How Much It Costs to Own a Dog

by Elizabeth Lang on 13 August 2012 3 comments

I grew up in a dog-loving family — we always had at least one dog, if not two. Because of this, I never considered not owning a dog as an adult. I find that they bring great happiness, entertainment, companionship, and security. I know not everyone feels this way, and if you don't own a dog already you may be especially wary of dog ownership after reading about their high costs in this post. But, just like some people spend their money on shoes or fancy meals, we spend money on dogs. (See also: 5 Ways to Yank the Leash on Pet Expenses)

Just after I graduated college I inherited my great-aunt's 11-year-old Golden Retriever. Having an older dog was filled with many high costs, but I loved that dog dearly until the day we had to put her to sleep when she was 15. After that, my spouse and I got an eight-week-old lab-golden mix. Murphy is now three and weighs 60 pounds. About six months after getting Murphy we got a second dog — Sadie. She is also about three, is some sort of lab-husky-shepherd mix, and weighs 70 pounds. (Their weights are helpful to know as it factors into costs of food, vet care, boarding, etc.) If you're thinking of getting a dog or just want to know how much it costs to own a dog, this post dives into everything you need to know (and then some).

Food

Like food for people, food for dogs runs the gamut from mass produced overseas to locally made organic to homemade. (You can find my recipe for homemade dog food here.) Our old dog was on prescription canned dog food that cost about $6/day in her last few months of life. Our current dogs eat higher-quality food (not organic, but not filled with corn and low-quality protein either. (Here is an organic dog food comparison post if you're interested.) One dog has an allergy, so his food is about $50-$55/bag and the other dog's costs $40/bag. One bag lasts us about seven weeks. So, this averages about $27/month per dog.

Regular Vet Bills

Like with any service, prices vary immensely depending on the location you choose. In Washington, D.C. we paid a minimum of $65 just to walk in the door of our vet. In Minneapolis, a consultation with the vet costs $42 to start. Besides the cost of actually seeing the veterinarian, you'll also have to add in the costs of vaccinations and regular medicines (like Frontline for ticks and fleas and Heartgard for heartworm). We tried shopping around for these medicines with various online pet pharmacies, but found that our vet actually offered comparable prices and frequently has rebates available to him.

In the last year we have spent $564 in regular veterinarian visits for our two dogs, including shots and medicines. This averages to $282/dog/year. 

Emergency Vet Bills

Like with people, high medical costs arise from emergencies. With our older Golden Retriever we had numerous "emergencies" in her last year and a half of life. She ate a corn cob, which resulted in several hundred dollars of vet bills. She had numerous bladder infections and kidney problems. She "very likely" had lung cancer, according to some x-rays (which the vet said at her age wasn't worth further investigation or treatment; she lived another 1.5 years after we were told this). And finally, she had eye problems. We had spent about $400 treating the eye problems until a dog eye specialist recommended a $500 surgery. They didn't know if she would make it through the surgery, much less recover fully. She stopped eating, her kidneys were shot, and finally we had to make the toughest decision a pet owner can make. It wasn't about the cost of the surgery, though that factored into it. In the end, we chose to put her out of her misery. The end of life for dogs is very very costly.

But even young dogs have emergencies too. When our dog Sadie was six months old, her stitches from getting spayed opened up. It was 5:50 at night, and our regular vet had closed. Luckily, my parents' vet was able to see her before closing time at a cost of $100. This year, our dog Murphy was having intestinal problems for days along with bloody stools. (Very gross, I know, but this is what you get when you own a dog.) It was a holiday weekend and our vet was closed. It cost $550 and a full day waiting at another vet to get x-rays — a special barium x-ray test done to make sure there was no intestinal blockage. In the end, we never found out what was wrong and were sent home with anti-nausea medication.

But these vet emergencies don't even compare to what some people go through. My parents had a four-year-old springer spaniel that suddenly developed a heart problem. They were told that a pacemaker should easily fix it and the dog would live a full and healthy life. They made a very difficult decision to spend several thousand dollars on heart surgery. And, in the worst turn of events, the dog died unexpectedly on the operating table. They still had to pay the bill.

Our average cost per dog for the first two years of life was about $325/dog/year.

Insurance

Perhaps with these high emergency costs, insurance for dogs makes sense. But Consumer Reports finds that pet insurance is not typically worth the cost. We don't get pet insurance for our dogs, but I ran the numbers for one of them on the ASPCA Insurance site and found that a policies range from a policy with an incident limit of $2,500 costing about $14 a month to a policy with a $7,000 incident limit costing $67 a month. Frankly, I'd only want a policy that would cover those really rare heart-surgery type cases, and I think $67 a month is a little high.

