So 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.
Maybe you should have. Many pet owners buy a dog without thinking through the financial costs of their prospective pooch. According to Dogtime.com, 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 The Today Show. "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 home ownership. 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, 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. PetInsurance.com places the average cost of owning a dog—over the dog's lifetime—at $20,000. In 2011, Bloomberg.com 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 daycare, expensive kennels, and would buy virtually every available accessory. RaisingSpot.com, 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.
Set-up 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."