Thinking of adopting a canine friend? Dogs make wonderful companions, but they cost more than many new owners realise. To help you create a realistic budget, here’s a detailed breakdown of the upfront and ongoing costs.
The problem is that the cost of owning a dog is much more than many people realise.
According to research by the PDSA in the UK, 97% of dog owners underestimate the lifetime cost of their pet – and not by a small amount. Most estimated their dog would cost less than a third the actual price.
This miscalculation can have serious consequences for both owner and dog.
It can be a struggle to provide the care a dog deserves with a budget that doesn’t cover high-quality food, regular health check-ups and other costs. Tragically, some people are even forced to give up or euthanise their pet when they can’t afford medical treatment.
At The Dog Clinic, we want potential owners to be aware of how much a dog really costs. This isn’t to put you off adopting a dog – we’re all dog-lovers here – but so you can make an informed choice about whether your budget can cope with the surprisingly large cost of a canine companion.
The Quick Cost Breakdown
First-Year Costs ($1425-$4505):
We estimate that the first year of caring for a dog costs between $1425 and $4905 – but this doesn’t include the dog itself. A dog can cost an extra $50-$1200, depending on whether you adopt from a shelter or buy from a reputable breeder, making the total $1425 to $4505 for the first year. Some breeds, such as English Bulldogs, can cost considerably more.
A few notes on this estimate:
- The first year is likely to be the most expensive (not including emergency care).
- This figure includes both upfront costs (such as spaying/neutering) and ongoing costs (such as food and grooming).
- The cost can be reduced by adopting a shelter dog that has already been spayed/neutered, microchipped, and had its vaccinations.
- This estimate doesn’t include dog proofing a home, pet sitting or walking, any damage caused by the dog to your home or furnishings, or emergency vet care.
Ongoing Yearly Costs ($1020-$3290):
We estimate that the ongoing cost of owning a dog is $1020 to $3290 per year (or $85-$274 per month).
A few notes on this estimate:
- As with the first-year costs, this doesn’t include emergency medical treatments. If your dog has an illness or injury, emergency care can easily cost $1000-$5000 – and in some cases even more.
- It also doesn’t include ongoing treatment for medical conditions not covered by insurance, dog walking, and pet sitting.
Why Such a Large Range?
You’ve probably noticed the first-year and ongoing cost estimates have a large range. Why is this? And how can you judge where your costs are likely to fall?
We’ve broken down each category included in the estimate below, so you can see how we came up with these figures. But the short answer is that the cost depends on a variety of factors, including your dog’s age, breed, grooming requirements and food requirements.
It also depends on how much you’re willing to spend on food, bedding, and other essentials. If you can’t resist pampering your pet (most of us can’t), the annual cost is going to be higher!
The cheapest dogs tend to be small breeds that don’t need to eat as many calories, aren’t prone to genetic health conditions, and have a short coat that doesn’t need to be groomed too often.
On a related note, research appears to show that mixed breeds are less likely to suffer from genetic conditions than pure breeds. This includes conditions such as allergic dermatitis, IVDD, bloat and aortic stenosis. Choosing a mixed breed might reduce the chance of hefty vet bills, but only on average – there’s no guarantee an individual dog won’t suffer from a medical condition.
At the other end of the spectrum, big dogs with huge appetites, long hair and a susceptibility to genetic conditions are often the most expensive per year. Large dogs tend to live shorter lives, which offsets the lifetime cost, although they are usually still more expensive than smaller breeds.
Most dogs fall somewhere in the middle. While it’s impossible to say exactly how much a dog is going to cost, the goal of these ranges is to give you an idea of the true cost of owning a dog.
Cost Breakdown by Category
There are many expenses associated with caring for a dog. Aside from obvious costs, such as adoption fees and food bills, there are others that are easy to overlook. We’ve broken down many of the expenses below, along with price ranges depending on your dog’s breed, health and size.
Keep in mind that some costs are unpredictable. Emergency vet bills, carpet cleaning and rental fees can all be substantial, but don’t occur every year.
