How much does it really cost to own a dog?

woman working on laptop with dog on lap
March 07, 2017 | Maggie Jenkins

You’re probably familiar with the holiday season, wedding season and back-to-school season. But what about puppy season?

That’s what I call this time of year. There’s just something about the warming weather that seems to turn cabin fever into puppy fever, and soon enough, I’ll be seeing tiny furballs all over my neighborhood. It also makes me reminisce about my own puppy season adventure a few years ago, which led to a scruffy cairn terrier named Banjo becoming my first pet and my new best friend.

But just how much does it cost to own a dog? Before adding a four-legged family member, you'll need to consider both the short-term and long-term costs so you can create a realistic pet care budget.

Short-term costs to own a dog

  • Adoption or breeder fee: Deciding whether to adopt or shop is a whole other blog post topic, but simply for budgeting purposes, there can be a huge difference between adopting from a shelter and buying from a breeder. The dog breed itself affects the price tag too. It’s likely your largest up-front cost to own a dog, so make sure you’ve saved enough and decided which route you want to take before you even start looking at potential puppy pals. Estimated cost: $100-$300 (adoption), $400-$2,000+ (breeder)
  • Spaying/neutering and shots: Like babies, puppies need different sets of vaccinations over the first few months of their life. Check with your shelter/breeder to find out which shots and procedures your new dog has already received before you take them home. You also may need to spay or neuter your pet (usually done when dogs are 4-6 months old). It's important to discuss the best health care plan and medical choices for your pet with your vet. Estimated cost: $300-$500
  • Supplies: When you bring home your new dog, you’ll need to be stocked up: Food, treats, crate, food/water bowls, collar or harness, leash – the list can go on and on. You’ll need to decide which items are must-haves and which are nice-to-haves. Because believe me, there seems to be no limit on the amount of cool/adorable-but-probably-unnecessary pet care items in the world. Estimated cost: $100-$200

Long-term costs to own a dog

  • Health care: Dogs need annual checkups and shots, plus monthly heartworm and flea/tick prevention medication. And then there are those ever-unpredictable emergency visits. (My dog once ate a plastic shoe insole and had to have emergency stomach surgery to remove it. Good times!) And, like humans, health issues can become more frequent and more serious as dogs age. Do some research to find out if pet insurance is right for you, or you can start an “emergency pet fund” to cover both routine and unexpected vet expenses. Estimated annual cost: $400-$600
  • Grooming: If you want to go the budget pet care route, you can DIY your dog’s grooming routine – baths, haircuts, brushing, nail trims – but be aware it can be tricky, messy and potentially painful (for example, accidentally cutting their nails too short can cause them to bleed). Bottom line: you’ll need to decide whether spending the extra money on a professional groomer is worth it for your family, your dog and your budget. Estimated annual cost: $20-$500
  • Food, treats and toys: The bigger the dog, the more it eats – and the more money you’ll spend to feed it. Dog food costs can vary wildly too. Do you want Max to eat only the finest organic, specialty offerings, or are you OK with the usual store brands? The same goes for treats and toys, many of which can go hand-in-hand (or paw-in-paw, as it were). Estimated annual cost: $200-$600

Of course, there are many other costs to consider: Will you board your dog if you go out of town? Do you need to hire a dog-walker? What about obedience and training classes? What’s most important is finding a manageable pet care budget that also has your new best friend’s best interests at heart. 

Maggie Jenkins is the PR and Social Media Specialist at Alliant. She began her career as a sports journalist for newspapers in Utica, N.Y., Des Moines and Cincinnati before moving to Chicago in 2009. Maggie is a six-time Chicago Marathon finisher and a lifelong creative writer with a passion for comedy. Her mom instilled in her a great sense of fiscal responsibility, and her big sister told her to throw that responsibility out the window every once in a while in the name of life experience. So far, that combination of financial advice has worked out pretty well for her.

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