How Much Does It Really Cost to Get A Dog?

published Nov 17, 2021
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Dogs are a person’s best friend, but that friendship can often come at a price. From treats and toys to food and vet visits, taking proper care of your dog is filled with both predictable and surprise expenses. 

In 2020, Americans spent a new record of $103.6 billion on their pets and pet-related supplies, a March 2021 report by the American Pet Products Association noted, a 6.7 percent increase from 2019. Two of the biggest expenditures for pet owners last year were food and treats, as well as vet care: pet owners spent $42 billion to feed their furry friends, and $31.4 billion making sure they stayed healthy. If you’re considering adding a dog to your home there are some substantial upfront and ongoing costs to keep in mind.

How much does it cost to get a dog?

There’s no getting around it: dogs are going to be expensive. The first and generally the smallest cost associated with having a dog is the initial cost, whether that’s the adoption fee you pay to a shelter or rescue, or the purchase fee from a responsible breeder, which can generally cost anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 or more. (The puppies available for sale at pet stores are generally from puppy mills, otherwise known as individuals or facilities that produce large numbers of puppies for profit, without regard for the health or quality of life of the parents or puppies. Experts generally agree you should not give these companies your business.)

If you are looking into getting a puppy from a breeder, look for what the ASPCA calls responsible breeders, who are dedicated to bettering the health and temperament of their breed and “provide their dogs with a high quality of care.” You can read more about this criteria on the ASPCA’s website, and ask any potential breeder how they adhere to these standards before you give them your business. And as the American Kennel Club notes, “a responsible breeder is someone who is willing to talk to you and answer questions you have, whether you’ve already committed to purchasing a puppy or not.  They are there for you and the puppy whether the puppy is 5 months, 5 years or 13 years old.”     

The cost associated with rescuing a dog from a shelter or private rescue group will differ depending on what area of the country you live in; the age of the dog or puppy, which often have a higher adoption fee; and the size of the dog. (Small dogs often have a higher adoption fee in urban areas.) The cost of adoption from the rescues or shelters in your area may vary, but fees can range from $75 to upwards of $450. 

Credit: Viv Yapp

Should you get your dog health insurance? 

Pet insurance has become increasingly popular in recent years. For some people, insurance is a way to save money long-term; depending on your income level, you may find you are more comfortable putting the money you would spend on deductibles into a separate savings account to cover future vet bills.

Many pet insurance plans have clauses that take pre-existing conditions into account. Insurance rates will also consider a dog’s age and breed when determining rates. Be sure to research each company, plan, and any fine-print closely before purchasing to make sure you understand the deductibles, out-of-pocket fees, and exclusions. 

Personally, I opt to create a savings account dedicated to my dogs’ health, and the foresight has been extremely helpful during stressful times. In the past three years, I’ve spent well over $13,000 out of pocket for orthopedic surgery and professional physical therapy rehabilitation for my youngest dog, and even more in palliative care, acupuncture, and physical therapy for my two senior dogs before they passed away. This was the more financially prudent choice for my family than canine health insurance would have been, but everyone’s personal budget will look different. 

Costs to Consider Before Getting a Dog:

“When it comes to the financial aspect of dog ownership, prospective owners should consider the costs of routine veterinary care, food, grooming, toys, treats, boarding and dog walking if those are things you may utilize, and emergency care,” Brandi Hunter Munden, the Vice President of Communications & Public Relations of the American Kennel Club, tells Apartment Therapy. If you rent your home in a pet-friendly building, you’ll want to do research into any potential building costs, such as a monthly “pet rent” fee, additional security deposit, or one-time pet fee.

There will also be ongoing costs associated with keeping your dog well groomed, healthy, and happy. These costs will differ depending on where you live, but these are just some general estimates to help with budgeting, based on my experience living and working with dogs in major cities on both the east and west coasts.

Dog Food and Treats 

Just like the food humans eat, quality dog food can help prevent food-related allergies and other health conditions. Depending on the size of your dog and the food brand you select, you’ll likely be paying between $25 to $70 per month in dog food and treats. Larger and more active dogs eat more food than smaller and more sedentary dogs, so take this into account if you’re still deciding which breed is right for you.

