When looking at the cost of adopting a dog, can you put a price tag on man's best friend?

The Lifetime Cost of Adopting a Dog

by Wojciech Kulicki


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Raise your hand if you've considered the total lifetime cost of adopting a dog when you adopt that cute little puppy at the pet store or shelter. I'm guessing that many of you haven't given it much thought, even if you incorporate a rough idea of the cost in your monthly or yearly budget. I didn't have any idea about the money required for pet ownership until I actually adopted my dog and wish that someone had written this post for me three years ago.

Before splashing around in the details, I would like to point out that having a pet is truly a price-less experience. Many studies have proven that people with pets live longer and healthier lives, and that the physical and mental effects of an animal companion are evident and strong. You can't put a price tag on that, but I will try my best anyway.

In order to accurately predict lifetime costs, we must first make several assumptions. First, this analysis is based purely on my own experience and my limited research into potential costs. Your personal situation may be different, and you should adjust your calculations accordingly.

The average life expectancy of a typical dog in the United States is about 13 years. Assuming that you receive the dog sometime in its first year of life, this leaves about 12 years of care in your hands. We'll use this to sum up the yearly costs.

One-Time Costs

Purchase Cost: If you opt for a purebred dog, your initial costs are going to be major. If you go the "recycled" option (adoption) like us, the cost is significantly smaller, usually under $100. This model will assume that you've adopted. Add in the cost of your dog if you're making a purchase from a breeder.

"Home" Expenses: This includes the purchase of a kennel and beds. An average-sized kennel will cost a bit under $100, while a new bed each year will total up to about $400 dollars ($30-40 per bed per year). The total in this category is $500.

Classes: If you opt for obedience classes, the cheapest alternative (about $100) will be at your local pet store.

Yearly Costs

Veterinary Care: In 2005, the average vet/surgical bill for dogs was $785. This is probably one of the biggest challenges with keeping pet costs down, and depends on your feelings toward animal companions. I'm of the school that believes when it's the dog's time to go, you let them go. However, many owners would be willing to give up their life savings for their pets. If this is you, strongly consider whether pet insurance would pay off in the long run. Regular yearly visits to the vet cost about $100-$150. Assuming the addition of pet insurance, which can run about $300 per year, the yearly total for health is about $450, and protects you from unexpected health bills.

Food Costs: Your dog's size and your choice of food will determine the range of costs in this category. We're lucky in both, as we buy a generic brand of food that the dog goes absolutely nuts over, and she is a small, 20-pound animal. Typical food costs will range from $100 to $400, so we will assume a $250 average. Treats and other munchies will run about $100 per year, also depending on the size of the dog, and how much you want to use treats in the dog's diet.

Toys and Accessories: If you purchase a few toys here and there, your leash lasts for a few years, and you need some poop bags every few months, expect to spend about $100 per year in accessories.

Grooming: A typical grooming appointment for your dog can cost between $30-$50 or more for larger breeds. If you wash your dog at home, you can cut costs considerably. If you groom professionally, expect to spend about $300 yearly.

Boarding: Assuming you leave your dog kenneled for one week each year, expect to spend about $100. Save on costs by leaving your dog with a friend.

To sum up, we have calculated our initial dog costs to be $700. Our per-year cost for the items mentioned are approximately $1300, which we multiply by 12 to get a lifetime cost of $15,600. Our total lifetime cost per dog is therefore $16,300.

Before your jaw drops to the ground, like one reader's did, please understand that you can frugalize the heck out of this number. It's an extremely conservative and "full" estimate of the cost of adopting a dog. What are our family's expected costs? $5,000. You just have to be willing to put in the effort.


Wojciech Kulicki (Wojo to his friends) is responsible for FiscalFizzle.com. He's an architect who blogs about money to keep from driving his wife crazy "jabbering about money." The blog centers around Principles (the right way of doing things), Simplicity (the other side of complexity), Critical thinking (because you should actually use your brain) and Money paradigms (helping you see money through different perspectives.

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