Dogs are cute, friendly, and fiercely loyal. They're also a handful, requiring dedicated upkeep and care -- along with all the associated costs. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals places the first year's cost of ownership at more than $1,300 to $1,800, depending on the size of the dog. Here are some ways to save money, starting even before you bring the pooch home.
There are many options for buying, rescuing, or adopting a dog. Experts recommend going through an accredited breeder or a local shelter and advise against pet stores, which might use profit-driven "puppy mills" as suppliers. When all is said and done, a shelter dog is likely to cost even less than a dog given away for free, because adoption fees generally include such things as vaccinations and spay/neuter surgery. The ASPCA estimates that the cost of adoption ranges from $75 to $300. Breeders' prices are more than twice as high, from $800 to $2,000.
Veterinarians encourage prospective dog owners to consider personality above all else. An ill-behaved dog may cause property damage or have to be sedated by a vet, which can cost upward of $100 each visit. Keep an eye out for potential health problems that might be expensive to handle. Choosing a small breed may cut the cost of feeding and grooming, although not necessarily. The ASPCA estimates the annual cost of ownership at $580 for a small dog, $695 for a medium-size breed, and $875 for a large dog (after the first year).
A dog crate gives the animal a comfortable place to sleep at night and gives the owners peace of mind when they're not around to supervise. Many pet owners like wire crates because they don't isolate the dog completely. The size of the dog does matter here, as larger crates are pricier. Highly rated Midwest iCrates range from $25 to more than $75 at the online pet store Chewy.com, depending on size.
This is by far the biggest recurring expense of owning a dog. AvoDerm was declared the best dry kibble and Canidae Life Stages the best canned dog food in a Cheapism.com comparison of cheap dog food. Other good inexpensive choices include Fromm Classic Adult and Natural Balance Ultra. The recommended varieties boast healthful ingredients such as animal protein in place of processed ingredients such as meat byproducts and carbohydrate fillers.
If a pet isn't already "fixed" when it comes home, there is likely an affordable spay/neuter program nearby. PetSmart Charities and the ASPCA have partnered to maintain a database of low-cost or free providers. The Humane Society offers additional tips, including a list of national and state resources that provide financial help if a pet develops medical problems.
Taking a dog to a groomer can get expensive, especially for large dogs with long hair, but there are cheap alternatives. Seek out dog-grooming schools for discounted services or go to a DIY grooming salon (usually found in high-end pet supply stores). To really save money, take preemptive measures and do most of the work at home. Keeping a dog indoors and brushing its coat regularly reduces the need for frequent bathing. Baking soda is an inexpensive alternative to shampoo that leaves a dog's coat shiny, clean, and odor-free. Use it dry and run a brush through the dog's coat, or use it with water to create lather.
Training teaches a pet to be well-behaved in the home and around others, helping prevent potentially costly mishaps. Check local shelters for discounted obedience training. Some PetSmart and Petco stores hold six-week training courses for about $120. For more specialized attention, search for certified trainers through the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.
For owners who plan to leave their pets behind when traveling, there are inexpensive ways to make sure a dog is taken care of. Options including leaving the pet at a vet's office or local kennel, which can cost as little as $10 a day. If the price of boarding is too high, ask if a friend might be willing to watch the dog for free, or have a professional dog watcher stop by couple of times a day.
Pet insurance works much the same as standard health insurance, with premiums to be paid and coverage provided depending on the plan, so research the offerings carefully. Pet owners should look into their breed's congenital or hereditary health issues; not every insurance plan covers such problems.