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The real cost of owning a dog

Chow Mix Dog, "Rinty", age 6

There is more to owning a dog than meets the eye - Have you ever heard "It's not the purchase price, it's the maintenance"? My husband who is a Diesel Mechanic says this often when talking about cars. This is also very, very true of pet ownership. "Free puppy to good home" might seem like a great deal, but the upfront cost is not the real cost. Dogs, and pets in general, come with "maintenance costs".

There are a few things I'm pretty outspoken about. I believe there should be a dash of research and a pound or so of common sense when dealing with animals.

Over the years, I've worked around pets, zoo animals, and shelter animals. I've come across a lot of ignorance and cruelty (I could rant about this, but I won't). The point is, we are impulsive creatures and "cute" and "cool" are things we jump at the chance to have - both of which often apply to animals. Luke 14:28 says "Who of you that wants to build a tower does not first sit down and calculate the expense, to see if he has enough to complete it?" (The Bible is never wrong). So, we're not building a tower - but the concept is to count the cost before committing to something.

What you think the cost is

Initially, these may be the obvious costs considered:

- Adoption fee $150 (from Breeder $500+)

- Some shots $100 (cause i'll just take him to the discount clinic)

- Food $10/month

- Grooming $30 every now and then

We usually also factor in the basics of caretaking

- letting the dog out to relieve himself (cause we have a yard, so we don't need to walk him)

- clean the cat's litter box (once a week will do right?!... yikes!)

Reality Check

Deciding to get a dog - like marriage, having children, moving to a new city - implies a commitment of time and money and love and patience. You are committing to accepting their flaws and limitations, in sickness and in health. It's not all puppy breath and kitten licks.

Dogs need walks. It's not convenient. It's time-consuming. What if it's raining?

It's not just dogs

Any pet requires the same level of consideration before bringing one into your home.

Cats need litter scooped daily, and the general rule for the number of litter boxes is one per cat plus one. So if you have one cat, you need two litter boxes; if you have 3 cats, you need four. Can you get by with less? Maybe, but it's not fair to your cat(s) and it's very likely that they will at some point display problem behaviors because of it, such as eliminating outside the litter box.

Even "easy" pets are not so easy. I'll just get a goldfish, or a betta fish, those are easy, cheap pets, right? Wrong! If you keep them in conditions just barely adequate for survival, sure, easy. In truth, some fish are easier to care for than cats & dogs, but even fish have specific needs to be healthy, happy pets. Bettas (fighting fish) are sold in 1 cup containers, yet they really need a minimum of 2.5 gallons to thrive. Goldfish are usually shown in a bowl, when in reality the "rule of thumb is 20 gallons for the first fish, then 10 gallons for each additional fish". -

We won't even go into birds because they require a complete blog post of their own. They are a very "advanced" pet, no matter the size, and definitely more expensive than pretty much any other pet, especially as they increase in size.

Case Study: The cost of owning Rinty

For your benefit, I have gone through vet records and gathered a cost approximation of my beloved Rinty (12 yrs old at the time of this post). This is just one real-life example to consider and obviously not complete since I plan to have him around for many more years and will likely become more expensive as he ages.

Real Cost (12 years of ownership)

- Adoption fee (gift from a family friend) $0

- Routine Vet Visits (Exam/Vaccines/fecal check/HW test) $605

- Disease-related Medical Care (Recurring ear infections, benign growth had to be removed, GI issues, occasional skin allergies, joint pain from arthritis the last few years) $2300

- Food (only including cheap kibble, nothing fancy or expensive) $2500

- Preventive Procedures (Neuter and 2 dental cleanings) $495

- Heartworm prevention (only given for the last 8 years) $768

- Flea prevention (only given for the last 5 years) $720

TOTAL: $7,388

Rinty has been a healthy dog. Nothing major. I went to low-cost clinics* when possible and I worked at a vet clinic for several years and often received free & discounted care there. But still, expenses add up quickly. (Add up how much you've been spending on buying lunch every day for a month and you'll realize you could have been driving a BMW if you had just packed a sandwich instead). This means that if you end up with a pet that has health issues or special needs (like a special diet or grooming or vet care) the cost could easily be double or triple the average.

*NOTE: good low-cost clinics are a treasure, however, most of them see a high volume of patients daily and are usually unable to provide the one-on-one, personalized attention that a regular private practice can. The ones I've been to had great Veterinarians, but most couldn't remember my dog's history, name, or whether I had other pets. This is not a luxury, it's necessary and it makes all the difference. Do your research and be your dog's advocate.)


Another aspect of dog ownership you should consider is senior dog care. It is not only expensive, it is also a lot of work, inconvenient and heartbreaking. A senior dog's yearly expenses will be considerably higher than younger dogs. A simple side-effect of aging is incontinence. Just pee pads/diapers/cleaning products alone will be hundreds of dollars per year plus the inconvenience of constantly cleaning up after your dog. To me, this is a sad but important aspect of having pets. They deserve you to receive love and respect and the best care possible until their last breath and while it is not something you ever think of when you are melting at the sight of him as a puppy, it is a very real and certain future. Are you prepared for that? If you are older and your pup will be a senior dog when you yourself will need senior care, who will care for him? If you have physical limitations or disabilities will you be able to care for a dog in their senior years when lifting them and medicating them is often required? Do you WANT to care for a dog in their senior years? Does everyone in your household understand that this puppy will eventually be a sick, old dog?


I'm sure everyone assumes an emergency surgery for any pet is really expensive - and everyone is right. For the same reason that human surgeries are expensive - they require a surgeon, anesthesia, ultrasounds and X-rays, bloodwork, support staff, etc. The downside is that it is not common to have pet insurance and in case of your dog getting hit by a car, attacked by another dog, fall and break his back or leg, develop cancer, etc. your cost will be upwards of $3000 per incident. Are you willing and able to cover these unexpected expenses if they come up?

My point is, do your research and use common sense. Be fair to the dog and to yourself by making sure you know what you're really in for and whether you are willing to commit to caring for the dog for its entire life. There is more to any pet than meets the eye. Are you aware of the real cost?


Consider adopting from a shelter. Most dogs in shelters are "adoptable". The ones shelters feel are not desirable, sadly don't make it to the adoption floor. Buying from a breeder doesn't guarantee a perfect dog. If your heart is set on a specific breed, shelters often have pure breeds and even puppies. If you still prefer a breeder there is nothing wrong with that but remember they are not all experts, so do your research there as well.

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