How Do People Justify Owning a Pet? Can I Afford a Dog?

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I may run the risk of getting hate mail for asking, but I have a genuine question I want to get an answer to. How do pet lovers justify owning a pet financially?

I saw the other day that animal shelters are running out of pets during the pandemic and I shook my head because now isn’t the right time for many people to adopt a pet. I get people wanting companionship when we are forced to stay at home for the better part of our lives, but isn’t getting a pet the last thing we should do during this time of crisis because owning a pet costs so much?

My Struggle to Stay Dog-Free

I wanted to know because Sara has been asking if we can get a dog for basically forever. What do you want for your birthday? A dog. What about Christmas? Dog. For lunch? Not a dog, but could we get a dog soon?

Most days I’m pretty firm with my response, but there are times when I feel like giving in. Sara is only ten years old, but she’s pretty responsible considering her age. She is also a very caring person and loves animals so much that if any kid “deserves” a pet, it would be her.

Still, all I can see whenever someone walks their dog is the work and money that’s tethered to that leash. These are just some of the negatives that immediately pop into my brain:

  • I’ll have to walk the dog every day. This seems minor, but did you know that who’s going to walk the dog is the number one argument couples have about their pet? Today is a pretty sunny day, but what if it’s super cold outside? Really hot? What if it’s pouring outside and walking the dog is guaranteed to make you soaking wet?
  • Dogs bark, run around, and want your companionship. I work at home though. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate whenever the dog starts getting excited or barks. It will be sad to continually push him away if I need to work all the time.
  • My friend’s dog wakes him up every day at 6:30 am, and he looks sleepy every time I see him.
  • Another friend’s dog was sick and needed to be on some special medicine that costs $300 a month.
  • Other dogs need surgery, and the costs I hear from my friends run into the thousands.
  • Some dogs develop food allergies and need special kinds of dog food. You can cook for him, but if you don’t have time or simply don’t want to do so, then expect to pay up.
  • We don’t have close family members to help take care of a dog when we go on vacation. That’s another $50 a day every day we are gone from our home.
  • The day the dog dies will be devastating for everyone in the family. Why subject the kids to this torture?

So How Much Does Owning a Dog Costs?

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) broke it down nicely for us, and it’s not cheap.

One Time Costs
Spay/Neuter – $190 to $220
Initial Medical fees – $70
Collar/Leash – $25 – $35
Carrier Bag – $40 – $60
Crate – $35 – $125
Training Classes – $110
Total One Time Costs- $470 to $560

Annual Costs
Food – $212 – $400
Recurring Medical – $210 to $260
Toys/Treats – $40 – $75
License – $15
Health Insurance (covers vaccines and any medical issues) – $225
Total Annual – $732 to $975

All in all, you are looking at over $2,000 the first year and upwards of $1,000 each and every year. Now, I say it’s probably going to be $2,000 the first year because ASPCA failed to mention that adopting a dog can cost anywhere from $0 to $500. Some special breeds can even cost upwards of thousands of dollars.

And though the costs already don’t sound cheap, I feel like even these estimates are too low. Many of my friends take their pets to get cleaned, groomed, and sometimes even pampered, adding hundreds of dollars to the annual costs.

There’s also no mention of the costs associated with a family going on a vacation. Pet sitters or pet daycare are very expensive. And while going somewhere is optional, it’s a common enough expense that this should be factored into the typical cost of owning a pet.

You can skip health insurance if you wanted to, but remember that these costs are based on a typically healthy dog. The medical costs could run thousands of dollars per incident if your dog develops an allergy, or need medicine/surgery. And by the way, insurance, even if you pay for it, may not cover everything in its entirety.

How to Prepare Before You Commit to Owning a Dog

But David, I really still want a dog. How should I prepare myself?

I want to know too! But from the research I’ve gathered for this article, here are a few mental notes I need to make to myself if I plan to own a dog.

Figure out what you are willing to give up to own the flurry friend. You have finite resources, and it’s not just financial ones either. Much like children, a dog will want to be with you and you will also need to take time out of the day to care for that little friend.

For some, it could be spending less time on a favorite hobby. For others, it may require giving up a few vacations here and there. Take time to figure out what the costs for you are, and be prepared and willing to make the trade-off.

Make a list of preferences and take time to research the breed you are planning to adopt. Owning a dog is a big commitment and you need to be ready before you say yes. Do you mind a Chow Chow that sheds lots of hair? What about an Australian Shepherd who’ll need a ton of exercises? Or a Border Collie who needs a lot of love? Don’t make the common mistake of falling in love with just the “looks” of the pet and then hastily bring her home!

