Looking Back: A Year of Owning a Dog

It’s been a year now since we’ve gotten our kid… err, dog. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel to be exact. I know this because we just had our annual vet appointment for more shots and a general exam. This got me to thinking how much we’ve spent on pet care over the last year. I think many people who get pets fail to realize the financial committment that it requires. They also may underestimate the emotional attachment you get to your pup. I know I did.

Since we broke the $1000 cost barrier only 3 months into having him, we’ve actually settled down to a nice routine with him. Basically all the things we bought, like the crate, bed, leash, nail clippers, etc. were all decent quality and are still working just fine. Here are the rest of our expenses.

Pet Food
Our dog only weighs about 20 lbs, so he doesn’t eat that much food, only about 1 cup a day. We looked after a Bernese Mountain Dog, and it ate 4 cups a day! We knew we wanted to not get the absolute cheapest dog food, but we didn’t want to spend a fortune either.

We tried Iams and Purina One in the beginning. Iams gave him gas(!), and Purina One left our dog’s coat dull and coarse. We then did some research into non-mega-corporation food and went for Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance dog food. It has no fillers (no wheat, no corn, no soy and no by-products). Not saying all dogs need this time of “premium” dog food, but it works for us since our dog doesn’t eat that much every day. I think it’ll be worth it in the long run as well.

It costs us $35 for a 35 lb. bag. Surprisingly, the cheapest place I could find it is a local specialty dog food store that has a 10% student discount. Our dog eats 5 oz. a day (about 1 cup), so one bag last almost 4 months. Put another way, it costs us about 31 cents a day, or a reasonable $10 a month for food.

Vet Visits
Our last vet visit was $102, and the next scheduled one is another year later. We did have an unscheduled visit this year for an ear infection that cost $88. But now we have the medicine for it and we know what to look for and treat it ourselves in the future. So far, he’s healthy with no congenital problems, thank goodness. So let’s say $100 a year for this year.

Flea and Tick Treatment
We use Frontline Plus since it was worked well for us. The cheapest place I could find it is on eBay by a seller named ‘bobvet’ (he’s presumably a Vet) for $47.75 including shipping for a 6 treatments. We use it once per month usually, except for we did skip a couple winter months. So $48/6 = $8 a month.

Treats and Toys
This is probably where most owners splurge a lot. We buy some mini-treats (good for trainging) in bulk at the same store we buy our food for $3/lb and also Iams-brand treats at Target for $2/box. That’s enough to last us a month, easily.

We buy most of our dog toys like rope pulls and balls at the Dollar Store. We did spend $6 on a Kong, which is a great toy. We don’t buy the overpriced Kong treats though, we just stuff with peanut butter or an Iams treat, which fits perfectly.

Overall, I’d say we are at about $10 a month for toys and treats.

Doggie Boarding
For short trips, we try to get someone else to look after our dog, but for longer ones we don’t want to bother others. We found a trainer that takes great care of our dog for $14 a night. At two weeks gone a year, that’s $196.

I think that’s about it. So our total annual cost of owning our dog, including boarding when we travel but neglecting start-up costs and unexpected healthcare visits, is $632 a year (average of $60 a month). Times 15 years, that’s $9,480 for a perfectly healthy small dog. A serious injury would easily add thousands on that.

So just because you see that free puppy in the newspaper, don’t forget about the ongoing needs of that dog! We knew about these costs going in, and it’s totally worth it to us. It is one of our chosen luxuries. Of course, he is the best pup in the whole world…


  1. Personal Finance Blogger says:

    I should calculate the total cost of ownership of our horses… Nah, better not… πŸ™‚

  2. hey if you get rid of the dog you can save some money! and if you stop drinking stuff besides water! and you can just eat grass and roots! wow, that’ll get you straight to your goal! and it works perfectly in line with your previous plans of no buying groceries and getting rid of tv to save money!

  3. $60 a month – sounds excellent value for all the fun I am sure you have.

  4. Hmm, I wonder if a cat would be about the same cost?

  5. Secret Saver says:

    You can not put a price on love buddy. If you have children are you going to analyze that cost as well? Yeah having a dog can be expensive, but it is not a LUXURY!! Seriously, as a dog owner for the past 16 years I can tell you that it does not matter how much it costs. Six years ago, I left my job to start my own business and shortly thereafter my dog took a serious fall. We were strapped for cash, but I never once even thought about the thousands (that’s right thousands) of dollars we paid in Vet bills on our then 10 year old dog. She is 16 now and although she has slowed down a bit, is still the best value purchase I ever made. In other words she is priceless!! Please don’t go off on tangents like this, I mean I know you are a penny pincher but I found this to be offensive.

