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Is your new dog a money pit?

An alarming number of dogs are taken to a shelter within a year of adoption. Here are costs to anticipate and ways to reduce some of them.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 16, 2013 2:41PM

This post comes from Geoff Williams at partner site U.S. News & World Report.


U.S. News & World Report logoSo you bought your kids a puppy for the holidays. And now, looking at your vet bills, the cost of dog food, and several pairs of chewed shoes, you may be wondering if perhaps you should have just bought them an Xbox.


Image: Dog (© moodboard/Corbis)Maybe you should have. Many pet owners buy a dog without thinking through the financial costs of their prospective pooch. According to, a news and information website for canine lovers, every year about 13 million American households adopt a dog or a puppy and within 12 months half of them have been taken to a shelter.


"I often try and talk people out of getting a pet and (play) devil's advocate," says Harrison Forbes, the author of "Dog Talk: Lessons Learned from a Life With Dogs," host of a nationwide radio pet show, and a semi-regular pet expert on television, including "Today."


"There's an odd peer pressure, especially in the shelter world, that we always need to be pumping up the benefits of pet ownership, and that's great. I'm fully on board. But it's like homeownership. Owning a house and having a dog is the American dream, but you only want to do it if you can afford it. You don't want to have to give either up because you didn't think it through."


Robin Ganzert, the president of the American Humane Association, agrees. She is, of course, unabashedly on the side of the canine: "My dream would be for every child to have a pet in their lives." But in the same breath, she also acknowledges, "So many folks are trying to do the right thing and going to shelters to adopt dogs, but that doesn't mean they're equipped to do it. They still need to go through the same thought process as you would if you were buying a dog from an expensive breeder. A lot of dogs are recycled back into a shelter or abandoned, and it's not a good life for them."


If you have a new puppy and are overwhelmed by the costs or you're thinking of getting a dog this year, here are some factors to consider before you do anything rash, like replacing your furry pal with a gerbil, or before you get too caught up in daydreams of throwing a Frisbee at the dog park and watching old Benji movies together.


The lifetime costs of owning a dog

Odds are, the cost is more than you think. A variety of sources have different numbers but they're all high. places the average cost of owning a dog -- over the dog's lifetime -- at $20,000.


In 2011, crunched numbers and came up with an eye-popping $59,668.88 for a mutt over its lifetime, but the study assumed the New York City-based family would be sending the animal to doggie day care, expensive kennels, and would buy virtually every available accessory., which provides tips on raising a dog, suggests a dog that lives 12 years might cost you anywhere between $4,620 and $32,990.


In other words, if your car is one broken head gasket from putting you into financial ruin, now is not the time to get a dog. If you're doing OK, well, keep in mind that if a dog costs you $20,000 in the long run, that averages out to a little more than $1,500 a year -- a much friendlier number.

Setup costs

If you're buying from a breeder, you might easily pay in the neighborhood of $1,000, or much more. If you're buying from a shelter, an adoption fee might be closer to $100. However, you'll also need to set aside money for vaccination shots and for the dog to be spayed or neutered (if the adoption fee doesn't cover it). Your dog will need some smaller items such as a collar, a leash and a dog license.


"The average cost for supplies to set up a small dog is around $300 to $350," says Dawn Burch, the veterinary relations manager for Petco. "The average cost for supplies to set up a large dog is around $400 to $450."


Dogs will be expensive at the outset, says Forbes. "Fifteen years ago, a lot of shelters' adoption fees were, like, $20, and there's a lot of hard evidence that those low costs helped make it easier for people to return their pets," he says. "Shelters that make you pay $300 to $500 for a dog have way less returns than the ones who give animals away dirt-cheap. When you shell out some money on the front end, you take owning a dog a little more seriously."


Ongoing costs

Food will be the biggest strain on your wallet, but vet checkups need to be factored into the budget. You may need to put your dog in a kennel when you travel, or you may want to send your canine to a doggie day care if nobody's in the house all day. Of course, there are treats, rawhide bones, dog beds, sweater vests, pet insurance, and an untold number of dog accessories you could purchase as well.


Experts warn not to skimp on food and veterinarian services. "If you go to a grocery and buy a 30-pound bag of dog food for $10, there are health consequences for that with increased vet bills later," says Forbes, who acknowledges that consumers often feel they have no choice but to go for the cheap stuff. "When you have to pay your gas bill, dog food always ends up being cut."


Forbes, who has worked for a number of dog food brands in the past but is no longer affiliated with any, says if you're pressed for cash but want to buy something relatively healthy, Pedigree, Purina One, and Iams are sound choices. But he adds that the expensive dog food usually has the best nutritional value.


