Are you thinking about getting a dog but worried about the finances? This post will guide you through all the factors you should consider, including one-time and ongoing costs to help you decide about getting a dog.
During the pandemic, there have been so many firsts. We engaged in social distancing, remote learning, telemedicine, and work from home. Our lives changed dramatically. For many, getting a pet became a viable option when lockdowns began.
The ability to spend time with a new puppy or kitten at home, and teaching our children how to raise a young pet was an added benefit. We considered a puppy in late 2019, but the lockdown period seemed like a good time for our family to bring that dog home. Although I love all kinds of pets, our experience has been primarily with dogs. We weren’t the only ones to get a dog in the first place.
What Kind Of Dog Are You Looking For?
Before the lockdown orders began, we visited several rescue shelters, encountering crowds of families on lines looking for a dog. The volunteers at the shelters told us that traffic to their facilities had been ramping up. Although a rescue dog was appealing, my daughter, Alex, and I need a hypoallergenic dog. Hence, Kelly, our six-year-old soft-coated wheaten terrier, is such a good fit for a family. As a result, we remain steadfast loyalists to the wheaten breed by choice. We have two dogs, including our 18-month-old Teddy, in our home for the first time. Teddy has been with us since he was ten weeks old.
Surge In Dog Adoptions During COVID
Between March 15 and April 15, 2020, as the COVID virus spread, Petfinder reported that traffic on their site increased 43% while adoption inquiries rose 122%. ASPCA saw a nearly 70% rise in animals going to foster care. I learned first hand as I contacted breeders and rescue shelters, they were largely overwhelmed by the number of people inquiring about adopting a dog for the first time. They warned the new dog-seekers to put the time into understanding the considerable needs of puppies rather than acting hastily.
Americans love their pets. According to a 2019-2020 survey by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 67% of US households own a pet or 84.9 million homes. Overwhelmingly, dogs at 63.4 million are the dominant choice, followed by cats at 42.7 million.
Growing up, we had a typical set of pets for an apartment: turtles (one committed suicide off our terrace), a hamster, and a gerbil but no dog. My husband, Craig, had dogs growing up, so he had some experience. For some reason, I couldn’t even keep a ficus tree alive in our apartment, but I wanted a dog very badly. Leaving my job on Wall Street, I decided to go to law school and get a dog. Getting a dog became more urgent after September 11, 2001. Losing my dear friend Ruth that day made it easier for me to make changes in my life.
Factors To Consider When Buying A Dog
1. Does A Dog Fit Into Your Lifestyle?
Getting a dog cannot be an impulsive purchase. When bringing home a puppy, you take care of another life for potentially 15 years or more. It can be a tremendous sacrifice in terms of time, money, patience, and sacrifice.
A lot of research and soul searching needs to be done before bringing a puppy into your household. Sadly, many dogs are in rescue shelters as people mistakenly become dog owners, thinking they can handle the costs and sacrifices. Getting a dog makes excellent sense for many families who have had experiences growing up and doing their homework.
2. Time, Patience, And Sacrifice
Time and devotion are essential for your dog. When we got our first wheaten, Riley, I happened to be home taking LSATs and filling out law school applications. By then, Craig had begun his law firm. However, we were both home a lot at that time. Later on, as we both worked long hours, we needed to get a dog walker for at least one walk a day at $15 per half hour.
Keep in mind that if two people work long hours every day, you will be spending a lot of money annually to exercise your dog. They need a minimum of 4 walks per day at $15 per thirty-minute walk for about 260 working days a year. That will cost about $15,600 annually. Besides needing exercise, they relish your companionship. We saw a big difference in our dog, Kelly, during the pandemic, enjoying our company. Our kids were home from school doing distance learning while I was teaching remotely, adding to her usual friend, my husband, Craig, who often works from home. Pardon my French, but our dog, Kelly was like a pig in s**t!
3. Emergency Funds For Your Pet
Before you even bring home your dog, be aware of the cost requirements. It is one thing to plan for the upfront and ongoing costs. However, it is the unforeseen costs that can most surprise you. We had several unexpected events that were quite costly. As such, create an emergency fund separate for your dog from the rest of your family. You’ll want to have a fund of at least $500-$1000 set aside for your dog.