Set aside a few thousand dollars for the day your dog becomes sick. I imagine not every dog will require expensive medical attention in his or her lifetime, but judging from my friend’s experiences, they all seem to require at least a moderate amount. Make sure you beef your emergency fund up a notch if you plan to welcome a dog into your family.

Try it out by dog sitting for your friend. You likely won’t get a sense of the costs of having a pet, but at least you will have more insight into the everyday life of being with a pet. You’ll also be able to give the dog back after this is all said and done, you’ll have a forever grateful friend.

Do You Own a Dog?

There are plenty of dog lovers out there, and I want to hear from you. If you were me, would you let Sara adopt a dog? Do you think a dog will grow on me, or do you think I’ll just continue to see the work and dollar signs running around the house all day?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Peggy Burnette says:

    So sad your daughter doesn’t have a dog, a companion and best friend. Adopt at the animal shelter and the first shots and spay are includeded. I have always had rescue dogs and they are the best. Fence your yard, get a dog door even better get 2 dogs that are bonded. Think about the life you will save and the happiness you can bring to your family.

  • Marguerita J. says:

    My first response is adopt or rescue, don’t buy. Joy can be had in caring for a rescue (maybe more) than the trendy breed du jour. After a cancer diagnosis, surgery and chemo I was feeling very low. As my strength improved I took in a barn kitten from in-laws who live in the country. It forced me to think outside myself and direct attention onto an incredibly funny little companion. I had forgotten to laugh, now it’s impossible not to. Yes, it is expensive, sometimes ridiculously so, but the return is worth it. I cut corners somewhere else. You sound like you have money anxiety. I have spent my life that way as I did not come from affluence. If you are sure a pet would be such a burden, it is probably best to wait and let your daughter have her own pet once she’s grown and on her own. I hope this helps. MPJ

  • Sue W says:

    I will try my best to provide my comment without judgment, but it is not judgment I am feeling after reading this blog, it is pity and sadness. I have been in a position of never having to worry about pulling my wallet out or wanting something, and I have also been in positions where I had to make decisions between paying all of my electric bill or buying food that month. We have always had a family pet, but I have never had one of my own. About a year before covid hit, I began looking for my puppy. I wanted a little pocket dog, a toy breed, white, and a puppy, so I could train him or her at a young age. At the time I was caring for my mother who had dementia, my daughter and son-in-law who were struggling trying to open up a new business, my niece who had moved to Canada from Ireland, and a friend who moved into the suite downstairs because the rental market here has been a desperate situation for many years. When I mentioned to those in my immediate circle that I was looking for a dog, the responses I got were also primarily financially based. The most common response was “You know it’s a lot of work having a dog?” What they did not realize was I was working 18 and 20 hour days caring for everyone else, and I had enormous expenses. I was stressed and constantly counting pennies, and found very little joy in my life. My comment regarding your blog comes from my experience having lived in both a world of affluence and a world of financial struggle is that I bought my puppy at a time when I could at least afford it, yet the roughly $5,000 I paid in the first year for her could not have been spent any other way for any other reason and brought me as much joy, smiles, love, comfort, and laughter that she has done. There is absolutely no question that the joy and comfort a pet can bring to a person is comparably the best bang for your buck. At the end of your blog, I felt very sad for you, and truly believe that your first and primary consideration is the financial impact of owning and being responsible for a dog, then I don’t think you should ever bring another living thing into your life. Whether you have enough money in the bank or not should never be the deciding factor for buying a dog. Going on vacation maybe, buying a new car maybe, but never whether to own a dog or not. I hope your money brings you peace and happiness. I have found more joy more happiness and more peace and contentment as a low-income financially struggling dog owner than I ever did when I was making five times the income I am now.
    Best of luck to you.
    Sue W.

  • Patricia Devine says:

    The arguments you give for not having a dog are the same arguments you can use for not having children. We chose to have pets rather than kids – just as much fun and a LOT cheaper.

  • Jacquie says:

    There is the most wonderful comment sent out by Sarah recently. I don’t think the points to consider could be written better.
    I wished I’d included the suggestion to foster with my first comment. While it can be difficult to give the dog up when a forever home is found it would let you see so much more about how it is to have a pet than any words can explain. There are times that I’ve read on rescue sites where the foster finds such a good fit with the animal they take in that they apply to be the permanent owners.
    Good luck! Pets are your family forever.

    • David @ says:

      Thanks for adding your vote to consider fostering a dog. Now that I think about it some more, I see the benefits of a trial run, but I’m not sure if this is the right way for me though.

      I feel like a permanent solution is going to force me to deal with the negatives and once I accept the negatives, then the probably overwhelmingly positive parts of dog ownership are going to win me over.

