Adopting a dog is one of the best decisions you can make. After all, dogs can make wonderful companions, giving you both a shoulder to lean on and an ear that listens with no judgment. Studies have shown that growing up with a pet can be beneficial for kids and having a dog, specifically, can lead to unexpected health benefits. And, of course, we’ve all heard the great stories about adopted dogs helping their new owners lose lots of weight.
But just how much will it cost to adopt a dog? Even if your rescue dog is free to adopt, you will still have to shell out some money for his care. It’s best to be aware of the costs of owning a dog before you adopt one, as it can be heartbreaking for everybody if you can’t afford to keep it. Here’s everything you need to know about the costs of adopting a dog so you can budget accordingly.
Many people are surprised by the dog adoption fees charged by animal shelters and animal rescue groups. Although you may remember your parents getting your childhood dog for free, you likely have no idea what fees your parents had to pay after they took her in.
Often, animal shelters and animal rescue groups house dogs for weeks—and even months— paying for their food, shelter, and all vet bills they incur. They test them for heartworm, vaccinate them for rabies and distemper, and treat them for ticks and fleas too. Some shelters and rescues also spay or neuter dogs before adopting them out, while a few also microchip them. Rescues typically work with the dogs to make them more adoptable, including housebreaking and even training them to obey basic commands like “sit.”
All of this adds up, but the total costs are rarely passed on to the adopter. Instead, shelters and rescue strive to keep to fees that won’t scare away potential adopters, but also help them stay in business and give the dogs up for adoption value in people’s eyes.
Keep in mind that the cost of adopting a dog will depend on the dog’s age, breed, and whether it has any special needs. Prices also depend on where you live and whether you adopt from a shelter or rescue group. Typically, shelters—especially municipal shelters – charge less for adoptions than rescue groups. Some rescue groups also devote themselves to rescuing one breed of dog, so demand may keep their fees higher. Expect to pay anywhere from $60 to nearly $400, depending on all these factors.
For many new dog owners, the first stop after they adopt their dog is to the pet store. If you’ve never owned a dog before, here are the basic supplies you’ll want to get.
Dog Bed: Be sure to size this correctly to your dog. You want a bed big enough to fit them, but not so big that they’ve got a lot of extra room once they curl up. A good-sized bed will keep them feeling safe and snuggly. Ask a store representative if you need help picking the right size. You’ll also want to consider the fabric of the bed in terms of both comfort and durability. (Hint: You want something that will stand up to multiple washings.) These days, buying a dog bed may remind you of shopping for a mattress, with choices ranging from memory foam and orthopedic beds to pillow tops and plush. As you can imagine, the prices vary greatly depending on the style and size you choose. Figure on paying $20 for a basic bed to $100 or more for a specialized one.
Leash: Leashes come in many sizes and patterns. The right width/length really depends on the dog you’ve adopted. A big dog needs a thicker, shorter leash, while a little dog could use a thinner, longer one. Some owners prefer retractable leashes to fixed ones, but if your new dog pulls a lot or is still being leash-trained, a fixed one is a better choice. If you’re an inexperienced dog owner, a fixed leash is also a better choice for you, as a retractable leash often lets a dog wander too far or tangle with another dog if you’re not paying attention. The average price of a leash is $10-30, depending on length, type, and material.
Collar/Harness: It’s a good idea to ask the adopter about this before you drive away with your new dog. That’s because they likely know whether your dog will benefit from a collar or harness. Again, dogs that pull should use a harness, so they don’t choke themselves on a collar. A harness often makes the dog feel safer and more comfortable. Collars are mainly made from leather or a polyester/nylon blend. You can also buy collars made from reflective materials or that contain LED lights, for safe walking at night. Collars can cost $5-25 and harnesses from $15 to $50.
Bowls: This may seem like an easy thing to buy, but the truth will surprise you. Dog bowls come in a range of materials, including metal, ceramic, silicone, and plastic. They all have their positive and negative attributes. For instance, plastic bowls are cheap and unbreakable; however, dogs can chew them into pieces quite easily, if they choose to. Ceramic bowls look nice, but are breakable. Metal bowls are washable and shatter-proof, but they may not appeal to your design sense. Additionally, some dogs, especially large and tall dogs, will prefer elevated bowls, which typically come in a wooden or metal frame that raises them. Typically, dog bowls range from $5-15 a piece. Elevated bowls (including the stand) cost between $20 and $40 each.
Mats: Some dog owners prefer to have their food and water bowls on a mat. This can help protect floors in case of spills and help prevent a dog skidding or moving their bowl around the floor (and scratching it). This can be something as simple as a black rubber mat or a colorful mat personalized with your dog’s name. Expect prices from $15-40.