Upfront / One-Off Costs - $405 - $1215 (not including dog)
When you adopt a canine companion, the upfront costs are much more than just the price of the dog. Here’s a list of procedures and products you may need to buy during the first few months.
Note: If you’re adopting an older dog, some of these costs may be lower or not applicable. The table below also doesn’t include emergency medical care of other unexpected costs.
|Expense||Low Estimate||Mid-Range *||High Estimate|
|Spaying / Neutering||$200||$350||$500|
The Dog – $50-$1200 (although some breeds cost much more)
- Adopting from a Shelter ($50-$400). There are millions of dogs in shelters, including almost every breed, size and age. Adopting from a shelter is cheaper and the fee may include spaying/neutering, microchipping and vaccinations. Your money also supports the shelter.
- Buying a Puppy from a Reputable Breeder ($300-$1200 – or more). Breeds range in price from several hundred dollars to several thousand. The price also depends on the breeder and where you live. Tibetan Mastiffs are amongst the most expensive in the US, costing around $2500-$3000. Many “designer” dogs, such as Cavapoos or Puggles, can also cost $600+. Border Collies, Jack Russells and Yorkshire Terriers are amongst the cheapest – at least in terms of upfront cost.
Sadly, there are many unscrupulous breeders out there. These people may appear to care about their dogs, but are only interested in maximising profit. This leads to over-breeding, poor living conditions and a lack of proper healthcare – all of which can affect a dog for the rest of its life.
Here are a few tips for finding a responsible breeder, but we recommend reading the AKC’s advice for more information:
- Always visit the puppy’s living space to check it’s clean and that the puppies are receiving suitable care. Don’t allow the breeder to bring the puppies into a different environment when you meet them. You should also ask to meet at least one of the parents.
- Responsible breeders should be open about the breed’s genetic diseases and the health of the parents.
- Puppies that have been properly cared for by a breeder should have developed a bond with this person. If the puppies seem to “shy away” from the breeder, or if the breeder doesn’t seem to care about the dogs, this may be a sign that they haven’t received much positive one-to-one interaction.
- A red flag is a breeder that seems evasive or unwilling to answer questions. Responsible breeders should always be open to questions. They should also be happy to offer advice throughout your dog’s life.
These tips can help you avoid “backyard” breeders. These breeders sell dogs that are often unwell, poorly cared for and may be purchased from puppy mills.
Buying from a pet store is also a bad decision, as the dogs are often purchased from “high volume” breeders – which is another way of describing puppy mills.
Bed – $10-$40
Dog beds range in price from $5 pads up to $200 luxury memory foam beds, so there are plenty of options when it comes to how much you want to spend.
It’s best to avoid the cheapest beds though. Anything under $10 is likely to be flimsy and uncomfortable. Cheap beds might also not be machine-washable.
That doesn’t mean you need to spend $100+ on a bed though. For most dogs, a $10-$40 bed can do the job.
Puppies in the chewing phase have a habit of ripping bedding. Look for a strong, durable puppy bed – but be prepared to replace it.
Crate - $30-$120
Crates aren’t an essential purchase, but they are recommended for most dogs. They make potty training and nights easier, plus many dogs enjoy having a “den” to relax in.
Most wire crates cost $30-$120. Soft fabric crates are cheaper, but less durable. The bigger your dog, the more you’ll need to spend.
First Vaccinations - $75-$150
All dogs need multiple first-year vaccinations. These are spread over several months to ensure your pet develops immunity.
The exact vaccines depends on where you live. You’ll often need to pay for a core vaccination against distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus and parainfluenza, as these are some of the most common (and serious) diseases for dogs. Some areas also require rabies vaccinations.
Dog shelters often charge less for vaccinations – and some may even provide them for free. Make sure you check whether the dog’s vaccinations are up-to-date before you adopt.
Microchipping - $25-$50
A microchip is a mini computer chip that contains a unique ID for your dog. It’s around the size of a grain of rice, and is inserted under the skin via a needle.