      I’m afraid that if I know it’s a temporary situation, then I’m just going to kick the can down the road by ignoring what bothers me since I know the problem will sort of go away if I just wait a while.

  • Sarah says:

    If you’ve never had a pet, then you can’t know if you are a “dog person”. My advice is to get to know some dogs (and their owners). Visit a dog park, find friends with dogs, ask questions, play with different ones. Eventually, visit a shelter, maybe volunteer a bit and/or consider fostering. However, I recommend starting slowly and not involving your daughter until you are confident that you like dogs and can deal with having one as a member of your family. Getting her hopes up would be terrible. So would getting a dog if you don’t like them. I speak from experience when I say that if a parent doesn’t like the family pet, it is not a happy situation for anyone.

    Then, as you said, do your research. Find out what type of dog would be the best fit for your family. Learn about dog breeds, their needs, personalities, and how they communicate. Every dog has a unique personality, but there are general traits. I like mixed breeds – they generally seem to be more easy going and have fewer health issues. That said, we currently have a pure bred dog that was probably about $1500 as a puppy. We got him at the shelter for about $250. There are usually plenty of pure bred dogs at shelters, no need to spend so much for one if that is what you want.

    Commit to training for the entire family. Obedience training isn’t just about training the dog. It is also about learning how to be a good dog owner or parent. It is also about bonding with the dog. Each family member needs to understand the process and be involved. Consistency is imperative when caring for a dog and the dog needs to understand each family member’s role in its “pack”. If you choose an active breed, you might want ongoing training, (such as obstacle courses) or refresher courses. You might want to increase that amount in the budget. However, it is well worth every. single. penny. to train the whole family.

    There is a lot of debate about crate training and whether they are necessary. I’m not a fan, but I see why some folks are. If you are concerned about a loose dog in the car, as an alternative, there are harnesses that clip into the seat belt. The dog can move around some, but in the event of an accident, the seat belt will prevent the dog from flying around causing injury. They are in the $25-$40 range.

    Our current dog is our 3rd. The first lived to be about 14, the second about 13. Even with some big expenses, we’ve never had vet insurance. You could research costs for various surgeries at vets in your area to see if it is worth it. Where we live, vet costs are only about 10-20% of human Dr. bills. The most we’ve ever spent at once was about $2,600 a couple of years ago for cancer surgery and follow up. If you have a decent emergency fund you can probably skip the insurance. To me, it is like buying car repair insurance or the maintenance agreement on appliances – why would you if you have an emergency fund that can cover it? However, I am guessing that you live in a more expensive area. The kennel we use for boarding charges only about $25 a night for large dogs and it is a really great place. So, maybe your vet bills would be higher and justify insurance?

    Losing a dog can be devastating. I grieved hard for mine and waited a year and even considered not getting another after each loss. But in the end, my family and I are dog people. One thing to keep in mind is that smaller dogs tend to live longer. While there are no guarantees, your daughter would likely be an adult and better able to cope by the time a smaller dog would die of old age.

    Not to be snarky, but I can’t help wondering if you went through this cost/benefit exercise before having a child? Children are way more expensive than pets! I suppose you could consider this an extension of the expenses of raising your daughter and seeing to her happiness? Maybe that would make it easier? Still, don’t rush into it. Be sure. Finally getting a dog and then having to give it up might be the worst thing ever in her young life.

    For further reading, I highly recommend the book, “What The Dog Knows” by Cat Warren. Making the effort to understand dogs makes a huge difference in our relationships with them. (I have not met the author and have no relationship with her.)

    • David @ says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment and also for taking the time to write it.

      I’ll for sure take your advice to spend more time with dogs by visiting shelters and hanging out more with all my friends who have dogs when the pandemic is over.

      And since you mentioned it, I don’t think I thought too much about the cost of raising a kid before we had them, but I remember writing about the expenses quite a bit after Sara was born. I think having kids and knowing the cost of raising one is part of the reason why I’m hesitant to add another family member to the household, especially when the economy seems to be heading towards a rough few years at the very least.

      This is definitely not a decision I should take lightly. Like you said, I should take my time.

  • Jacquie says:

    You must make your own decision on owning a pet and you would have to accept the financial responsibility. A smaller dog doesn’t eat as much as the large breeds if that would make you feel better.
    Basically, I see no way to live without the love you receive from a pet – priceless! You just have that much more love in your life which can never be a bad thing. Also, if you can open your heart to loving an animal as a member of your family I personally think it adds a fulfillment to you as a individual that you don’t get any other way. You can’t, however, go into it begrudging the animal as every animal deserves a loving home. A dog loves its family more than you can imagine. Good luck with your decision. I vote for Sara to have the chance to love a dog – there is not much that is better than that.