Waste Bags: Don’t forget you’ll need disposable bags to pick up after your dog. You can buy these by the roll at the pet store for $7-15 (depending on brand and number of bags in the roll) or go to the dollar store and get a pack for $1. (Tip: You get more bags for $1 when you buy the diaper bags in the baby section and they come scented!) If you get home delivery of a daily newspaper, those bags are perfect, and they’re free.
The perfect time to purchase pet insurance is as soon after you bring home your new dog as you can. More and more new dog owners are turning to pet insurance to protect their new furry friend, just as they protect their car with car insurance and their family with medical and life insurance. Depending on the insurance, you get coverage for preventative care, accidents, emergencies, medication, and more. Insurance keeps you from ever having to make a painful decision because you can’t afford treatment when your dog gets sick, and also helps you pay your bills for everyday preventative care. Find out more here. Pet insurance for dogs costs and average of $47/month, depending on the policy you choose.
First Vet Visit and Preventative Care
Remember that your dog’s adoption fee may have included shots, spay/neuter, heartworm preventative, flea/tick medicine, and even a microchip. Whether it did or didn’t, you still should bring your new dog to the vet for a checkup as soon as you can after bringing him home. Consider this a safe, second opinion on your dog’s medical condition.
If your dog didn’t have some or all of this done, the fees vary, but do tend to add up. Don’t skimp on necessary vaccinations like rabies if you can’t afford it, however. Many towns offer annual or biannual vaccination clinics where rabies shots are free to township dogs and cats with proof of residency. Pet supply stores offer clinics as well—call your local store to find out more.
Of these fees, the cost to spay or neuter your dog is typically the highest. Many states offer lower-cost spay/neuter programs if you sign up before the funding runs out. New Jersey, for instance, charges $20 to spay or neuter a dog adopted from an eligible New Jersey shelter. Most states also have nonprofits that will help subsidize the cost. Check your state’s programs by searching on Google.
The price of heartworm preventatives and flea/tick medicine varies depending on the form and your dog’s size. You can get this from the vet, in most pet stores, and even at warehouse membership stores like Costco, Sam’s, and BJs.
Lastly, it’s always a good idea to microchip your dog. Too often, dogs get out of the house or pull away from you while walking in the neighborhood, or worse—someplace away from home. Collars can come off and it may appear that your dog is a stray. When you microchip your dog, however, the likelihood of them being reunited with you rises from 21.9% to 52.2%.Those are much better odds for such a small investment of time and money, as a microchip costs around $45 and lasts your dog’s entire life.
This may seem like a lot of preventative care, but remember the old saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Plus, pet insurance typically covers all or most of the cost of everything here, making it a pretty smart and valuable investment.
Food and Treats
Before you take your dog home, ask the rescue group or shelter what they’ve been feeding him. Sometimes, they’re stuck feeding an assortment of foods, based on donations and budget. Other times, they can afford to feed high-quality brands that are great for the dog’s health. If your dog has been eating a good-quality food and having no issues, you could stick with that brand. If your vet recommends a brand or you’ve successfully fed a past dog a particular brand, that’s fine too. The cost of food will vary greatly depending on your dog’s size and whether you feed them wet, dry, or a combination of both.
As for treats, stick with healthy snacks made mostly out of meat and not a lot of corn, wheat, or other fillers. Small amounts of natural foods like blueberries, string beans, and healthy single-ingredient treats are good for your dog and won’t make him fat. Plus, if you already have them in the house, they won’t cost you a thing.
All of the items mentioned above are the basic things to budget for when figuring out how much it will cost to adopt a dog. But you may also have to factor in the following items, depending upon your dog, your lifestyle, and more.
- Crate: For training and/or sleeping
- Car tether: For traveling in the car
- Collapsible dish: Perfect to provide water for your dog when hiking
- Tether/tie-out: If you don’t have a fenced-in yard, but want them to get some outdoor time
- Town License: Many towns and cities charge an annual license fee for your dog, you need this in order to be legal, participate in township rabies clinics, and even use township dog parks
- Puppy Training and/or Dog Obedience Classes
- Dog Walker and/or Dog Daycare: If you work all day or go on vacation, you’ll need the services of one or both
This guide should give you a good idea of how much it will cost to adopt a dog, from their food to their leash to their vaccinations. It may seem like quite an investment, but what price can you put on the love of your new, furry family member? Plus, pet insurance can be your best friend’s best friend – get a free quote here and then rest easy, knowing your dog will be both loved and protected for years to come.