an investment in your pet that not only has reoccurring monthly costs but will also have unforeseen expenses. The love and companionship of a dog is literally priceless, but in reality, they come with a fairly hefty price tag.

Depending where you live, in the city, or country, or what size dog you own, will influence the cost of owning your dog. A small-town vet clinic may not be as pricey as a more upscale animal hospital in a larger town or city. There are even mobile vets who drive around and make visits to your home. They can be economical and convenient.

An article in Money calculated the cost of owning a dog over the course of its lifetime based on its size.

  • Small dogs with an average life expectancy of 15 years - $15,051
  • Medium dogs with an average life expectancy of 13 years - $15,782
  • Large dogs with an average life expectancy of 10 years - $14,480

Forbes did their own research and came up with a higher number. They estimated the cost of a dog to be between $17,650 to $93,520 depending on size and breed.

It’s already been established that initial purchase equipment such as beds, leashes, etc need to go into the budget, but the real cost of owning a dog comes after that in the form of recurring expenses. Here are just a few examples of those...

Food 

Stay away from inexpensive dog foods and treats as they are packed with fillers, preservatives, and cheap materials that are not good for your dog’s health.

Buying good quality food is going to cost somewhere between $20 and $60 a month depending on the size of your dog. If you go with high-quality or special-order foods, this may cost as much as $100 per month.

Avoid purchasing cheap treats because you get good quality food. That’s like eating vegan and then having a happy meal for dessert. Some of the cheap treats from other countries have caused deaths in dogs. Read labels and treat your dog with the same quality you do his daily meals.

Pet sitting 

There will be times when you or other caregivers go out of town or are on vacation. This is going to cost you between $30 and $100 a night. If you figure this happens at least 5 times a year for holidays, you need to add at least a few hundred dollars per year to your budge for pet sitting services.

Grooming 

If you have a dog with long hair or one that seems to find a way to get dirty a lot, you may not even own the right type of equipment to keep your dog groomed properly.

Many pet stores offer drop by grooming services and there are mobile groomers who will come to your house. Chances are, at some point you will have a dirty dog and not enough time to clean him or her and hire grooming service. The average price for this service depending on your dog’s size is $30 to $100. You can see how this can quickly add up.

Veterinary Care

You need to take your dog to the vet once or twice a year for vaccinations and healthcare. Most townships require a dog to be registered and you will need proof of vaccinations.

Since healthcare is one of the largest expenses for dog owners, it’s good to know how much you can expect to pay for which services before going to the vet. This breakdown by Petlifetoday provides a rough estimate of what dog owners incur yearly for the following services.

  • Emergency visits: $349
  • Sick visits by appointment: $204
  • Surgical visits: $474
  • Heartworm medication $102
  • Routine visits: $257
  • Vitamins and supplements: $257
  • Flea and tick products $85

The average dog goes to the vet 2.7 times a year. The most common service for your dog at the vet will be routine medical care. Only 1% of dog owners invest in pet health insurance, although if you have a breed that is susceptible to bigger health issues, it may be a good option.

 Vet care will include worming, flea and tick medications, dental care, lab work, and spay or neutering if you bought a puppy from a breeder. Excluding emergencies, your veterinary expenses will most likely cost $700 to $1500 a year.

Medications and supplements 

Things like Heartworm, flea & tick, and parasite control, will be a monthly expense. Supplements can also be important especially as your dog ages.

Added coconut oil to his diet, calming treats, and supplements for joints, will help keep your dog feeling his best as he ages. This will cost another $100 to $500 a year.

Obedience Training 

If you decide to go with a puppy and you have never trained a dog before, it’s highly recommended to either take your puppy to an obedience training class or invest in-home training. Training is especially necessary in order to social dogs like German Shepherds or other large dogs with guarding and herding instincts.

Those instincts can work in your favor with the right training, or turn into unwanted antisocial behavior in interactions with other animals, children, or strangers. Learning how to manage these instincts should be done with professional resources. Training can cost from $25 to $300 a year.

Unexpected Costs

Now that we looked at some of the more common costs of owning a dog, let's look at some of the harder to anticipate costs.

Unexpected costs for your dog can occur if there is some type of accident or illness. These are unfortunate and can be less prevalent with preventative health care and by keeping your dog in a safe environment. Accidents and illnesses can occur even with dogs who have the best care.

Some dogs, especially purebreds, can have congenital heart defects or other health issues from overbreeding. These problems may not be discovered as puppies but may emerge later in life. Treating them will add significantly to routine medical costs.

If you need to take a sudden trip due to a family emergency, you may have to board your dog. The minimum cost for boarding is around $30 a night and ranges up to $100 a night.

If you plan on taking your dog with you on an unexpected trip, know that some hotels charge additional fees. If you are taking him on a plane with you, you have to book this in advance. The average domestic airline will charge $125 one way.

Conclusion

Your head may be swimming right now with all the financial considerations and responsibilities that come with owning a dog. Yes, you do need to be able to afford the added expenses to your budget. Yes, dogs take a lot of care. But the biggest “YES” is when you ask a dog owner if the love and companionship a dog will provide is one of the greatest joys of his or her life. There is no price tag big enough for the love of your new best friend.

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About the author

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Cory Eckert

Cory is the co-creator of GoldenRetrieverLove.com and a life long dog enthusiast. From training livestock dogs as a child to working with obedience classes as an adult, it's hard to imagine Cory without a dog. Currently enjoying being a dog parent to Remi (a chocolate lab) and Annie (a golden retriever).

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