If you're having trouble caring for your dog and think the shelter is your only option, Ganzert says your local shelter or animal control might be able to steer you to places that can help you access free or inexpensive dog food and low-cost vet care.



Raising a dog on your own can be mentally taxing. Ganzert suggests getting help, whether through an obedience school in your neighborhood (a five-week course can cost between $50 to $350) or a guide book.


Or you could opt for the cost-free alternative of watching a dog training TV show, says Joel Silverman, who hosted "Good Dog U" on Animal Planet for 10 years and stars in the TV show "Dog & Cat Training with Joel Silverman."


"One of the biggest reasons dogs are returned to shelters, I believe, is due to training issues," says Silverman, who also cites gifting someone a dog as a return-to-sender route. He believes dog owners should choose their pet to ensure a better bond and match.



You may want to buy cleaning agents, a carpet cleaner, or have a carpet-cleaning service on speed dial. "Look at your house and home facility and what's likely to be impacted, because you're going to have accidents the first year," Ganzert warns.


And unless you completely puppy-proof your home, you can expect to encounter costs to replace items such as shoes, books and toys.


Economic benefits

Ganzert says furry family members save people more money than they spend. She cites studies that show dogs help lower people's blood pressure, and show that children who are exposed to dogs at an early age often avoid developing asthma. Kids who have dogs and are walking them and playing with them are less likely to be overweight, adds Ganzert.


Silverman agrees that the positives outweigh the costs: "These aren't really major expenses. This is your best friend, right?"


More on U.S. News & World Report and MSN Money:

Jan 16, 2013 5:42PM
if you are only thinking of the cost by all means do not get a dog, they can be expensive at the worst times. but if you are looking for a companion to enrich your life, you don't mind a chewed shoe which you will learn to close closet door or make sure is on a shelf, then by all means adopt a dog or puppy, i have had a dog since i was a baby can't see myself without one even now that i am retired and money is limited.  i've had dogs that other than shots and food never required anything, i have had my beautiful black lab, diagnosed with cancer and my maxwell, the treatments were expensive and i lost them way before "i was ready" but i would live in my truck before i would give up one of them.  you take your children on as a lifetime commitment, so why do you not do the same with your dog or any pet that you love.
Jan 16, 2013 7:31PM
My little Chihuahua, Peanut Anne, died a year ago.  I would give everything I have if I could have her back.  She was worth far more than money.  I had her ten years and some of them were very hard years.  I don't know what I would have done without her.
Jan 16, 2013 9:30PM

I wouldn't give up my dog for all the money in the world. She is smarter than alot of people i know and loves me unconditionaly.  The only thing I hate is that dogs got shortchanged in life expectintcy. Wish they lived much much longer than they do. I have lost some and it hurts just as much as a humans loss in my life. Dog spelled backwards is GOD. God is love and so are dogs. Im  in better health and a better person for having dogs in my life. I love them and they return it to me tenfold. I would fight to the death for my dog and she would do the same for me i know.

Jan 16, 2013 8:47PM
Before she was 2 my lab had to have both of her back legs operated on, within 3 months of each other, at $1,000 a pop.  she's almost 11 and I'm well into it for over $10,000 now with surgeries, prescriptions, good food, baths down at the kennel, etc. etc.

wouldn't have it any other way.  :)

Jan 16, 2013 7:08PM

Here is a minor example of what is wrong in our economy: My wife works at county hospital in Southern California, it's considered among illegal immigrants a; magnet hospital" . Mexican's travel from all over mexico to deliver their babies here. before they leave the hospital the hospitals are required to give them all the forms for WIC, Welfare and food stamps. If they ask fo a car seat they give them that too. If they ask for diapers, they are given a supply of those too. Mexico's people know this is how our count on this system to make their kids US citizens. This hospital delivers thousands of babies just like this every year. You pay for this. Should you have to pay for this?


Jan 16, 2013 7:24PM

You're making a mountain o/o a mole-hill & discouraging ordinary people who might give a outcast dog a home.  All it really needs is to be fed & loved.  Sure, it would be better it you gave it vaccinations, a balanced diet & spayed it.  And it would probably live longer if it's owner can afford expensive medical care  But if the alternative is NOT having a loving owner; well, what kind of "life" would it have?  Short & miserable!.  A real home is optional too--think of the dogs who belongs to  homeless person--do you think it really cares where it sleeps as long as it can sleep with it's person?  Do you think we should take their dog away?  Then what?? Adopt them out.  Or, maybe we could take in all the homeless who have dogs & support them both!  I guarantee that would take care of dog-adoption....