A True Story About Riley’s Surgery
One particular time, Riley stopped eating and seemed lethargic. After ordering X-rays for Riley, the vet determined that he needed emergency surgery to remove the plastic flowers he had ingested. (I know this sounds weird, but unfortunately, it is true. The leaves were from a fake tree my mother loved. She had passed away, and I didn’t have the heart to discard it.) After paying about $2,000 for the surgery, the surgeon came out to show us a large-sized bag filled with plastic leaves. Then, he asked if he could please use this bag as an artifact to teach veterinary students what they can find in a dog’s stomach cavity.
Dogs will eat or destroy almost anything. Our list is more extensive for our first dog than for Kelly because we probably got a little wiser. However, we have damaged walls, library books, school supplies, lamps, my favorite pairs of glasses, shoes, and lots of clothing. Lost items aside, monitoring your dogs to keep them safe is critical. If you live in a house, you probably need to build an enclosed wooden fence or area for the dog to run and play outdoors. An invisible fence works for some dogs. We had one, and Riley ran right through it, looking like he had a fun adventure!
4. The Finances: Upfront/One-Time Costs
Dog ownership has a lot of responsibilities. Financial costs–one-time and ongoing–can be considerable. You are deciding whether to adopt a dog from a rescue shelter or directly from a breeder. If you have a specific breed in mind, you may need to go now to a reputable breeder. Generally, the cost will be higher depending on the type. Don’t be surprised if the cost of your puppy is in the range of $2,500 and up. On the other hand, you may be able to find a pure breed or mixed breed at a rescue shelter where the adoption cost is far less, ranging up to $500.
The ASPCA waived all fees during the COVID period. Instead of fees, many shelters need donations to keep the facilities running as they remain closed to the public. When searching for your pet, stay patient and do diligent research, which is required.
Preparing your home for your puppy, especially if this is your first experience, may be mindboggling. Before picking up your pet, you may need to puppy-proof your home with gates where there are steps and a free-standing gate to separate the kitchen from the living room. We used these locks for the lower cabinets and left them on when we brought our two babies home. Look around your home from a dog’s perspective, which is closer to the floor. There will likely be some danger spots, such as easy-to-reach cleaning fluids.
Parents know about these risks but, many people overlook these risks. When we brought our first puppy home, I was amazed at how clever Riley was in opening all the drawers and cabinets. No, we were unprepared and had to buy all the child locks so that Mr. Clean didn’t become his toy.
Get a hard plastic travel crate to take your puppy home in a car, but make sure to have a more permanent one like this one (about $40-$50) when he or she grows closer to full size. You will need a leash, collar, ID tag, dog treats, and chewy toys. We bought this medium-sized wire crate ($40-$50) for Teddy for sleeping at night.
On the latter, their crate becomes their little kingdom and a means to housetraining your pet. Later on, you will likely want a dog bed which can range from $30-$50 or higher depending on how plush you want the bed to be. Riley and, later on, Kelly both slept in our bed at night but they were in these dog beds during the day. We bought two exact dog beds, though Teddy likely claims Kelly’s as his own because the grass is always greener somewhere else.
Make sure to have hard (kibble) and canned soft food at home. Our breeder was extremely helpful in providing us with a list ahead of time. Wheatens have sensitive stomachs. I am sure each dog has their own specific needs. Some excellent pet food delivery services have monthly subscriptions, so you never run out of food or treats. We turn to Chewy for many of our ongoing needs.
The Vet Visit
Make an appointment with a reputable veterinarian in your neighborhood. You should make your initial appointment within a day or two after taking your pet home. This visit has a dual purpose. First, it is a wellness checkup, and second, to get vaccines and medicine needed. You will need to follow This visit will be followed by two other visits soon to build your dog’s record. The vet will ask you to plan for spaying or neutering your pet (about $500) when they are about nine months to a year. Additionally, get a microchip (about $200) as pets may wander.
Housebreaking your puppy is an essential and often difficult task. Our whole family participated in this process. We looked like the Keystone Cops trying to negotiate our puppy’s tendencies to pee and poop before we were ready to take him out. I highly recommend How to Housebreak Your Dog In 7 Days which was a lifesaver.