  6. Great blog.
    My wife and I had our german/lab “Boomer” for a year now, but I don’t want to add up the $$. He eats about 3 cups a day so we go with Science Diet at $34/50lb bag (thinking of switching to Costco brand which is half the price and just as good but he’s got a sensitive stomach for a big guy). We don’t buy him too many toys but he always goes back to this old rag that he likes to play with. My wife takes him to the vet a couple times a year and I don’t want to know how much that costs. Would we take the near $1k per year or Boomer? I think you have the same answer too…
    Again, great blog!

  7. Umm… SecretSaver, my point was that you have to be prepared to spend money if you have a dog, not to just pick one up on a whim.

    In fact, that’s how we got our dog from the Humane Society. From the paperwork, the owner did not understand the needs of a dog, and could/would not pay for a dog walker to let the dog out since she worked 12 hours a day. No wonder he went inside the house and tore stuff up. To me, *that* is irresponsible behavior. So she dropped him off at the pound, and we picked him up! πŸ™‚

    I fully expect to do a similar analysis when I have a child. I’m just tracking my spending, is that now a moral crime?

  8. Oh, and I totally think a dog is a luxury. A luxury is something inessential that we obtain for our own benefit. Of course we take great care of our dog, but I don’t think people who can’t spare the time or money to take care of one properly as well should have one.

  9. Dude stop being sooo cheap!

  10. What’s the cost of time for owning a dog? How much does it “require” (e.g. taking a shower, feeding, walking, etc.)?

  11. I’m with you Jonathan. A dog is definitely a responsibility that some should not take on. I am a dog lover, but I live by myself, work 8:00-6:00, and like to leave town on the weekends. As much as I want a dog, I know it would be unfair to the dog to put it in that situation.

    Also, Secret Saver, it does matter how much a dog costs, more so than most other luxuries. The reason is because a dog is a living thing. If you can’t pay for your Rolls Royce, it doesn’t suffer and feel pain. If you can’t pay for your dog, it does. Anyone considering a dog should do what Johnathan did and figure out if they can actually afford it (time and money) first.

  12. Secret Saver says:

    Pet ownership has been proven to reduce stress and thus help you lead a healthier life and long er life, thus it is not a LUXURY! Your expectations on Vet bills are way off as well. In the beginning (ouside of initial vaccinations) dogs are cheap to have. As they get older, the visits to the Vets become more frequent and also more expensive.

    There are some things that you just should not put a price on, pets and children are those things.

    You know something, being completely fixated on money is sad. Get out there and play with your dog, buy some expensive ass gourmet treats for him and don’t track what it cost. You will enjoy your pet more if you do that.

  13. To recoup your dog expenses, you could put your dog to work. The dog’s sense of smell can be used for many things. Besides the typical tasks like drug/bomb detections, dogs are being used to identify termite-infested houses and even cancer.

  14. lauraloops says:

    Just wondering where/how you researched dog food. I just adopted a lab mix from the Humane Society. He’s a big dog, and will only get bigger. He’s been on Science Diet, which has worked well for other dogs in our fam, but I’m interested in foods w/ less filler/not giant corporations. Chicken by-product? UMM, no thanks. I’ve heard good things about Nutro and Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul brand.

  15. Secret, I think we just have different definitions of luxury.

    Needs = food, shelter, clothing, transportation

    Wants, aka Luxuries = everything else.

    Lots of things help reduce stress and help you life a longer life. Vegetables, exercise, good red wine, massages, vacations to sunny places.

    If you think my dog is deprived, think again. He eats excellent quality food (see above), gets two walks a day in a 1-acre off-leash area with tons of other dogs, sleeps in bed with us, and the $3/lb treats I buy him are organic. He is never left at home for longer than 3 hours. I seriously doubt the vast majority of dog owners can say that about their pets.

    Gourmet treats do not equal love – does buying your kids expensive and fattening food or $150 basketball shoes equal love? I don’t think so. Besides, he’s getting a bit pudgy these days! πŸ™‚

    Just because I spent an hour figuring out how much money I spend on him doesn’t mean I love him any less. If you want to ignore how much your vet bills cost then that’s your right. I never said I would withhold any care due to cost, did I?

    Ed – Yeah my dog loves my old socks more than any other toy. Go figure πŸ™‚ My dog gets all kinds of Gourmet treats and toys from friends and family, but he doesn’t even like them more than his usual stuff.

