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The cost of owning a dog

Will your four-legged friend cost you an arm and a leg? Find out the true cost of owning a dog here.

Many dog lovers will readily agree that dogs offer more than just companionship. Having a dog in the house does a lot to enrich your life, but this enrichment comes with a price tag.

From necessities such as food and vet visits, to the slightly less necessary but almost unavoidable purchases including toys, treats and more toys, there are many things your pooch needs. All of these costs add up, and sometimes come as a bit of a surprise to a new dog owner. But what is the true cost of owning a dog, and before you jump in, can you afford it?

One-time costs

Low angle closeup image of black and white labrador retriever puppies eating from a dog bowl

They’re playful, patient and loyal so it’s no wonder why dogs are nicknamed man’s best friend. While you’re giving your time to your new family member, you’re also committing to a lifetime of expenses, starting with the initial investment of bringing Fido home safely. We’re talking about the set-up costs at home from your pooch’s comfy bed to his doggie bowl and leash to practicalities like his initial visit to the vet to get vaccinated and microchipped.

If you’re thinking of getting a dog, here’s what to expect for the upfront, one-time costs you’ll need to save up for:

Initial costs of owning a dog or a puppy

Type of expenseUpfront cost
Purchasing your dog$200 to $2,500
First vet visit (health exam with vaccines)$400
Vet care (heartworm/flea/tick prevention, deworming medication, fecal exam)$250
Spay or neuter$600
Follow-up vet visits until 16 weeks old$100 to $300
Essential supplies (collar, ID tags, leash, toys, training pads, water and food bowls)$200 to $250
Doggy bed and crate$200
Initial set-up of dog food and treats$30 to $100
Obedience classes$460
Total one-time initial costs$2,505 to $5,125

These figures are based on rough estimates and they’ll fluctuate depending on the size of your dog, the type of breed you’re getting, where you’re getting your dog from, and how much it’ll cost to keep your pup well fed and healthy. For example:

  • Choosing your dog. If you’re purchasing a purebred dog from a breeder, you can pay up to $2,500, depending on the breed, while rescue dogs won’t come with this substantial price. Adopting a dog from a shelter can cost as little as $50 to $200.
  • Initial vet visit. One of your first stops with your new pooch will be to a good veterinarian. Vet bills for a puppy will cost more because the doctor will need to vaccinate, spay or neuter and microchip him and check for fleas and ticks. Puppies also require follow-up visits until they hit about the six-month mark, so you’ll need to earmark cash for this too.
  • Food, treats and getting settled in at home. These expenses vary widely, depending on the size of your dog and if he needs to follow a specific diet. As a rule of thumb, it’s worth noting that the bigger the dog, the bigger the cost. A chocolate Labrador is going to need more food and treats than, say, a Chihuahua, for example. Your budget will also dictate how much you can spend on your doggy bed, food and water bowls, leash and other accessories Fido will need.

Monthly costs of owning a dog

As you and your dog settle into a routine at home, you’ll get acquainted with the monthly expenses you’ll need to include in your budget for keeping Fido happy and healthy. The big ticket items like purchasing your dog, getting him to the vet, and helping him settle in at home with a bed, doggy bowl, collar and leash are all out of the way. Here’s a look at the monthly costs of owning a dog:

Type of expenseMonthly cost
Food and treats$30 to $72
Chew toys$10
Pet insurance$78
Total monthly costs$158 to $200
Total monthly costs with a dog walker, if needed at $200/month$358 to $400

Once again, these are rough estimates, but try to consider these factors and if your dog needs these tailored options:

  • Dog walking. Depending on your lifestyle, you may need to hire a dog walker to take Fido out for morning, afternoon or evening walks if you’re at the office all day. Some people work from home and can avoid this cost altogether, while others may lean on a walker a few times a week if they have after-work commitments. Keep in mind that some dogs require frequent outdoor trips and exercise. In most major cities, dog walkers can charge anywhere from $10 to $20 for a weekday walk.
  • Food, treats and chew toys. Once again, your dog’s food budget will vary depending on his size. A six-pound pup only needs about half of a cup of food per day while a 70-pound golden retriever will polish off closer to 3.5 cups of kibble per day. If your vet recommends a specific therapeutic diet or freshly-made dog food for your pet, this could be more expensive too. Toys and treats are also going to be smaller, and less costly, for small dogs compared to giant breeds.
  • Grooming. Poodles, bichon frises, Portuguese water dogs – let’s just say that some dogs are a bit more high maintenance and need professional help to keep the fur out of their eyes. In these cases, they may need professional grooming at least once or twice a month. Other dogs, such as beagles, bulldogs and chihuahuas won’t need frequent grooming at all, driving this expense down.