Obedience Training: A Story
As your dog gets older, they need socialization and obedience training. Ask your vet for some recommendations. During the pandemic, attending these classes had not been available due to social distancing. While you may find many obedience training videos on Youtube, opportunities for socialization have been challenging. We have been fortunate to have Kelly as a six-year playmate for puppy Teddy.
The average cost of dog training is $50 or more per hour. You can do a lot of this yourself if you have the time and patience. As we were clueless parents when we had our first dog, we registered for an obedience training program with several other families over six weeks with an experienced teacher. She walked us through ten commands. I thought Riley did pretty well though he was well behind the pack.
A True Story How Riley “Failed” His Test
On the last day, the trainer tested the dogs by command. Then each family with their happy dog proudly lined up to get their test scores. We were last on the line. I recall feeling giddy as I saw each family bring a certificate of completion. As I put out my hand for our certificate, the trainer handed me a dog bone instead. She told us Riley had “failed” the course, having mastered three of the ten commands for a 30% score. Craig and I were both mortified at being told a member of our family had flopped. We didn’t yet have kids, but I hoped I never heard that another being had failed at anything. By the way, we did sign Riley up for individual lessons with this trainer, and he succeeded!
5. Ongoing Annual Costs
According to the American Pet Product Association (APPA), estimated spending of $99 billion on pet products in 2020 is as follows:
- $38.4B Pet Food and Treats
- $9.8B Supplies, Live Animals & OTC Medicine
- $30.2B Vet Care & Product Sales
- $10.7B Other Services
Basic annual expenses in APPA’s 2019-2020 for dogs average $1,305 in the following breakdown:
Surgical Vet Visits $426
Routine Vet 212
Kennel Boarding 229
Our Costs Are A Bit Different
These amounts differ a bit from our expenditures for our dog annually. We have a different allocation so that we will provide our amounts. It is hard to estimate surgical vet visits, having had major surgery for Riley and not yet for Kelly. On the other hand, we spend about $800-$900 per year for regular vet visits, above average. Our food costs, including treats, are about $400. Our wheaten is roughly 30 pounds and often a picky eater. We supplement regular dog food with plain yogurt Kelly enjoys.
We have rarely boarded our dog at a kennel. Instead, we use a live-in pet sitter who charges $65 per day or at their home. That amount of about $450-$900 for one or two weeks away adds to our vacation cost. This fee is probably an indulgence that provides us with peace of mind when we are out on rare occasions. We spend about $100 annually on vitamins and toys. Grooming is far more significant for our hairy (not furry) dog friend, which requires more care at about $350 annually. In recent years, we have bathed our dogs, but professional grooming is essential. `Our dog is non-shedding, an excellent benefit that is easier to clean.
Our costs, excluding surgeries, amount to $2,000-$2,500 per year. That higher amount has a lot to do with where we live (northeast) rather than spending more lavishly on our dog. Other surveys have pegged the annual amount for dogs’ basic needs in the range of $1,000-$2,000 per year, which sounds like a reasonable ballpark estimate.
6. Is Pet Insurance Necessary?
Many dog owners have insurance. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, 85% of pets insured are dogs. We researched a few pet insurance plans. Typically, pet insurance plans cover 1) accident only, 2) accident and illness, or 3) accident, illness, and wellness. We ended up using Trupanion for $75 a month as they had a lower deductible than the ASPCA plan. Our experience was not favorable because the plan would not cover pre-conditions such as the allergies Kelly had. Therefore, we dropped the plan.
Dogs require a lot of attention, patience, and sacrifice of time and money. They are non-judgmental, always happy to see you, and loving beings. However, our dog has been a critical member of our family from the day we brought them home. We have never regretted our decisions in bringing a new member into our family. With getting a second dog into the fold, we have found new challenges we expect to overcome. That said, it is a lot of work, but we knew that as we picked out our dogs.
Teddy and Kelly are good friends to have and heartbreaking when they pass on to the rainbow bridge. We still remember Riley as the dog who taught us so much about ourselves. He was there when we brought our two children home. I wish you and your families the best as you embark upon getting your dog.
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With a passion for investing and personal finance, I began The Cents of Money to help and teach others. My experience as an equity analyst, professor, and mom provide me with unique insights about money and wealth creation and a desire to share with you.