Dog Toys

This will be dependent on your dog’s size, as well as how playful they are. Generally, you can look to spend between $10 to $30+ monthly on toys. 

Dog Beds

$20 to $200+, depending on the size of bed, and whether the bed is orthopedic. The bed’s quality of materials can also impact this price.

Leashes, Collars, and Harnesses 

$50 to 150+, depending on your dog’s size, the quality of materials, and how often you need to replace each piece. If you have a growing puppy, you can expect to replace the collar or harness a few times over the course of their growth.  

Training Classes

$130 to $400 per series of classes, which can cover everything from basic obedience and behavior modification, to separation anxiety and more. Most classes last between four and six weeks in length. There are also options for private one-on-one support, if your dog has certain behavioral needs, the classes in the area don’t align with your schedule, or you’re looking for specialized support.  


Dogs should at minimum have their nails clipped monthly. If you aren’t comfortable trimming your dog’s nails at home, the service will generally cost $15 at the groomer. Full service grooming usually begins at $40 or small dogs and can be over $80 for large dogs.

Preventive Medicine

Around $350 annual for quality flea/tick and heartworm prevention medication. This medication can only be obtained via prescription so your dog will need to be under the regular care of a veterinarian. 

Veterinary Care

Dogs should at minimum receive annual veterinary visits, vaccinations, heartworm tests, and fecal exams. Each visit will likely cost between $250 to 400 but will increase if your dog hasn’t yet been spayed or neutered, or if your dog gets sick and your vet has to run tests or prescribe medications accordingly.

Dog Walking and/or Sitting

Depending on your schedule and lifestyle you may need to hire a dog walker or a dog sitter to care for your dog while you are at work or when you travel. Dog walking often costs around $25 per visit (sometimes bulk package options are available if you will use a walker regularly). Dog boarding, or a dog sitter coming to stay with your dog will generally cost between $50 and $150 per day.

Are some dogs more expensive than others? 

As you research what kind of dog is right for your lifestyle and family, you might hear stories about how some dogs have more health issues than others. “There are certainly reasons why some breeds will be more expensive to care for than others,” Munden explains. “Smaller breeds tend to live longer than larger breeds, so you’ll end up spending money for a longer amount of time. Large-breed dogs eat more, therefore making your total cost of food more.” 

Some breeds of dogs, as well as dogs whose heritage includes those breeds, are more prone to certain health conditions including allergies and cancer, and orthopedic conditions like hip dysplasia. Make sure to research each breed’s health, so that you can budget for any potential health issues that may need to be factored into your financial plan. You can also ask your prospective vet if you have any questions about a specific breed, and how well-equipped that office is to care for a breed’s specific needs.

Similarly, dogs with medium-length or long coats will need more extensive grooming; if you’re not up for the task of learning how to DIY that treatment regularly, you’ll need to hire a professional to do it for you.

Ultimately, there are no guarantees about how much a dog will or won’t cost to care for over the course of their lifetime. For example, one dog I rescued might have had a relatively low adoption fee, but ultimately was one of the most expensive dogs I’ve ever had when it came to ongoing veterinary care needs. Although research into breeds can help you get an idea of what some common expenses for dogs of that breed might be, there will always be unexpected costs when it comes to living with dogs.

What are low-income pet care options? 

If you recently lost your job, don’t make a lot of money, or if funds are tight for any reason, there are options to help you make sure that your dog can access veterinary care. Local humane societies will often have options for low- or no-cost spay and neuter clinics, and some veterinary clinics, humane societies, and nonprofit groups will sponsor low-cost clinics in local communities to keep dogs updated on required vaccinations for rabies. 

Some hospitals and clinics have application-based charity options for owners who can demonstrate an inability to pay for emergency veterinary care; these are not guaranteed, and it’s important to know what your plan B is about an emergency vet bill before adopting your pet. For dog owners who are financially struggling or have hit hard times, The Humane Society of the United States maintains a national database of resources and advice for people who are struggling to financially care for their dogs.

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: How Expensive Is Getting a Dog, Really? A Trainer Weighs In on Everything You Need to Know