Microchipping is a legal requirement in some countries – including the UK. Even if it’s not legally required, microchipping is always recommended, as it allows your dog to be identified without relying on an ID tag.
Some shelters include microchipping in the price of adoption.
Spaying / Neutering - $200-$500
Spaying or neutering are essential procedures for most dogs. These operations help prevent overpopulation, reduce the chance of behavioural problems, and provide several health benefits.
The price of spaying and neutering varies by area. As a general rule, busy urban vets charge more than those in quiet rural towns. You should expect to pay $200-$400 for the basic procedure.
Female dogs sometimes have the option of keyhole spaying. This is pricier, but is a less invasive procedure with a shorter recovery time.
Training - $20-$250
Training is a difficult cost to estimate, as it varies depending on the dog.
All puppies should be taken to group classes. These are relatively cheap, but provide basic obedience training and the chance for your pet to socialise with other dogs.
Private training is much more expensive – and usually not required for basic training. One-to-one sessions might be essential if your pet has behavioural issues, however, such as separation anxiety.
Of course, there’s always the option of self-training. This is cheaper, but having the advice of a a professional trainer can make a big difference to your dog’s training. If you decide to go this route, we have plenty of resources for learning positive reinforcement training.
Other Basic Equipment
There’s a seemingly endless list of equipment you need for a new dog. These include:
- Leash – $10-$20
- Collar – $5-$15
- Harness – $10-$25
- Bowls (Water & Food) – $10-$30
- Brushes and Combs – $10-$15
If you’re adopting a puppy, the collar and harness will probably need to be replaced as your pet grows.
Potential Costs Not Included in the Estimate
The costs above are applicable to most dogs, but there are other costs you may need to consider. Aside from emergency medical care (which is included in the “Ongoing Costs” section below), these include:
- Dog Proofing Your Home. New fencing, stair gates and other dog-proofing essentials can add up to a lot of money. Audit your home to estimate how much you might need to spend.
- Puppy Damage. Puppies love to chew – especially during the teething phase. If your dog chews furniture, carpets, curtains or other items, you may be hit with a pricey bill for replacements.
Ongoing Yearly Costs - $1020-$3290
There are many ongoing costs associated with caring for a dog. It’s often these costs that people underestimate – especially if they haven’t owned a dog before.
For the first year, you’ll need to add the upfront costs to these ongoing costs.
|Expense||Low Estimate||Mid Range *||High Estimate|
|Routine Vet Checkups, Tests and Vaccinations||$120||$210||$300|
|Medication and Supplements||$0||$50||$100|
|Flea and Tick Prevention||$120||$160||$200|
|Treats and Dental Chews||$20||$35||$50|
|Ongoing Equipment Replacement||$30||$65||$100|
Note: The table above doesn’t include emergency medical care or other unexpected costs.
Food - $150-$600
Food is one of the biggest ongoing costs – and also the hardest to estimate.
The amount you’ll spend on food depends on how much your dog needs to eat, the type of food, and the quality of food. For puppies, you’ll also need to adjust your budget as your dog grows.
In general, cheaper foods contain more bulking ingredients and less nutrition. Avoid the cheapest foods, as the lack of quality ingredients can affect your dog’s health.
Routine Vet Checkups, Lab Tests and Vaccinations - $120-$300
Neglecting your dog’s health isn’t just unfair on your pet – it’s also likely to be more expensive in the long run.
Annual vet visits are essential for boosting vaccinations, monitoring your dog’s health and catching potential problems as early as possible. The checkup varies depending on your location and vet, but often includes:
- Office Call
- Vaccine Boosters
- Heartworm Test
- Fecal Exam
For the basic checkup, you should expect to pay $120-$200. If your dog requires additional tests, this may increase the price.
Older dogs may require an additional geriatric test. This often costs around $100 per year. Some dogs may also need regular supplementation to prevent nutritional deficits.
Dental Cleaning - $150-$450
Gum disease and tooth decay can cause pain and distress. For this reason, many dogs need annual cleaning to prevent plaque and decay.
