With all the advice people gave me as I was contemplating getting a dog...
“It’s a big responsibility.”
“It’ll take a lot of time.”
“Do your research about breeds.”
…the hands-down best advice was…
“Dogs are expensive.”
While I was ready for the responsibility, the time commitment and the lifestyle changes ages ago, it was only when the dog arrived on the scene that I realized that in previous years – and without my boyfriend’s support – I wouldn’t have been ready financially.
This all came up as part of a discussion with a friend, who’s considering getting a dog.
Her boyfriend, the budget nerd, mentioned to her that she should ask me just how expensive dogs can be.
Now, I can go on and on about this in terms of the costs of pet insurance, the costs of dog food, and my monthly contributions to the dog’s emergency fund. However, she posed a question I wasn’t prepared to answer.
How expensive is it to have a dog every month?
Basically, from a monthly perspective, how much wiggle room should I have before taking on the responsibility of a dog?
While I firmly believe that squeezing more into your monthly budget isn’t the way to tackle optimizing your expenses, I also started to wonder. It’s easy to look at the lump sum costs, like insurance and vet visits, and not realize what that breaks down to when it gets averaged out over a year’s worth of months.
Luckily, I’ve been tracking my expenses for over a year now, and the past year has been a fairly typical period of dog ownership.
So I did what any budget nerd who didn’t know the answer would do.
I looked at the numbers. (After giving her a probably entirely unrealistic estimate of $100.)
My dog’s expenses break down into a few categories, and due to the nature of the different purchases, I looked at each of them separately.
While reasonably priced, high-quality dog food has been one of the biggest benefits of a Costco membership for me, my dog’s latest vet visit revealed some not-so-clean teeth. As a result, we’ve switched up his breakfast to the vet-recommended dental diet food.
He seems fine with it, mostly because he’s a lab and will eat anything, but it’s definitely upped our monthly food costs.
The Costco food usually lasts us about two months, at a total cost of $36.66.
The new dental diet food lasts about a month and a half, and costs $64.22 per bag.
When I average it out, his total monthly food costs ring in at $66.65 a month.
Which is still less than we had been spending on the fancy food we were buying before, so that’s fine.
If you’re trying to estimate how much it will cost to feed a dog every month, the factors you need to think about include:
- How big is your dog, and how many calories / scoops of food will your dog need every day?
- Does your dog need any special food or have dietary restrictions?
- What brands of food or options do you have available locally, and how much do they cost?
My dog has two regular vet visits each year.
- One in the fall for his annual checkup and vaccines, and
- One in the spring for his “summer meds.” This one includes anti-flea and anti-tick medication, which I’m more than happy to spring for since even one infection from either would cost me a whole lot more in the long run – not to mention stress me right out.
He just had his last checkup, where we discovered the need for his new-and-improved dental diet. That one – including the $64.42 for a bag of his special new tooth food – ran me $192.11.
That’s a bit lower than the spring check-up, due to the cost of the medications, so I multiplied this past visit by 2.5 to get an annual routine vet bill of about $319.23.
Sadly, that seems low to me, but I’m going to go with it. (Our latest spring vet visit included blood work to make sure everything was all good, and a full round of tick and flea meds, and was over $500.)
It comes out to an average monthly vet cost of $26.60 for routine care and vaccines.
I’ve flip-flopped on whether or not to buy dog insurance.
But, I know myself well enough to know I need both pet insurance and a well-funded pet emergency fund.
Luckily, I found an insurance option that works well for me and my dog. It covers 80% of accidents and illness, up to $8000.00, and rings in at $314.75 a year.
It’s the perfect complement to the dog’s emergency fund, and breaks down to a monthly cost of $26.23.
Emergency fund contributions
That said, my reasonable monthly insurance costs are nothing compared to my “self-insurance” emergency fund for my dog.
I throw $150 in there every month to build up to the goal I’ve set for his emergency fund.
Note: That emergency fund is now fully-funded, so I’ve paused contributions for now, but I’m planning on ramping them back up since my dog is getting closer to his “old man” years.
I had originally called this category “toys and other items”, but when I went back through my spending categories, I realized that in the past four months my spending at pet stores has included training aids, a new harness for walking, a toothbrush and two bones for helping with the dog’s tooth issues.
This is not a category that should be called “toys.”
While my dog’s “gear” expenses seem a little high to me for the past four months, they’re also likely not out of the range of normal if I had been tracking the past year of my spending at pet stores. By taking the numbers into consideration, I got an average annual gear total of $629.60.
That brings in my monthly total on dog gear at $52.74.
The only expense I can find in my monthly spending spreadsheets that isn’t accounted for in the categories I’ve already mentioned is dog sitting.
There has only been one night where I’ve left my dog with a friend overnight, and as a token of appreciation, my boyfriend and I took out some money to cover pizza, beer and a small cash gift for our friend who watched my dog.
Based on how often we go out of town and need a dog-sitter, I’ve estimated this cost at $200 a year.
That breaks down to a totally reasonable $16.67 per month in the “other” expense category.
So how much does a dog cost every month?
I knew the dog was a luxury, but I never would have estimated just how much he really costs on a monthly basis.
When all is said and done, based on these calculations I’m spending about $338.61 a month on him.
- $150.00 of that is saving for his emergency fund.
- $188.61 is all of the other costs, from insurance to food to vet bills, averaged out over a year.
That’s $4,063.32 a year.
While I’m a little taken aback at the number on an annual basis, and have to consider that $1800 of that is technically savings towards a specific goal, I’m also still entirely comfortable with that number.
The dog is one of the best parts of my day, every day. He’s hilarious and fun and sweet and goofy, and I wouldn’t trade him for the world. He’s also part of a life I value, that doesn’t include a lot of other “luxury” expenses. For example, I don’t travel much, since I’m perfectly happy taking a staycation to hang out with my dog.
Plus, a big chunk of those expenses is me preparing for even more costly line items, like big emergency vet bills. If you factor in the $314.75 for insurance and $1800.00 for the emergency fund, the actual “expenses” are about half of that annual number. But being a good dog owner – a dog owner who is fully ready to be financially responsible for their dog for its lifetime – is part of the deal here.
So, to the friend who asked me how much it costs to have a dog on a monthly basis, I’m sorry that I guessed that it was about $100 a month.
I was so, so, so wrong.
Thanks to the fact that I’ve been tracking my spending, I can confidently say that if you want to get a dog, you should try to find $338.61 in your budget first.
Because that’s what it costs for me to have my dog every month.