How Much Having A Dog Actually Costs, Even If Puppy Love Is #Priceless

I get it: When you’re confronted with a cuddly, happy dog, it’s normal to find yourself entering a dreamy, canine-induced haze, where all that matters are dog kisses, fetch, and figuring out how you can smuggle that dog home. It’s easy to forget how much having a dog actually costs — but in the cold light of day, that number is significant. You get paid back in slobber and snuggles and unconditional love — a fair exchange, in my book — but it’s nevertheless essential that you go into dog ownership with a clear idea of how your new furry BFF will affect your finances.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates that the average cost of owning a dog is between $1,314 and $1,843 in the first year, depending on the dog’s size. In subsequent years, you can expect to spend between $580 and $875 annually. Rover.com offers a higher estimate, of $2,858 per year, and a study cited by the American Kennel Club (AKC) puts those numbers even higher, at an average of $3085 for the first year. The AKC says the average cost you’ll spend on a dog throughout its lifetime is $23,410.

Oof. That’s a lot of money. Not all dogs will incur the same expenses, of course. Some breeds, for example, have more health problems (and therefore more vet bills) than others, some require more training, and some require regular grooming. Your care expenses will also vary according to your own living, work, and travel situations. And, honestly, how much you spend on dog care is also a matter of luck — accidents happen, and sometimes they are pricey.

Getting a dog may mean you need to get a little creative with your budget. “To free up dollars in your monthly budget, consider implementing the PERK system,” Brandie Farnam, a Certified Financial Planner at LearnVest, tells Bustle. “Review your costs to see which can be ‘postponed’ to a later date, which can be ‘eliminated’ from your budget altogether, which can be ‘reduced’ in the future, and which you have to ‘keep.’” Making small cuts can make a real difference. “Consider putting one of your services or subscriptions on pause using a vacation mode if they offer it, and see if you miss it after a month,” Farnam suggests. “Remember, making a cut to a recurring, non-essential expense means saving month after month.”

There are things you can do to minimize how much you spend on your dog — like grooming your dog yourself and practicing preventative healthcare — but having a dog will still involve a significant yearly investment. Here’s where that cash is going:

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1. Paying for adoption fees or breeder costs

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In most cases of getting a dog, you’ll either be paying a breeder or paying for adoption fees. There is plenty of debate about dog adoption vs. buying from a breeder; all I’ll say about that here is that every potential-dog owner has different needs, and that both options can be good ones, provided you do your homework. (Do ­not by puppies from pet stores, flea markets, or from random “dealers” selling animals in parking lots. There is a high likelihood that these puppies were bred in puppy mills, aka commercial facilities that produce puppies in high quantities and that are notorious for overcrowding, poor sanitation, abuse, and almost no government regulation. [End of rant.])

Adoption

Time estimates that adopting a dog or puppy from a shelter or rescue organization can vary in cost from as low as $25 to $200 — $300. Often, you’ll get a lot in exchange for those fees, including spaying/neutering, vaccines, healthcare, and microchipping. Some shelters charge different amounts depending on age (puppies tend to be more expensive than adults), and, in many cases, they will have periodic “sales,” with adoption fees lowered or eliminated.  

Buying from a breeder

Buying a puppy from a breeder is, in general, a lot more expensive than adopting a dog from a shelter. You can expect it to cost you anywhere from a few hundred dollars to upwards of $2500. Usually, that price will include an initial round of vaccinations. In some cases, it will also cover spaying/neutering or microchipping.

When buying a dog from a breeder, your first obligation is to do your due diligence and find someone with an ethical breeding program. (The Humane Society has a helpful pdf for identifying responsible breeders.) The importance of not supporting puppy mills should be obvious from a “not promoting animal abuse” perspective, but there is also a financial incentive: Puppies bred in puppy mills and by backyard breeders who may not know what they're doing are more likely to have genetic problems and other health concerns that will lead to expensive, long-term vet bills.

2. Spaying or neutering.

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Spaying or neutering is a good investment: Beyond the fact that dealing with a litter of puppies is expensive, these surgeries reduce your dog’s risk of certain cancers and health problems (and therefore vet bills).  

Spaying or neutering a dog usually costs somewhere around $200 - $300 at a vet or animal hospital. (Price can vary according to the size of your dog, as well as issues like past pregnancy or being in heat.) However, many shelters offer discounted or even free spaying and neutering. The ASPCA has a handy database of clinics that offer low-cost spaying/neutering services.