Toys

Some people love getting lots of fancy high-end toys and dog treats for their pets. There was a guy at our dog park in D.C. who bragged about the handcrafted toy chest he had made for his dog's birthday (which he took the dog to New York to celebrate). The quantity and quality of the toys will depend on your preferences. But, your dog's temperament will also factor into how much you spend on toys. Some dogs tear toys apart within minutes. And some dogs need a lot of entertainment if left at home during the day without opportunity for exercise. We actually found that once we got a second dog, the anxiety (and therefore number of destroyed toys) decreased dramatically.

We spend around $30-$50/year on dog toys and bones. The dogs share toys, so this is total cost for both dogs.

Training

Many people train their dogs without any sort of formal structure. We opted to take our dogs to doggy obedience class because 1) the dogs liked it, 2) we had fun at class, and 3) our dogs received much better training than they would have had home. One dog had a series of four classes over a year and a half (including dog agility and a special class for dogs that pull on their leashes when walking). This cost a total of about $450. The other dog just had one class at a cost of $110.

Kennel and Boarding

Perhaps the biggest difference in costs between dogs and cats (that isn't directly attributable to size) is the cost of boarding your dog when you're away. Cats generally don't need to be boarded as, even if you're out of town for a week, typically a friend or family member is happy to drop in once or twice to check in on things. But dogs need feeding one or two times a day and to be let out a minimum of three to four times a day. You have to have really amazing friends or family who are willing to watch a dog (much less two dogs) for a week at a time.

Depending on your city and the type of boarding facility, prices range from $20-$70+ per night per animal. Most kennels are the typical, barking-dogs-in-cages-with-limited-play-time kennels that you might imagine from the movies. It is increasingly common, though, to find kennels that have people beds in place of dog beds and streaming video so that you can watch your dog from afar.

When we lived in Washington, D.C. we had to drive 45 minutes out of the city (without traffic) to board our dog at a "reasonable" rate of $30/night. In a suburb of Minneapolis, our dogs share a kennel at one of the cheapest (but best) kennels for a combined total of $38 a night. When they've stayed at a conveniently located (to the airport) kennel the combined cost was $65 a night.

If you want your dog to be pampered with extra walks, play time, treats, and baths, add anywhere from $5-$20 extra each day.

The amount you travel will clearly impact how much it costs to own your dog. But, personally, we have traveled a lot over the past year and have spent over $1,000 in kennel costs as a consequence.

Miscellaneous Costs

There are many miscellaneous costs associated with owning a dog. They range from $25/year in licensing fees to $50 in backyard sod from holes dug to new $75 pants because the dog jumped and ripped your pair to $9 vacuum bags needed much more frequently because the dog sheds a ton. If you get your dog groomed, this costs about $60/time for a full grooming or $10/time for nails only.

I would estimate that we spend about $75/year in these miscellaneous costs per dog.

Opportunity Costs

If you've never owned a dog and decide to get one, you'll quickly discover that in addition to the dollar costs outlined above, there are numerous opportunity costs. If your friends plan a spontaneous happy hour after work, you'll have to head home to let out your dog first. Want to go straight from work to a date? Make sure you've planned ahead to have a neighbor let out Rover. And you can't easily book cheap last-minute weekend trips if you don't have a sitter for your pooch. (Of course, while you miss these opportunities, you are probably saving money by not going to happy hour with friends or spending a weekend at a hotel.)

Final Note

It's likely easy to read this post and criticize lots of expenses. Yes, you can groom the dog yourself. Yes, you can make your own dog food. No, you don't have to get your dog heart surgery. Just like you can trim the fat from your own budget, the amount spent on a dog is also subject to slimming. This post was meant to give insight into how much it costs to own a dog. For us, that adds up to about $1,600/dog/year. Every dog and every family is different — costs will vary depending on your situation. But the joys having a dog brings is well worth the costs.

How much do you spend on your dog a year?

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IslandSnoopy

Solid information on costs of owning a dog. Great ending "But the joys having a dog brings is well worth the costs." The joys are indeed priceless! Thanks for the article.

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Guest

Our dog needed TPLO surgery on both of her knees, at over $4000 a pop. We didn't have pet insurance, but we really wish we did. Wow.

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scoutmaster

Great article. Our dog cost are cheaper..here's how
Most cities & towns offer free & LOW cost shots. (we paid $6 each)call around & ask. Most animal shelters can refer you to low cost vets & even get your dog spadded free.
I use publix BOGO deals & Family Dollar & Dollar General discount days each week (usually a friday or saturday) to get 20% off name brand dog food. When i get chicken on sell for <.49 lb, i buy 20lbs, cook it up..debone it..& put the chicken in ziplock bags in the freezer to mix in dry dog food. our cost per month is around $22. for 2 dogs.
I buy them treats & toys from yard sales & liquidator stores..along with knotting an old rope & used tennis balls.
We take them with us when we travel...their own padded blankets..no kennel needed. If i needed to travel alone..friends care for them until i got back.
Even if i had to pay FULL PRICE for everything...we'd do it in a heartbeat..It's just nice to know you don't have too.