The Real Cost of Owning a Dog



I volunteer at a local humane society which regularly holds special adoption events. At some of these events, adoption fees are waived, allowing one to adopt a dog for free. Whenever this occurs, I can’t help but wonder if those individuals who have purposefully waited for this chance to save the $85-$100 adoption fee truly recognize the long-term costs associated with dog ownership.

The wife of a friend of mine really wanted a canine companion, so the two of them regularly stopped by the ASPCA hoping to make a special connection with a dog in need. Then one day it happened: a 12-week-old pit mix stole their hearts. At the time, he was still in quarantine, waiting to receive the necessary shots. For $80, the ASPCA covered not only the cost of the shots and adoption fee, but also the cost of neutering the puppy.

Although $80 might seem like a lot, it is just a small fraction of the total cost of owning a dog throughout the dog’s lifetime. Shortly after my friends brought Revi the puppy home, they were faced with the immediate costs of purchasing all of the equipment that the puppy needed for his homecoming like a crate, food bowls, leash, collar, food, cleaning supplies, etc. Then, just a month or two later, Revi was due for another round of shots, and more were required throughout the first year of Revi’s life.

Because the money spent on Revi was provided a little at a time over 15 years, it didn’t seem like a lot when reviewing it on an annual basis. However, looking back on it 15 years later, my friend realized that he had already spent approximately $50,000 on Revi for things such as ACL surgery, daily medication, vet visits, dog food, treats, other medications, dog gear, dog sitters, etc. And the tally continues to add up as Revi gets older.

When I asked my friend if he regretted spending $50,000 on his dog, he firmly said no. He said he hadn’t even hesitated to write a check for $4,000 when presented with the bill for Revi’s ACL surgery. However, when I mentioned how much I had spent on my dog who had experienced two bouts of cancer, my friend said he wouldn’t have spent money on that. Confused, I asked him why not. He said it was because the ACL surgery was a guaranteed fix. Any type of surgery, whether it’s to treat a broken bone or to fix a knee displacement, would be an easy ‘Yes’, for him; but rolling the dice on tens of thousands of dollars for cancer treatment which may not even work, (especially for an older dog), was another matter. The money, he claimed, could be better put to use saving more dogs.

Since I was in a situation where I was able to financially afford the necessary medical treatments after each of the cancer diagnoses, it never occurred to me not to do everything I could to save my dog. I know that others might not agree with me on this, but my friends with kids may better relate with my decision since they would also do anything within their power to care for their children. Since I don’t have children, my dog was as close to being my child as could be.

I was fortunate to be able to afford the cost of having a dog for 14 years. Not everyone is so lucky. Their job situation might change or their dog might develop a chronic illness; they might inherit another dog, or incur other unforeseen expenses, etc. That is when the heart-breaking decision about the dog’s fate must be made. Should the dog be euthanized, put up for adoption or foster care, or handed over to a shelter?

Although no one can predict the future, more people can be informed about the overall cost of owning a dog for the extent of their lifetime. You may have heard the statistics that raising a single child from birth to 18 years old can cost on average $250,000. Though the average cost is not nearly as high for dogs, it can still cost a pretty penny. According to the AKC, the average cost for the first year of raising small dogs was $2674; medium dogs on average cost $2889; the cost for large dogs is $3239 and giant breeds such as Great Danes have an annual cost of $3536. The average first year cost across all sizes was $3085.

Supplies were estimated at $432 per year, food was $435 per year (organic food is usually higher), and preventative medications were estimated at $389 per year. Veterinary costs were $650 per year (including all lab work plus one serious illness per year).

According to researchers Giffear and Scott, the average lifetime cost of raising a dog is $23,410. These numbers don’t include training classes, nor do they include the cost of treating unexpected life-threatening illnesses like cancer. My dog, who had cancer twice and lived to be 14 years old, cost me about $80,000 total.

If I had to do it all over again - even knowing that I would spend $80,000 in 14 years - I would do so in a heartbeat. I would do everything I could to afford it. However, if I wasn’t in a financial position to spend anywhere from $25,000 - $80,000 on a dog during its lifetime, I would probably find other ways to get my dog fix by either volunteering at a dog rescue group or shelter, dog sitting other dogs, or donating what I could to dog charitable organizations.

In comparison, my friend said that if Revi was aging, he wouldn’t get another dog before Revi dies. He would need a break to be ready emotionally - not necessarily financially.