The price of cleaning varies depending on where you live and the type of dog. Don’t overlook dental hygiene though – it’s essential for a happy, healthy pet.
Flea and Tick Prevention - $120-$200
Fleas and ticks are common canine parasites. They are far more than just an unpleasant annoyance – both can cause serious discomfort and illness.
The good news is that fleas and ticks are relatively easy to prevent. Topical treatments that are administered directly onto the dog’s skin often prevent both. There are also oral tablets for preventing fleas.
Be aware that it can be difficult to eliminate fleas once they have infested a dog. Prevention is much easier – and more comfortable for your pet.
Heartworm Prevention - $30-$120
Just like fleas, heartworm is simple to prevent in dogs, but difficult to treat once it takes hold. For this reason, regular heartworm prevention is essential.
Heartworm is transmitted to dogs via mosquito bites. While heartworm was once only found in certain states, it has now been detected across the US.
Once infected, worms become lodged in blood vessels, heart and lungs, causing symptoms such as difficulty breathing and lack of energy. It’s often fatal if left untreated, which is why prevention and regular heartworm tests are vital for your dog’s health.
Pet Insurance - $300-$600
Pet insurance is a controversial topic. Some people believe it’s essential to insure your dog, while others think insurance is a waste of money.
Whether to get pet insurance is a personal choice. But you should think carefully about how you would cope if your dog required emergency medical treatment costing thousands of dollars.
If you can afford to pay for this type of emergency, then maybe pet insurance isn’t necessary. But if you would struggle to find the money – and be potentially faced with a horrible choice – then pet insurance can provide peace of mind.
As with all insurance, policies vary in scope and price. Some don’t cover preventative care, such as vaccines or heartworm medication. Some have a yearly limit for all conditions, while others have limits per condition. It’s important to know exactly what’s covered before you choose a company and policy.
Like most things on this list, the price depends on your dog’s breed. Bigger dogs or breeds that are susceptible to health problems tend to have a higher premium.
Breed isn’t the only factor though. The cost of insurance can also vary depending on age, sex and location. Older dogs, male dogs, and those living in areas with high veterinary cost will all command a higher premium.
Treats and Dental Chews - $20-$50
Treats and dental chews might seem like a minor expense, but they can add up throughout a year.
If you do a lot of positive reinforcement training, you may need to budget more than the above figures.
Toys - $10-$150 (or more if you can't resist!)
This is a good thing, as toys are essential for mental stimulation. The cost can quickly add up though – especially if you have a strong dog who tends to destroy his toys!
Grooming - $50-$500
Grooming is another cost that varies a lot. Some breeds have short-hair that doesn’t require much grooming. Others have long, silky coats that need regular maintenance.
A professional groomer typically charges $40-$75 per cut, although long-haired breeds may cost more. If your dog just needs a basic wash and nail cutting, this is much cheaper – and easier to do at home, if you wish.
While most dogs fall into the price range above, some dogs need monthly grooming. This can push the yearly cost higher.
Bedding - $30-$100
Even the strongest dog bed is unlikely to last your pet’s lifetime – especially if he’s a chewer!
Be prepared to replace your dog’s bed at least once every 2-3 years. For destructive dogs, this might be even more frequent.
The exception is elevated beds. These have a durable frame and simple fabric sleeping surface, making them much more durable. Elevated beds are less comfortable and supportive for your dog’s joints though.
Ongoing Toy and Equipment Replacement - $30-$100
There are always unexpected costs when caring for a dog. It’s not uncommon for a harness to need replacing, toy to be ripped up, or crate mat to become stained by a toilet accident.
You can reduce (but not eliminate) this ongoing cost by purchasing high-quality products. The stronger and more durable a product is, the longer it’s likely to last.
Poop Bags - $10-$20
Poop bags are an expense that’s easy to overlook – but they are an essential purchase! Fortunately, bags are relatively cheap.