    • David @ says:

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful post. I feel like the only real obstacle is the financial part because all the other potential downside I listed in the article is something the dog and I can work out over time.

      Perhaps the real solution is to make more money or figure out where I can save a few more bucks.

      I hope Sara has a dog too. The problem is just on me 🙂

  • Ana Herrera says:

    I thought I would make a comment about getting a dog – I am an animal lover and I have 5 rescue dogs – 3 of the dogs were found in either a ditch, a hole or just wandering around – the other 2 were from a relative that really wasn’t taking care of the dogs – Yes you are correct, animals can be very expensive but you do have options if you’re willing to put in the TIME from the financial aspect of it – You can be worm the dogs yourself if they have worms – you do need to get the vaccinations and spaying or neutering but they’re really not that expensive – any type of emergency would be expensive – the humane society does a terrific job and the cost is not as great as a regular veterinarian – my veterinary wanted me wanted to charge me $500 to fix my 2 kitties, that actually we found in a ditch, the humane society charged me $150 for both – a doggie is your friend – he is your companion – he plays with you- he runs with you – he looks at you – he knows when you’re sad – he is there when you’re happy – it’s whatever You Put into that animal (we had one dog that rode on my husband’s jetski with goggles – one of the dogs we found basically has not left my side since my husband found him in a ditch – yes I’ve taken him for training but I also train him – training can be as much or as little as you want in the sense of you can take a class and then you further train him yourself so the cost would be a little bit less – doggies are a big responsibility but the joy they give you is incredible and the reason to train him is so that you both can enjoy each other – we have 3 doggie doors – 3 sections of fence – gates – beds – crates all for the comfort and harmony of our family…

    • David @ says:

      Thank you for sharing your experience, and especially for sharing the other side of the coin. My article may be focused too much on the finances and that, to some, maybe missing the entire point of having a dog.

      Thanks also for the suggestions on how to save a bit of money. It’s like with anything, people who are willing to dig can save quite a bit of money.

      I’m still not quite ready for one but I’m warming up to one! Maybe one day we can chat about how to best care for our dogs!

      • Ana Herrera says:

        I wanted to add that a medium size rescue dog would be great for your little girl and/or looking at sites that “find” dogs wandering – people are cruel and they just dump dogs…

        The humane society is the way to go – the costs are the lowest – we found another dog that was dumped – a real sweetie – gentle – it broke my heart to take him to the humane society (the one I took him to is a no kill shelter) – I named him Hopper for hope (it is a boy) – if no one adopts him I am considering him – I do have 5 dogs already and it might not be fair to them – we will see…
        You are being responsible and will know when it is right – children grow up and get busier – your daughter’s dog will teach her unspoken responsibility, it can also protect her – you will know…

  • Lori says:

    If you have the resources, space and a bit more patience and understanding, then yes, your child should have a dog, or a pet. But I learned the hard way, that yes, pets are expensive. I wound up with 4 cats in a small home, and apparently multiple cat households are stressful for the cats ( no matter how many Cat Condos and toys and areas we have for each one!!) and mine have developed illness and behavioral issues which has been very expensive. We’ve actually remodeled our home to make doorways and walkways bigger to prevent kitty interaction. I don’t regret a minute or any unexpected expense, but this article is terrific and may prevent someone who can not afford it from getting a pet they eventually have to give up. Such was the case with an irresponsible friend of mine who got a big rescue dog and lost her job and apartment. She had to bring the dog back to the shelter. Unthinkable…and sad.

    • David @ says:

      Thanks for sharing your story Lori.

      If you didn’t tell me, I would’ve never known that having multiple cats can be stressful for them. It makes sense though since they could be fighting constantly and that can’t be healthy.

      And I’m glad to hear that you love your cats. Just the other day, my friend was saying how she hopes that those who adopted their pets recently because of the pandemic won’t take them back to shelters on mass once the lockdown period is over and everyone needs to get back to work.

      We can only hope!

  • Paul Wesley Bowen says:

    As to owning a dog, all you looked at are the costs, and yes, if all those costs happened all at the same time, it would be overwhelming. But, next time, before you ask a question like this, trying looking at real reasons for owning a pet. The companionship, relaxing nature of petting your animal, its far cheaper than medication if you don’t own one and you are single.

    • David @ says:

      Thanks for chiming in Paul.

      Companionship, especially for singles, wasn’t something I thought about. A few people have mentioned the benefit, so it sounds like it’s one of the major pros of having a dog.

      Do you have a dog? How has it changed your life?

