Unless you're a behavioral economist or Cruella de Vil, you probably haven't fed the pertinent information about your dog into a financial algorithm. How do you calculate the ROI when it comes to unconditional love and affection, companionship, and a baseline acceptance of who you are that not even your closest friends can muster? Not to mention the ROI of something you can dress up in seasonal sweaters and take photos of that are worthy of a dedicated Instagram account.
For this reason, people tend not to be all that rigorous about figuring out how much a dog is going to cost before they get one. (And those who think they are rigorous are often quite wrong.) But that's probably a good thing, right? Who but the most cold, lifeless calculator of a human being would decide whether or not to fall in love with something furry based on how much dog food will cost?
Well, it's our job to be cold, and some of us here at Wealthsimple think of ourselves as walking calculators. We do it so you don't have to.
Let's start our conversation about “how much should I budget for a dog” with this: it's gonna be more expensive than you think. However parsimonious you think you're going to be, there is a vanity dog collar (or a heartworm medicine) out there that's going to argue with you. There's a whole industry built to exploit your sense of love and guilt when it comes to your pet — and business is booming. In 1994, one study found that Americans spent $17 billion a year on their pets. In 2018, the estimate was closer to $72 billion. Another study puts the lifetime average cost of dogs at around $15,000. Forbes estimates a cost of $1,641 per year. Spruce Pets estimates a range as wide as $1,400-4,300 per year. (Don’t worry: we’ll break down those prices later so you can make a budget of your own.)
“A lot of people today see a dog as part of the family, and they probably spend way too much money spoiling their dog,” says Kerrie Fitzgerald, the founder of Dapper Dog Box, a subscription service that delivers a monthly barrage of toys, treats, and festive bandanas to your dog each month. “Part of it is probably that, especially in big cities, younger people are waiting to have kids and their dogs become their kids.'”
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We're not here to judge. We also want the fanciest toys and the coolest travel carries and whatever the Mayo Clinic of veterinary care is. But we also like calculating how much things cost. So we've devised a simple guide to the costs of dog ownership. Because it's always better to know what you're getting into — and because it's even better to plan and budget accordingly.
And if, after you check out our budget guidelines below, you're especially enterprising, we even think it's a good idea to sock that dog parent money away in a Wealthsimple Save account now, so you'll be ready when you bring that ball of fur home (and you'll at least be earning a good interest rate).
But even if you aren't going to be that grown up, you should go ahead and reserve an Instagram handle or someone else will.
Step One: Set a goal
Warning: the numbers that follow could be daunting in either complexity or quantity. You don't have to sock it all away now. If you're the planning type, we suggest saving enough for one year of dog ownership in advance, and then you’ll always have a little extra room as you continue to save.
Step Two: Choose the type of dog
There are lots of things to consider here. There's breed, who you get it from, and even more importantly, whether you're going to adopt or buy. And it all matters – you should know a little bit about the kind of animal that's going to be in your life. “One of the biggest reasons dogs are dumped in shelters is not because the dog is bad, it's because the person chose the wrong breed for their lifestyle,” says Kerrie Fitzgerald.
If you don't know much about dogs, this American Kennel Club quiz is a good place to start, so you can begin figuring out what type of dog is right for you.
And then there's money. It’s obvious to longtime dog owners, but maybe not so much to new ones: the kind of dog you get can drastically change the budget. Small dogs have certain needs; and ones the size of ponies have different (bigger, usually more expensive) needs of their own. There are hairy dogs that need groomers and AC while you’re at work, breeds that have chronic health issues, and dogs that are so low maintenance they're basically cats. In general, dogs with shorter hair are going to be cheaper, and dogs that have chronic health issues or need frequent exercise and attention are going to be on the more expensive side of things. (Just check out this listicle about high maintenance dogs and then, for a more soothing experience, a listicle about low maintenance dogs.)
Step Three: Getting your dog
Of all the costs, what you need to pay to take a dog home is the one that varies perhaps the most widely.