Potential Costs Not Included in This List
The above costs are applicable to most dogs, but there are others you may need to include in your budget. These include:
- Breed-Specific Conditions. Some breeds are prone to certain medical conditions. Brachycephalic breeds, such as pugs or bulldogs, often suffer from respiratory issues. German Shepherds are another example, as they have a tendency to suffer from hip dysplasia. You’ll either need to budget for potential ongoing medical costs, or be prepared to spend more on insurance for these breeds.
- Dog Walking. If you can’t walk your dog every day, the ongoing cost of hiring a walker can be substantial. The cost varies depending on the length of walk, number of dogs walked, and your location. But you should expect to pay anything from $15-$40 per walk – which quickly adds up to a lot of money.
- Pet Sitting or Travel Fees. If you go on vacation, or just a day trip to somewhere that isn’t suitable for your dog, you may need to pay for pet sitting. This typically costs $25-$35 per night. Many pet sitters also have limited availability, which can restrict when you can travel.
All dog owners are likely to face a large and unexpected bill at one point in their pet’s life. These are difficult to estimate, so we haven’t included them in the yearly estimates, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t budget for them.
Emergency Veterinary Costs
The most common unexpected cost is an emergency vet bill. While minor procedures might cost a few hundreds dollars, surgery can cost $2000-$5000 (or more). If your pet needs to stay in an ICU, be prepared to spend $200+ a night.
Emergency treatment isn’t just a problem for older dogs. Any dog can get sick or suffer an injury, which may cost thousands to treat.
In other words, don’t assume your dog won’t get sick. Put away money each month for this type of expense, so you never need to choose between paying monthly bills and a life-saving treatment for your dog.
Alternatively, pet insurance can cover your dog in an emergency. Be aware of annual and condition-based limits though.
Damage or Rental Fees
There are also non-health related costs. Young, bored or anxious dogs may become destructive and damage furniture. Dogs with incontinence may ruin carpets or rugs. These costs can’t be predicted, but you should still be aware of them.
If you’re renting a home, some landlords charge pet deposits and non-refundable fees. According to Trulia, these fees can be more than $400, along with an additional pet rent of $40.
The list above covers the most important and universal costs, but there are many other potential fees. These include:
- Pet passports
- Dog licenses
- Car crates or harnesses
- Airline-approved crates for flights
- Life jackets
- GPS trackers
- Pet cameras
- The list goes on!
These extras won’t be necessary for every dog. But the point is that there are many expenses that are difficult to include in your budget.
The Test Run
If you’re not sure whether you can afford a dog, a “Test Run” can be a brilliant way to find out.
Start by estimating the costs associated with the type of dog you’re considering. Remember that bigger dogs, those that need lots of grooming, and those that are prone to medical conditions are likely to cost more. Adopting a puppy is also more expensive, as you need to pay for all the first-year medical costs.
If you’re not sure which values to choose from the ranges above, just go for the mid-range.
Once you have an estimated yearly figure, divide this by 12 to get your monthly estimate. Then try saving this amount for several months in a row.
Was it a struggle to spend that much each month? What did you need to sacrifice in other areas of your life? Would you still be able to save for vacations or big purchases?
Most importantly, are you willing to commit to spending this much every month for the next 10-15 years?
The great thing about this method is that if you decide you can afford a dog, you’ve already got a savings fund to insulate yourself against emergencies. If you decide against adopting a dog, you’ve still saved a nice chunk of money for another purchase.
It’s easy to underestimate the yearly cost of caring for a dog. When you consider that some dogs live to 14 years (or more), this can be a costly mistake – and one of the reasons why there are so many dogs in shelters.
The goal of this article isn’t to persuade you not to get a dog. Instead, we want to provide a realistic breakdown of how much your new pet is likely to cost, so you can budget accordingly.
If you have any questions or comments, please let us know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!
Sources: AKC, Time, Forbes, PetFinder, MoneySupermarket, PetCoach, Rover, TheSimpleDollar, MoneyUnder30, Kiplinger, PetCareRX, Statista
* Mid-range in this article refers to the average of our estimated low and high estimates, not to an estimated average amongst all dog owners.