Annual costs

So, with all of these factors in mind, what is the average cost of owning a dog per year in Canada? The Ontario Veterinary Medical Association estimates that it’s just over $3,242, excluding a dog walker and professional grooming. Here’s the breakdown of annual expenses:

Type of expenseAnnual cost
Veterinary care (annual checkup, heartworm/flea and tick prevention, annual heartworm/Lyme test, fecal exams)$465
Veterinary care (annual vaccinations)$128
Dental care$556
Food and treats$1,031
Essentials (leashes, collars, toys)$104
Pet insurance$933
Annual licence$25
Yearly total$3,242
Yearly total including a regular dog walker, if needed (roughly $3,000)$6,242
Yearly total including routine professional grooming, if needed (roughly $480)$6,722

Keep in mind, this is an estimate to help you consider the average cost of owning a dog per year in Canada. Your spending will vary depending on where you live (in the city, suburbs or in rural areas), and on the size and type of breed of your dog. But overall these are recurring annual costs so you can expect to spend in each of these categories each year.

How emergencies and unexpected events affect cost

Just like homeowners need to save for a leaky roof or a broken refrigerator, dog owners need to save for a rainy day in case life throws you and your pup a curve ball. Medical emergencies, chronic illnesses, or other unplanned expenses could lead to hefty price tags to the tune of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

For example, the cost of an emergency visit to the vet could start at $300 upwards to $500. If something serious happens to Fido and he needs to stay in the ICU, the bill could be even higher.

To prepare for the unexpected, earmark some cash in your emergency savings fund specifically for if anything goes awry with your dog. Some people also hang onto a credit card or keep a line of credit open for emergencies.

How the type of dog affects cost

The upfront, monthly, annual and lifetime cost of your pet will vary depending on what kind of dog you’d like to bring home to the family. For starters, there’s size; the grocery bill for a Yorkshire Terrier or a Shih Tzu is going to be far less than for a Bernese Mountain Dog or a German Shepherd. (They’re all adorable and fluffy, though!)

Some breeds come with genetic health issues that may lead to extra visits to the vet in the long run. Others have lots of energy and need plenty of exercise and companionship, so a dog walker is an expense you can’t skip out on.

Do your homework on the type of dog you’ve set your sights on so you’re aware of any out-of-the-ordinary expenses you may have to commit to.

Representative example: Lifetime cost of owning a dog

Rachel lives in the heart of downtown Toronto with her puppy, Lulu. She works in an office uptown at a 9 to 5 job, but she also spends about an hour commuting to work and back home each day. Because she’s not home during the day for the majority of the week, she hires a dog walker who takes Lulu for a daily afternoon walk, so she can be fed and relieved. Rachel spends $50 per week or $200 a month for Lulu’s daily walks.

Lulu is a medium-sized dog Rachel found at a rescue shelter. The average dog has a lifespan of approximately 15 years.

Using the numbers given above, you’ll find Rachel’s initial cost for bringing Lulu home was $2,500, followed by an annual expense of $5,642. This amounts to $56,420 over the course of 15 years. Rachel tries to lower her costs by making Lulu’s grooming an at-home DIY project, shopping for off-brand dog food, and relying on her parents to look after Lulu when Rachel travels or goes on vacation so she doesn’t have to pay for a kennel or dog sitter.

Is pet insurance worth it?

Pet insurance is optional. Yet it’s worth noting that vet treatments can be quite expensive, and insurance can help keep you covered from larger expenses down the road. You’ll need to evaluate the premium, the exclusions in the policy and the coverage offered before you purchase the policy.

Pet insurance policies typically cover the following:

  • Accident only: This policy will cover vet expenses in case your pet has an accident. The monthly premium ranges from about $15 to $30 per month.
  • Accident and illness: This policy covers vet expenses for accidents and illnesses. The monthly premium will usually range from $30 to $60.
  • Comprehensive coverage: This policy covers vet costs for accidents and illnesses. In addition, it covers routine vaccinations and worming treatments. The monthly premium typically ranges from $60 to $80 per month.