The first financial decision: buy from a breeder or adopt? A breeder is clearly the more expensive option — the range for garden variety breeds is $300 - $1,500. Splurge alert: if you’re looking for a future show dog or son of the last Westminster winner, you’ll probably need a loan. A Tibetan Mastiff has sold for $20,000, while a Canadian Eskimo Dog and American Bully have clocked in at $16,000 and $15,000 each.
Even non-award-winning pets can cost thousands. The AKC has guidelines here (and the Canadian Kennel Club has guidelines here) that can help you avoid accidentally buying a dog from an unlicensed breeder or worse, a puppy mill — essentially dog factories that breed large numbers of puppies in inhumane conditions. (Please, no matter how much money you're saving: no puppy mills!)
Adopting from a shelter, on the other hand, can cost a few hundred dollars (usually a fee to help the shelter keep the lights on and give care to the dogs). Not only do you spend less on your pup, but there's an even greater financial benefit to you: most shelters will have already spayed or neutered and vaccinated the dog, which often costs more than even buying a dog from a breeder. And then there's the social benefit: you're saving a life while not contributing to the overpopulation of dogs people may not be able to care for.
Step Four: Budget for the first year
Okay, so the dog is home, everyone is happy, and the Instagram account just hit double digits. You're off to the races (hopefully not dog racing though, that's inhumane). That first year is going to be front-loaded with tons of expenses. It will likely be the most expensive year of your dog's life (unless there are big medical expenses in his or her future).
Let's break down your first-year budget:
You're going to need spaying or neutering, vaccines, dental care, and check-ups. Depending on the pup's health, these check-ups might happen every few months or as often as every few weeks. It's hard to put a precise budget on all that stuff, since they can vary widely between breeds (and based on the cost of care in the city you're in). If you're super organized, you can call a vet and give them the pertinent info about your prospective dog and they can nail it down with a bit more specificity. (The Spruce Pets also has a pretty good cost-predictor.) All that said, $750 - 1,500 is a pretty good baseline.
Reasonable Estimate: $1,000
The Initial Toys, Collars, Beds, Leashes and Kennel Purchase
You gotta buy all this stuff for the first time, and it stings. Your friends can help defray a lot of the costs — like baby clothes, hand-me-down puppy gear is great. Find someone with a recent puppy, and use your puppy to entice them to hand it over.
Reasonable Budgeting Estimate: $500
You’ll probably want to teach your dog not to use your hand-loomed rug as a bathroom, and maybe even how to sit, heel, and, of course, play dead as you fire pretend revolvers in the air. Your decision is going to be about whether to spend time or money. With a few books, you could do it on your own. With group classes, you could spend a few hundred dollars and get mostly there. But if your dog is troublesome, or you're too busy, you may go for a doggie boarding camp, which generally cost somewhere between $1,000 and $3,000.
Reasonable Estimate: $300
Pet insurance isn’t exactly like human insurance, but it can be valuable for the peace of mind it provides. It doesn’t defray all of the costs of ordinary care, but when medical fees reach into the thousands, or even tens of thousands, it’ll kick in and help cover costs until a certain maximum ceiling. Like human insurance, you have monthly premiums, and when incidents happen, you have varying co-pays and deductible rates (you'll pay more to keep your deductible lower).
Additionally, pet insurance often has a “maximum payout,” or limit, and they can be structured in many different ways. Some maximums are based on individual illnesses — so if you reach your maximum on treating your dog's diabetes, you're on your own. Others are based on annual or lifetime maximums, and often, there are multiple maximums you'll need to look out for.
It's tricky business, made trickier by the varying rates you'll get for different dogs and, often, pre-existing conditions aren't covered. But the security can be worth it. At the very least, fill out the information and see what your rates would look like. You can learn more here.
For Americans, check out the Preventative Vet to learn how to find a policy that works for you, here. The Canadian Kennel Club suggests going here to check out your options. Prices will vary based on the breed and the age of your dog, but, like human insurance, the policy coverage can range from “accidents only” to “every illness and vaccination included.”
