The Unexpected Costs of Dog Ownership
by Andrea Norris-McKnight
Don’t let a new dog put you in the financial doghouse. Consider these unexpected costs of dog ownership before deciding that your family can afford to add a furry four-footed friend to the family budget.
Hopefully, if you’re considering adding a dog to your family, you’ve sat down with your budget to determine whether it can comfortably accommodate a new 4-footed, furry family member.
First, you have the “start-up” costs of acquiring a new dog, such as adoption fees, a collar and leash, and dog toys. Then there are the recurring costs of food and vet care. You may have occasional costs, such as kenneling or a new pet bed.
But what about those unexpected costs of dog ownership? According to one study, it’s the “unexpected costs that make pet ownership 7 times more expensive than what most families estimate.”
So what are some of these unexpected costs? And how can you budget for the unknown?
We got a new puppy 6 months ago and have already incurred several unexpected expenses that would have put quite a dent in our dog budget had we not been prepared. Make sure you can afford to cover at least some of these added expenses should your pup be more than you bargained (or budgeted!) for.
Will your dog be a chewer?
If your new dog is a chewer, it can quickly chew up your budget. Yes, you expect a dog, especially a puppy, to chew things. And you might get lucky and get a dog who is perfectly content chewing on nothing but dog chews and toys. Or you could end up with a dog that chews up anything it can fit its mouth around. (See Homemade Longer Lasting Dog Chews on the Cheap.)
Some things you’ll just toss out and not replace. One shredded decorative throw pillow is no big loss or necessity. But what about shoes, throw rugs, books, dish towels, yard landscaping, or patio furniture? You can only puppy-proof your house so much while still keeping it livable. And kids especially may forget and leave things out your dog can get.
Our solution was to invest in three tall, sturdy “baby” gates to keep our chewer confined to an area where he can do minimal damage. The solution worked, but It set us back an unexpected $100 plus the cost to replace some of the chewed items.
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Will your dog be a digger?
If you get a dog that likes to dig, don’t be surprised if it digs a hole right through your budget. You could find yourself having to buy supplies to prevent digging under fences, replace landscaping, or even have to get some fill dirt to fill in holes.
You also may need to get the carpet cleaned more often since diggers tend to stay dirtier than most dogs. Our dog has left a mud trail across the carpet more than once. (See Cheaper Carpet Cleaning Solutions.) We’ve opted to pay for additional fencing to keep our pup away from a particularly muddy section of our yard during the rainy season to keep our carpet from getting ruined. (See Do-It-Yourself Fences on the Cheap.)
We also had to reinforce our chain link fence in several places where our dog has tunneled under and escaped. Although our pup is chipped, we are now considering getting a GPS-enabled device for Houdini’s collar. None of these expenses were planned for, nor necessarily cheap.
Will your dog be a shedder?
Most dogs shed. Some much more than others. Our breed is a shedder, which we thought we had planned for. We anticipated needing a new “pet” vacuum, which we got on sale. And we own more than a few heavy-duty dog brushes.
We did not, however, plan on having to replace our air conditioner filter twice as often. And while lint rollers aren’t that expensive, we replace them regularly. We also broke down and bought a seat cover for the car so we did not have to keep cleaning the car upholstery after our fur baby’s weekly trip to obedience class. And speaking of obedience class…
Will your dog be a “bad” dog?
A bad dog can be bad for your budget if you end up having to pay for obedience training.
We love our dog dearly, but if he were a child, he’d be what some refer to as a strong-willed child. He listens to a point, but pushes a lot of boundaries and listens to nothing when he is in “play” mode or wants out of his play area. He is going to be a big dog and we did not want him to continue jumping on people, running laps in the family room and knocking over furniture, or biting at and tearing my son’s clothing when they play. After a lot of research and frustration with obedience training at home, we decided to take him to a professional.
The training has made a big difference in our pup’s behavior and we are very pleased with the results. But it did cost $150 for the lessons and about $25 for a different type of collar and leash the trainer recommended.
Will your dog have costly medical needs?
Unfortunately, you could get a dog that ends up with special medical needs that can greatly increase vet bills. The care of skin conditions, dysplasia, or other disorders can get very expensive. You don’t want to put your family in a position where you have to either get rid of an unaffordable, yet beloved pet or not be able to get your pet proper care because you cannot fit it in the budget. (See 15 Ways to Make Veterinary Bills More Affordable.)
So with all of these unexpected expenses, how does a family on a budget determine if they can afford a dog or not?
How do you determine and budget for the unexpected costs of dog ownership?
While unexpected dog care costs might not increase your estimated pet costs by as much as studies suggest, you should, at a minimum, do your research to estimate yearly dog ownership costs as accurately as possible and then add a 10 to 20% “cushion” to that number. You can find a complete chart of possible dog care costs at TheSprucePets.com.
Unless your budget is healthy enough to cover just about any unexpected cost you could incur, you should start a savings account for pet expenses, much like an emergency fund. Once you estimate your yearly dog care costs as described above, including the additional 10 to 20%, divide that total by 12 to get your monthly cost estimate. That is how much you should expect to put towards pet care each month, whether for actual costs or into your pet emergency fund.
When you get to a month where pet costs exceed your monthly budgeted amount, you can simply take what you need from your pet fund without the worry of hurting your household budget or putting those pet costs on credit. Because adding a dog to your family should bring you joy, not money worries.
Reviewed August 2021
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