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Although many people treat their pets as members of the family, they don't expect to spend on their furry friends the $300,000 or so that it takes to raise a child. Doing a little homework on the cheapest type of dog to own is good for the checkbook as well as for the animal. A pet will have a much happier life if its masters have sufficient resources to provide proper food, shelter, and care over the long term.

In general, the cost of dog ownership is lowest for small, mixed breeds. This starts with the cost of veterinary care, which can reach thousands of dollars in a single visit. According to Laura Bennett, CEO and co-founder of Embrace Pet Insurance, the price of a policy generally correlates with veterinary costs. Even if owners don't plan to buy insurance, understanding the pricing structure can help them get a fix on the likely cost of medical care. On that basis, the least expensive dogs are female mixed breeds that have been spayed. Some specialty mixes, though -- often those with funny names, such as golden doodle and puggle -- command premium prices up front and cost more to insure. "The hybrids are slightly more expensive than true Heinz 57 mixes," Bennett says.

The type of dog can have other insurance ramifications. Many insurance companies have a specific list of large dog breeds or types known for potentially aggressive behavior, such as pit bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, and Great Danes. Owners often must pay a premium for homeowners or renters insurance, or may be denied insurance altogether.

Smaller dogs are more welcome in apartments, giving owners more options when it's time to move. Some dog types are known for being friendlier than others, which likewise can affect a potential landlord's decision. Labradors, St. Bernards, and Scotch terriers are likely to survive scrutiny by landlords and insurers.

Grooming fees add up over a pet's lifetime. Michael Konkol, a certified groomer in central Ohio, says smaller dogs are cheaper to groom than larger dogs. Ditto for short-haired dogs, compared with breeds that have human-like hair and do not shed, such as Maltese poodles and schnauzers. To keep a lid on grooming costs, choose a small mixed breed, such as a beagle mix, or a small, non-shedding purebred, such as a bulldog -- provided it's been bred to prevent respiratory problems (ergo, fewer vet visits).

The price of boarding and house-training clearly affects the cost of dog ownership. Konkol's brother Andrew is the owner of Canine Social Club in Columbus, Ohio. He says boarding costs, like grooming costs, often vary depending on the size of the animal. One advantage of a small dog is that friends and family may be more willing to dog-sit (so owners don't have to pay for a kennel). On the other hand, smaller dogs are harder to train and have smaller bladders, which could bring cleaning bills. Andrew Konkol recommends the mid-size Australian shepherd, an intelligent breed unlikely to have accidents and easy to clean with a good bath in the backyard, which cuts down on grooming costs.

Size, of course, also affects outlays for food: Smaller means cheaper. Food may be one of the most expensive components of raising a dog, but it's important not to skimp. Spending a little more on food pays off over time with a happier and healthier pet.'s guide to high-quality, reasonably priced dog food can help owners make informed choices.

What About Cats?

Purebred cats are less in demand than purebred dogs, but breeds such as Sphynx, Himalayan, Siamese, and ragdoll are pricey to own. As with dogs, some purebred cats are more likely to develop illnesses. Himalayan cats, for example, have a flat pug nose that often causes breathing problems; the breed is also susceptible to joint problems and watery eyes. Siamese cats can develop respiratory infections when younger, and when stressed they may develop feline obsessive compulsive disorder, causing them to groom so extensively that they lose their hair.

Again, like dogs, mixed-breed cats are less costly to insure and veterinary costs often are lower. Unlike dogs, though, most cats are similar in size and weight and, breed issues aside, the cost of raising and/or boarding a cat doesn't vary too much. And they're often allowed in rental units where dogs are not.

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