Reasonable Estimate: $600 (you can learn more about the range here).
Grand Total For Reasonable First-Year-Only Dog Expenses: $2,300
If you're really going for the financial responsibility medal of honor (we think that should be a real thing), you can add the cost of getting the dog you desire, and save all of it before you even bring the thing home. And as you'll see in the section below, those are just your additional costs for the first year. You’ll also need some of the stuff below for the first year, like “Food,” “Grooming,” and “Dog Babysitters” (we’ll learn about those in a second).
Grand Total First Year Expenses (One-Time-Only Stuff Plus Regular Grooming, Babysitting and Food): $3,000
##Step Five: No more puppy! Budgeting for yearly dog costs
Wow, how a year flies. You bought a puppy, and now you’ve got a full-on full-grown dog. And a dog that mostly doesn't wake you up at 4 a.m. or pee on the midcentury modern sofa you got as a wedding present. All in all, a big success. The yearly expenses from here on out should be lower (unexpected emergencies notwithstanding, of course; this is a living thing and living things are unpredictable). Here's what to expect:
Experienced dog owners will be the first to warn you that dog food is a business built on making you feel ashamed of giving your dog anything but filet mignon. There’s premium kibble, non-premium kibble, and 10,000 people on the internet who will tell you the distinction does or doesn’t matter. If you want to spend $12,000 a year on dog food, there are companies out there who will happily whip your pup up something special and deliver it from farm-to-doorstep.
But our best estimate for normal food cost is somewhere between $20 - 60 a month. Remember: while $10 a month doesn’t seem like a big difference, if you've learned anything about the power of compounding, it makes a big difference over time.
Reasonable Yearly Estimate: $400
Now that the dog's adulted, you'll hopefully need to buy new beds less often, not to mention leashes, collars, toys and the like. But you'll have to buy some of this stuff occasionally — how much depends largely on both the type of dog you have (does he ravenously chew through bones and dog dishes?) and whether you love buying new stuff for your dog.
Subscription boxes like Bark Box or The Dapper Dog box can cost around $25, offering a combo of toys, treats, and chews. And they’re themed, though we’re not sure if that’s more for you or the pup.
Reasonable Yearly Estimate: $200
Again, it's going to depend on what kind of dog you have, how coiffed you want your dog to be, how much you're willing to do yourself, and whether you're an extreme-dog-makeover person with a canine that requires professional grooming. (Those are some crazy looking dogs, right?)
Let's assume you're not going nuts here, but that you're going to need the biannual haircut and full-dog-detailing.
Reasonable Yearly Estimate: $100
If you travel often, you're going to need to board that love of your life; and if you work full time you may need a walker to come. (Unless you work at a place like Wealthsimple where dogs are always welcome. Hey, it happens!) Costs will vary depending on frequency, where you live, and how high-end you want your doggie boutique hotel to be. But we're assuming a boarding cost between from $25 to $45 a night, and a 30-minute walk with the Ubers of dog-walking, Rover and Wag, will cost you around $20.
Reasonable Yearly Estimate: $200
We sound like a broken record, but cost will vary depending on breed, age, whether or not you have pet insurance, and the occurrence of a medical catastrophe. No insurance means a lower fixed cost and the risk of huge bills. Remember: insurance companies make money by knowing that most people will pay more in premiums than they get back from insurance companies. But what you’re paying for is the peace of mind that, should a medical emergency strike, you won't be screwed.
Reasonable Medical Estimate: $750
Grand Total Yearly Budget (After Year One): $1,650
OK. We're done! We know, all that budgeting really sucks the fun out of the room. Woof. But aren't you glad you know? (And that you didn't have to do it yourself???) We said it before but we'll say it again: we highly recommend setting aside a yearly budget and putting it in something like a Wealthsimple Smart Savings account — again with the compounding of interest. Just think how you could use that extra interest cash to buy the life-size duck toy at the pet store that your dog seems to really want. Not that you could have resisted anyway.
Wealthsimple makes smart investing simple and affordable. Illustrations by Jenny Mörtsell.