    Laura – I basically just asked around at pet shops and with many other pet owners with similar breed of dog. I definitely think that buying the generic stuff you find in supermarkets is probably a bad idea especially if your dog has allergies. If you get good food, it will pay itself back in vet bills, quality of life for dog, and also you can feed it less because of the lack of filler in it. Check out Natural Balance if it’s in your area, I’ve only heard good things about it.

  16. I have always kept watch of the cost of my dogs… but for a different reason. I raise puppies to become service dogs for people with disabilities and everything I purchase, drive, etc. for the dog is tax deductable (this isn’t why I do it).. but I had no idea how much a dog cost until I sat down and determined how much to put into my taxes for charity. Anyway, I love raising puppies and bringing them to work and seeing them help someone and then starting all over again. I wouldn’t do it any other way. (this also causes me to not have to worry about the expensive vet bills near the end of their life).

  17. I like Phil’s idea of putting your dog to work. Make him pay for himself! He could start by mowing neighbors’ lawns and shoveling snow or perhaps get a temp job at a local office. Perhaps Petsmart’s headquarters are near you…

  18. Ok, I asked him about the work stuff…

    He licked my nose. Is that a yes or a no?

    Probably means “speak to my Union rep.”, ha

  19. Sleeping with your dog…? Doesn’t he/she interrupt you two’s activities…?

  20. I’ve got two tips:
    1) Feed your dog Exceed dog food, it doesn’t matter which flavor. The only place you can purchase it is at Sam’s, but it runs $18 for 35lbs, and was recommended to me by a professional trainer. My dog’s coat is beautiful and she’s in great physical shape on one bowl per day.
    2) Buy doggie insurance. At Pet Smart they have a program where you pay $15.95 per month and most everything is covered. They even tally up your savings on a consistent basis, and for the past 6 years our savings on regular visits, shots, etc. is well over $5,000.
    Hope those help…

  21. One thing you didn’t mention is the cost to spay/neuter as well as monthly heartworm prevention. Spay/neuter is usually included in the adoption fee for a shelter dog. Heartwork prevention runs $5-20/month depending on the weight of the dog but heartworm treatment can cost up to $1000 – not to mention that the treatment itself can kill a dog.

    Kudos for getting your pal from the shelter.

  22. Thank you very much for your article. I am considering adopting a dog and I found it very helpful to have an accurate acconting of what it costs to care for one. Despite what other posters have written, I understand that you are not complaining about the expense but providing other prospective pet owners with the tools they need to determine whether they are appropriately prepared dog-mommies and -daddies. Thanks!

  23. Glad it was helpful!

  24. My dog started coughing and I told my husband I was going to take her to the vet. He said “she’s old (7 years), she’s gonna die soon anyway, so don’t spend more than a hundred dollars”. I was so angry I could have spit. I took her in and she has an enlarged heart, a murmur, and edema in her lungs, she does not have heartworm. she is now on Lasix, an antibiotic, and elapril or something like that. the bill was $153 and that was without the ekg that the vet wanted to do. i’ll get that on the next payday. i’m thinking of dumping my husband and moving out, i figure he’ll do the same thing with me when i get old too, so I’d better bail now!

  25. Wow. Cheap dog…

    Let’s see, I own a Cane Corso Mastiff and he eats 4 cups a day of food, needs supplements to help joints and for vitamins, (heaven forbid he get hip dysplasia!) and not to mention he’s on Instinct No-Grain diet that costs $50+ for a 35lb bag I believe! 0.o

    Toys get torn up fast, we go to obedience classes constantly because he is a bully breed and keeping manners up and being around other dogs while working is a great way to keep him focused on me.

    Chews cost about $20 per month alone! Eep!

    I usually have $60 saved up monthly for “misc” items such as vet visits, extra treats, (heading to local dog bakeries is always fun!), or anything else I want to splurge him on. It’s a nice fund to have.

    Monthly I pay about $200 monthly, if I’m lucky!! I often go to doggy day care once a week (trying not to anymore because it’s $100 per month!) but he is a very attached type of breed who can’t be alone long, so having him out and about is always nice.

    When we do agility, it costs about another $80 per month.

    So it can be anywhere from $200-$400 dollars =P

    Maybe I should’ve gotten a small dog *sigh* But I love my Cane Corso! But you know what’s worse? Cost of getting his ears cropped was $350, I had to get his vaccinations (came from reputable breeder at 8 weeks, so I paid for shots) which is about $200, and then to pay for his neuter (he’s considered a ‘companion quality’ pup, meaning he carries a fault in his gene and isn’t suitable to continue breeding so for me to own him he must be neutered. Strict but great rule, eh?) was $50. The puppy itself, $1500.

    So just for the puppy, it was about $2100 or so. Geez…

    Try saving money with that!

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