In a way this discussion is reminiscent of the right-to-lifers who want to save every baby & even potential babies, but are not "there" for the long-haul with money(think: taxes & entitlements...) & support for every single one for 18 years..... 

Jan 17, 2013 1:05AM

Nothing makes me more angry than people who get a puppy only to give it up in a month, a year, or after a few years because "they didn't have the time." "She needs more space." "We can't take care of him."

Why didn't you think of that BEFORE you got your pet? You know your lifestyle and how much time/money you have to devote to something. Puppies and dogs need attention and love. If you can't handle it then don't get one! You wouldn't adopt a kid just because it's cute, so don't get a pet for that reason either!

Jan 16, 2013 8:46PM

I agree with some of the things in this article, but most I don't.  I have had dogs my whole life.  I also grew up on a farm, traveled extensively with my dog (various), and am now back on the farm.  Pedigreed dogs and I take care of them properly, but I don't go crazy with them like most do.  The cost they quote are ridiculous.  I feed only Purina brands, but the cheaper ones.  I've never had health issues and the dog is glossy coated, bright eyed, and no teeth problems.  Of course I only feed dry feed, because the wet feed rots their teeth.  (Common sense)  My dog also stays outside while I'm at work and inside when I'm home.  So they don't have "issues" and are healthier mentally due to the outside stimulation.  I only go the vet once a year, unless the dog has an issue. 

Most dogs are returned within a year due to behavior issues due to lack of training AND understanding.  Within that year they go through the "terrible two's and teenage years" which means high energy and curiosity.  Some dogs keep their "puppy brains" past the first year.  I know that stage can make you want to kill the damn dog, but you have to get through it.  My current dog is a Doberman bitch (spayed)that was returned to the kennel at 9 months.  I got her when I lived in the Catskills of NY.  She is currently 5 years and a bit calmer but still high energy.  Regular exercise helps keep that energy level under control! 

Jan 16, 2013 11:00PM

The sources they used to estimate the cost of owning a dog aren't even close to the true average cost.


The best place to adopt a dog is at your local animal shelter, in my area the shelter charges around $125.00 and this includes all the vaccinations, spaying/neutering, micro-chipping, a puppy/dog starter kit with 5 lbs.. of food along with a certificate for a free wellness evaluation with a Veterinarian at

VCA Animal Hospitals. Also most local shelters will also run specials several times throughout the year with heavily discounted adoption fees.  


I have four dogs that cost me a total average of $155.84 per month which equals to $38.96 per month for each dog, with an average cost of $1.30 per day for each dog.


The above estimate includes $66.00 for two 34 lb. bags of Authority dog food, $13.00 for triple pack of dog tooth paste & $6.52 for the sales tax. Also included is an average of $10.00 per month for pet snacks, toys and shampoo.


The remainder of the average monthly cost are from, $300.00 per year for Veterinary visits & vaccinations divided by 12 months = an average of $25.00 monthly for all 4 dogs and

$424.00 per year for heartworm preventive pills divided by 12 months = an average of $35.33 monthly for all 4 dogs. 


I don't include flea prevention in my monthly cost associated with my 4 dogs because I treat my whole yard every 3 months to prevent & control numerous other insects in addition to fleas.


Other cost associated with owning my dogs like water/food bowls, collars & leashes are minimal and only have to be replaced once in a great while.


I save money on my pets by also giving them healthy snacks like carrots. Also when we replace our socks every 2 to 3 months, we take the old socks and stretch them out, tie knots into them and use them for the dogs to play with in between the times that we buy them store bought toys. 


So with my average cost of about $1.30 per day for each dog, this would total about  $5,610.24 each for twelve years. I hope I can spend a lot more than this because I want my 4 dogs to live a lot longer than twelve years.

Jan 17, 2013 10:10AM
what shelter did they go to? All the shelters in my area are charging 450 to adopt a dog.

Jan 17, 2013 10:06AM

A very wise man told me that if you wish to have a well behaved well trained dog rule #1 is that you must be smarter than the dog........ so that explains most of the problem with dog owners. I had dogs 50+ years, each one for its entire life,  but no longer can afford the vet bills, in our area it is $500+ for routine shots heartworm tests and medication then especially as dogs get old they have more health issue s like old people do.  As much as I miss the pooch I don't miss cleaning up the dog-do in the yard on a hot summer day........  

Jan 16, 2013 9:59PM

The cost of living in Obamaville is prohibitive to pets because we have to permit our children to live in the basement until they are twenty-six and then there is the other 47% to feed.


mmm, mmm, mmm!

Jan 16, 2013 9:13PM

"One Nation Under God"......but only if your ancestors are from Europe?

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