Pet insurance policies will specify certain exclusions as well. Policies differ, but the following exclusions are common:

  • Illness or injury from pre-existing conditions (including conditions affecting a body part such as the ears or eyes, for example).
  • Vet expenses for elective treatments such as de-sexing, orthodontics and so on.
  • Treatment of illnesses suffered during the waiting period.
  • Treatment of diseases for which a known vaccine exists, such as kennel cough.
  • Dental coverage.

If you feel that pet insurance is too expensive, consider setting aside some savings each month, if possible, to create your own little pet emergency fund. This fund could help you in times when your pet needs medical treatment for illnesses or injuries.

Pets can be expensive, but there are financing solutions available

Representative example: Samantha needs to cover vet bills

Samantha is relocating to Northern Ontario. Her dog Spot hasn’t been to the vet in a while. He is long overdue for at least three vaccinations and she wants to get him neutered. She will also need to pick up two different medications to see him through mosquito season. She’s been told her total bill will come to $1,150. The cost to neuter her dog will be $250, the two medications come in at $350 and the vaccinations come in at $400, and then she will have to pay tax.

Samantha doesn’t have this kind of money on hand right now; her big move up north has dwindled her savings down. However, since she will start her new job within a couple of weeks, she decides to take out a loan to cover the costs. Heading online, she compares both payday loans and personal loans. Since she has a decent credit score, she settles on a personal loan for $1,200, which will be repaid over 6 months.

Cost of vet bills$1,150.00
Loan typePersonal loan
Loan amount$1,200.00
Interest rate (APR)10.00%
Loan term6 months
Additional feesOrigination fee of 3% ($36.00)
Monthly payment$205.87
Total loan cost$1,271.24
*The information in this example, including rates, fees and terms, is provided as a representative transaction. The actual cost of the product may vary depending on the retailer, the product specs and other factors.

Financing options for your pet

There are a few options when it comes to paying for emergency or unexpected costs. These options include:

  • Unsecured personal loans. These give you the option of financing without needing to provide collateral as security. Since there is no security involved, the interest rates for these loans tend to be higher than their secured counterparts. Compare the terms offered by various lenders before selecting the most favourable one.
  • Credit cards. If you have a credit card, you could consider putting some of the costs, both upfront and ongoing, on this card if you don’t have the money at hand. If you don’t plan on paying off your total balance straight away, a lower interest card might be a better option for you, as it won’t see your interest charges build as quickly as they would on a credit card with a higher rate.

Owning a dog does not come cheap. As with any matter involving your finances, it’s best to examine the potential implications of any decision before you take action. While there are several benefits to having a furry friend at your side, it’s important that you estimate the financial costs of owning a dog before taking the plunge.

Budgeting tips for pet owners

Carving out and sticking to a budget is a great idea for pet owners. Here’s a look at key ways you can keep expenses low:

  • Choose adoption. If you decide to adopt your dog from a rescue shelter, you’re not only giving an abandoned dog a loving home, but you’ll spend much less than you would via a breeder. Some rescue shelters charge just a small fee of about $50 to cover administrative work for your adoption.
  • Shop around for food. Your dog’s grocery bill is going to be one of your biggest annual expenses, especially if you have a big dog. Always look at flyers for deals at your local grocery store, compare brands to find your most economical option, or buy your pet’s food in bulk at Costco. You can drive your pet’s food costs down by shopping strategically but make sure nutrition is still the utmost priority.
  • Cut down on travel-related expenses. If you’re out of the house a lot for work, or travel, lean on a family member, neighbour or close friend to look after your dog while you’re away. Dog walkers, doggy daycares and kennels can be pretty pricey. If your loved ones can step in to help now and then, this will put a dent on your pet-related expenses.
  • Keep your dog healthy. Do your research on how much exercise your dog needs and what his healthy weight should be and stay within these parameters. A happy, healthy dog means you won’t run into health issues and expensive vet bills as your dog gets older.

Bottom line

While a lifetime of memories with your family dog is priceless, as you can see, pet ownership can really add up. Ultimately, it’s a long-term time commitment and major financial responsibility.

If you’re on the fence about becoming a pet owner, factor in all of the one-time, monthly and annual expenses to see how they fit into your current budget and lifestyle. Buying a dog is not a decision to be made on a whim. If the math checks out, and you have the time and love to give, you’re in for a treat. Your new best friend will come with puppy-dog eyes, wet-nosed kisses and plenty of cuddles!

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