3. Vaccinations, heartworm medication, and other preventative healthcare.

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As a dog owner, you’ll pay for vaccines (Usually there are a bunch when your dog is a puppy, and then boosters every few years), yearly checkups, monthly heartworm medication, and flea and tick prevention. All of these things cost money.

4. Accidents and other major medical expenses.

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Preventative care can certainly help to reduce health costs during your dog’s lifetime, but you can’t prevent everything. Eventually, your dog will eat something it’s not supposed to, or run into the street, or get into trouble some other way that will require medical intervention. And, if nothing else, you will have to deal with the health problems that arise naturally from getting older as your dog ages. (Er, sorry to be such a Debbie Downer.)

5. Pet insurance (possibly).

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It's important for any pet owner to have a contingency plan in place for emergencies. "Consider buying pet insurance or self-insuring by setting aside funds each month into a separate savings account to offset any unexpected vet bills," Farnam tells Bustle. Pet insurance is “like having a major medical insurance policy for your pet. You pay monthly premiums with the hope that you never have to rely on the benefits,” Farnam says. There is some debate about whether pet insurance is worthwhile — particularly, whether the price you’ll pay in premiums will be outweighed by eventual payouts. But it’s difficult to weigh costs over a pet’s lifetime against peace of mind. “In the event of an emergency, having insurance helps minimize the financial concerns during an already emotional time,” Farnam points out.

If you’re considering pet insurance, take a look at the particulars of different policies. “Pet insurance often does not cover annual visits or cover pre-existing pet conditions,” Farnam explains. “Monthly premiums depend on many factors like the cost of vet care in your area, your pet’s age, and your deductible.” Premiums may also increase as your dog ages.

6. Good quality dog food

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Providing your dog with good, quality dog food is important — after all, it’s probably the only thing he or she eats (except for treats and, if your dog is anything like mine, trash she finds on the street) — but good dog food ‘aint cheap, especially if you’ve got a big dog who eats a lot. Farnam suggests looking for ways to save on quality food. "Consider purchasing higher end dog food from a discount site like Chewy.com that may allow your pet to stay healthier over the long-term," she says.

7. Rental fees for having a dog.

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If you’re a renter, you’re probably well aware that landlords tend to be picky about pets. Many rentals don’t allow dogs at all, but those that do often require some sort of financial outlay from renters to cover potential damage a dog might do. That fee can take different forms; you might see requirements for an increased safety deposit, a monthly charge, or a flat rate paid once upon signing the lease.

8. Chews, bones, and other toys.

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My dog and I have worked out a deal: I agree to give her an endless supply of exciting chew toys, and she agrees not to destroy all of my furniture. It feels like a fair trade.

Dog toys might not seem terribly expensive at first, but, if you’re dog requires a lot of them, the price can really add up. (And it feels kind of crazy to buy something new and shiny for the sole purpose of having a dog rip it to shreds. It’s worth it, though, to stave off destruction.)

9. Training or socialization classes.

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Dogs need training, whether that’s at home with you, in a formal class, or with a private trainer. Professional training can be highly beneficial, but also expensive and time consuming, ranging from $100 — $200 for a group class to hundreds, if not thousands, for one-on-one training.

10. Grooming.

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Some dogs don’t need much more grooming than an occasional bath and nail trim, but others require regular haircuts and frequent brushing to avoid matting and fur-in-the-eyes-induced blindness. Depending on the size and fluff-level of your pup, a professional grooming session for your dog might cost as much or more than your own haircuts, ranging from $30 to nearly $100.

11. Dog walking or “dog day care”

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If you work long hours, you may find yourself hiring someone to walk your dog during the day or taking your dog to “day care” to run around with other dogs while you’re gone.

12. Boarding or dogsitting.

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Unfortunately, dogs can’t just take care of themselves while you’re out of town. If you’re not lucky enough to have friends or family nearby who can take care of your pup, you’ll have to find — and pay for — other accommodations. There are some very fancy day camps and pet hotels out there that will keep your dog entertained while you are gone, but HOO BOY they can be expensive.

13. Traveling with your dog.

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What vacation wouldn’t be improved by having a dog along? If your pup is on the small side, you can fly with your dog in-cabin. In addition to making your trip more fun (and more full of dog snuggles), it’s also a way to avoid having to pay for boarding while you’re gone. That said, it’s not free: Costs for flying with a dog vary by airline, but it’s usually $100 — $125 each way. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but if you’re going to be gone for a while, it’s still less expensive than boarding.  

When you add up all of these costs across a dog’s lifetime, the price of having a dog seems pretty crazy, right? Just as a reminder, these are the ridiculous beasts you get in return:

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Yep, WORTH IT.

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