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No Such Thing as a Free Dog

Mar 11, 2019 by Abigail S.

The true cost of pet ownership


Have you ever been offered a free dog? Well, my “free dog” ended up costing over $1,000 in the first week. A friend of ours found Jack as a stray running down the side of a busy road, and despite advertising him in the newspaper and placing posters at all the local animal shelters, no one ever claimed him. When my husband and I agreed to adopt him, we were expecting to pay for all his shots, food and gear.

What we weren’t expecting was for him to develop a life-threatening case of pancreatitis less than five days later. Our vet said he had a miraculous recovery, but the bill wasn’t miraculous. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but now as I look back - he’s been worth every penny.

While my experience may not be typical, I’ve found that very few people know the true cost of pet ownership. They see wiggly tails and wet noses and say yes without thinking about the impact on their budget. I’m glad we waited to get a dog until our budget had the breathing room to handle it. Seven years after that financially awful first week of pet ownership, here’s what I’ve learned:

No Such Thing as a Free Dog1. Food

Everyone expects to pay for dog food. While your actual costs will vary depending on the size of the dog and the brand you buy, you probably won’t forget to budget for this expense. Current yearly cost: $240

2. Vet Bills

I’m a nervous dog mom. I’ve called the vet’s after-hours hotline for vomiting or a fall down the stairs only to be told to calm down, give him some over-the-counter medicine and bring him in to the office in the morning. And yes, he was perfectly fine every time. But in addition to those visits, there are some basic expenses that I know we will have each year. I budget for a yearly check-up and vaccinations, and I make sure I don’t forget about flea and tick prevention and heartworm prevention. Current yearly cost: $700 (not counting emergency calls)

3. Treats

I have an addiction to buying treats for my dog at the local pet store in town. They have a treat bar by the checkout, and it gets me every time. Whether it’s squeaky toys or treats or bones, you will probably slip something for your dog into your grocery shopping from time to time as well. Current yearly cost: $350

4. Travel

While we love to take Jack with us when we can – he’s been a farm dog for a day in South Dakota and experienced a full eclipse in Nebraska, among other adventures – sometimes that’s just not possible. Whether you choose a kennel or hire a pet sitter, the extra costs can add up! Current yearly cost: $150

5. Old Age

As your dog grows older, the costs can increase as well. When my dog’s leg started getting stiff, I looked online and found an ergonomic, memory foam dog bed. In addition to the special bed, Jack is now on daily joint supplements, and we may soon add arthritis medicine and pain pills. Make sure your budget can handle caring for your beloved animals as they get older. Current yearly cost: $700 and rising

Total yearly cost of my dog: $2,140

According to the ASPCA, I spend around double the yearly average taking care of Jack. This is probably partially because he’s an older dog, and his healthcare costs are rising. But I don’t regret putting that extra money in my budget. After all, the value of all those doggie kisses and snuggles? Priceless.