      • Paul Wesley Bowen says:

        No. I live right now in an RV and hardly have room for a cat. Plus, the trailer park where I am living is not exactly “happy” with anybody’s pets. My cat (who has also been very expensive, especially when I tried to keep two cats) was partially feral, so he is used to being outdoors a lot. But, I am only supposed to allow him out on a leash.

        Have you ever tried to put a leash on a cat? ;o)

        Paul-Wesley Bowen

        • David @ says:

          Heh how do you make sure your cat comes back home? I keep seeing in our neighborhood forum these days from people who found wandering cats that can’t find their way home.

          It seems like they all need to learn from you!

          • Paul Wesley Bowen says:

            How to get your cat to come back home … Don’t let him go outside until at least 2 hours past his last feeding time. Then, tempt him, now try to command him, with his favorite treat. In my cat, Beau’s case, its oven roasted or raw chicken. If he still is reluctant to come in, and they are smart enough to know how a door will close when they come through, I will place it on the floor 3-4 feet inside the door. When he comes in, I just go close the door. Works like a charm.

          • David @ says:

            That’s a good trick Paul, but what if your cat wandered off farther? Would he/she know how to get back home?

  • Andrea says:

    Where to begin. There is nothing that will teach a child care, empathy, kindness and love like a dog. No religious institution, no school, no parents. This isn’t like an expensive hobby or sport like skiing or golf. The costs and inconveniences you list are legitimate. Some people opt not to have kids for exactly the same reasons. So how much is that worth? Sure, $50,000 worth of top-tier landscaping will increase your property values. That’s a purely financial decision. But what if your kids want to tromp through the flowers? The reason the pandemic has increased dog ownership is that it’s an unexpected and convenient time to invest the time to really get to know your new dog and establish routines and habits. Many people who own dogs find that their natural cheerfulness (there isn’t a day our two rescue dogs don’t make us laugh numerous times) may preclude needing therapy and tranquilizers, which come at their own considerable cost. Unconditional love without demand is worth a lot.

    • David @ says:

      Thank you for sharing how lovable dogs can be Andrea!

      Sometimes I want one too, as I know how much joy a puppy can bring to the family.

      But then I’ll be seeing those dollar signs running around the house quite a bit. And I know just thinking about the financial costs misses the point, but I can’t help it.


  • Lucy Baker says:

    All of your costs are on target but as long as a person is aware of these facts and plans for them there isn’t really a comparison. My family has adopted several rescues but we also don’t have a lot of other entertainment expenses. We enjoy sitting at home on a Saturday night playing with our fur babies and I do love watching our grandchildren learn compassion for animals by being around our dogs. Those are costs that we are not able to tally. They are priceless! It is all about choices.

    • David @ says:

      Ohh thank you for bringing the point of compassion to my attention Lucy. I never thought about how kids can develop a sense of compassion by being around smaller animals.

      I’m sure it helps that you are a very compassionate person too, because I know plenty of kids who are super mean to their family dog too.

  • J B says:

    When did it become your business how I spend my money?? And did you ever consider the positive side of the ledger? Apparently not. Your daughter will have to settle for a lump of coal for Christmas!

  • LizLizz says:

    Wow, all the negative of owning, are only a mindset, a dog will change your life forever. Yes of course there are costs, and yes I would make sure there is money saved for the vet, so you want to be stable. Your dog is an investment in love, you will never be able to repay the animal for all he or she gives to you, not in one lifetime.

    • David @ says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts as a pet lover LizLizz.

      Do you agree that if all I see are costs with owning a puppy, then I shouldn’t get one, even if Sara (my daughter) really wants one?

  • Stay at Home Mama says:

    What am I willing to give up just to own a dog? Umm… Nothing…

    I guess that’s why I don’t own or plan on owning one!

  • Joseph B says:

    Sitting for a friend is a good idea. I love my dog to bits but I’m not sure I would’ve adopted one if I had a test run.

    I still remember how the first few weeks were really rough. We eventually pulled through though!

    • David @ says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience. We’ll see how this goes but I’m probably going to be hesitant for a long time.

  • Michelle says:

    Aww David… You just don’t understand because I bet you’ve never had a pet.

    Why would I think of the cost if my dog is part of the family? Would you care how much it costs if Sara got sick? Or would you just do everything you can to make sure she recovers?

    • David @ says:

      Astute observation Michelle! You are right that I’ve never owned a pet. In fact, Emma brought home a few tadpoles and I thought even that was too much haha.

      The dogs being sick and us doing everything we can to save them is precisely the issue though, because those surgeries and medicine can cost thousands of dollars at once and then hundreds more every month.

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