How can I save money on the cost of owning a dog?
It can be expensive to own a dog. That adorable pooch needs a leash, water and food bowls, a crate, food, and toys. Then there are grooming and training costs and vet bills for vaccinations and spaying or neutering.
The cost of owning a dog adds up quickly. And no one wants to dip into savings accounts or use a credit card for routine expenses and preventative care. That’s why saving strategies are so imperative. Fortunately, these tips can help reduce those costs dramatically.
Ways to Save on the Cost of Owning a Dog
Having a dog just makes your life better. But you don’t want your new best friend to cause you serious financial strain. Fortunately, if you use these tips, you can have the best of both worlds: a furry friend and solid financial footing.
1. Adopt a Dog
One of the first financial decisions dog owners make is whether to buy or adopt a furry friend.
Buying purebred pooches is an expensive venture. The cost varies widely depending on breed, but you can expect to pay anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
And that cost doesn’t include medical expenses like getting your dog spayed or neutered or initial vaccinations.
Moreover, Scientific American says purebred dogs have often been inbred and face serious health issues, adding additional pet expenses.
For example, the beloved Cavalier King Charles spaniel can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars per puppy. But the publication notes that nearly half of all Cavaliers develop a severe heart condition by age 5.
If you aren’t set on a specific breed, adopting from a local shelter can lower your costs. Plus, it’s always a good feeling to give a shelter dog a home.
Adopting a dog saves on a host of costs you’d typically pay if you buy from a breeder, such as:
- Adoption Fees. Adoption fees are typically nominal compared to purchasing a pure breed. Depending on where you live, you could find shelter fees of between $50 and almost $700, though closer to $100 is most common.
- Spaying or Neutering. Many shelters spay and neuter dogs before they place the pet for adoption. If not, they often give you a dramatic discount on the service.
- Pet Supplies. Some shelters hand out generous goodie bags filled with a few months of dog food, dog toys, and bones. Goodie bags often include discounts and coupons to pet stores like Petco and PetSmart.
- Veterinary Care. Most shelters also offer veterinary services before a dog is available for adoption. These can include vaccinations, flea and tick treatment, deworming medication, and a general checkup on the dog’s health.
- Microchipping. Many shelters microchip dogs before adoption. You may even receive temporary free access to the monthly service.
2. Get a Smaller Dog
Your dog’s size can help you save money or cost you even more. The American Kennel Club completed a study in 2004 showing large dogs cost $3,321 to care for annually versus smaller dogs, which cost about $1,831.
Smaller dogs cost owners less money in various ways.
- Food Costs. A large dog eats more food each day. For instance, Purina says a dog that weighs 3 to 12 pounds needs as little as one-third cup of its food per day. But a dog that weighs 100 pounds needs four and a half cups of its food daily.
- Dog Supplies. Typically, smaller items are cheaper than larger ones. For example, Amazon’s bestselling small dog beds cost around $20. But its large dog bed bestsellers cost between $30 and $60.
- Veterinary Bills. Most medical care is similar regardless of size. But a key difference is that large dogs need larger doses of medicine because vets must base it on weight. For example, a dose for a 5-pound dog that costs only a dollar or two might cost $20 or more for a large-breed.
- Groomer. When you take a big dog to the groomer, it costs more money. For example, you might pay $40 for a small dog but $75 for a large dog. Breed also plays a role, with longer-haired breeds costing more.
3. Get an Adult Dog
Puppies are so adorable, but they can be much more expensive. In addition to being more desirable (so shelters and breeders can charge more), puppies haven’t been potty- or obedience-trained. And they need tons of attention and dog toys to keep them occupied.
Dogs who are at least 2 years old have several cost-saving advantages.
- They’re Probably Spayed or Neutered. Most adult dogs have already been fixed, but a new puppy still needs that procedure. You may be able to get it for around $100 at a low-cost clinic. But a private vet will charge several hundred.
- They’re at Least Partially Trained. Most adult dogs are house-trained and may have received some general obedience training. A new puppy needs more training than an adult dog needs. As such, getting a slightly older dog could save you hundreds of dollars.
- You May Not Need to Puppy-Proof. If you get an adult dog, you probably won’t have to purchase puppy-proofing products like doggie gates, which could save you several hundred — up to $1,000 — depending on your pet-proofing needs.
4. Train the Dog Yourself
All dogs need some form of basic training to keep them safe. Commands like sit, heel, come, and even handshake and roll over aren’t just tricks. They allow you to control your dog’s movements in an emergency or even prep them for positions they may need to take at the vet.
The average fee for training a dog is $30 to $80 per class, according to HomeGuide. Dog obedience training schools cost $200 to $600 per week. Boot camp and kennel training fees range from $500 to $1,250.
But there are other options. The Internet has loads of excellent free how-to videos.
Check out these free training sites:
- The American Kennel Club has many written strategies you can practice on your own.
- Wagfield Academy offers four free training sessions online.
- The Dunbar Academy offers strategies to help with problem behavior, such as barking, leash pulling, and separation anxiety.
- Your local humane society might offer free or discounted training, especially if you adopted your dog.
5. Take Your Pet in for Preventative Care Regularly
One significant issue for dog owners is wellness and preventative pet care, including dental care. Getting regular checkups and staying up to date on shots can save a great deal of money by ensuring you have a healthy dog and you catch any potential problems early.
To maintain your pet’s health, stay on top of:
- Dental Care. Brush your pet’s teeth, but don’t use human toothpaste. Specially formulated dog toothpaste is available online for around $5.
- Wellness Visits. Don’t skip routine vet visits and flea, tick, and heartworm treatments. Heartworm prevention seems pricey at around $60 per year, depending on your dog’s size. But heartworm treatment typically costs $1,000 or more (potentially much more). Fleas and ticks also carry potentially serious illnesses.
- Exercise. Regularly walk your dog or take them to the park for play and exercise.
- Reproduction Prevention. Bringing more puppies into your home increases your pet care costs, at least in the short term before you can give them away. Ensure your dog is spayed or neutered.
6. Don’t Overspend on the Vet
Vet care is essential. But veterinarians are for-profit businesses, and like any small business, some are more expensive than others.
To find the least expensive vet care possible, look into various vets and get pricing info on a few common visit types and treatments. For example, ask about the fees for a standard visit, vaccinations, emergency visits, and blood work and X-rays.
But don’t limit your search to local veterinary practices. There are several other potential sources of inexpensive veterinary care.
- Veterinary Schools. Many colleges and universities have veterinary programs, and those students need training. These services often cost less than an experienced professional vet practice, and students are under the supervision of real vets.
- Nonlocal Vets. You also might look at vets on the outskirts of town, in nearby suburbs, or in rural areas. All kinds of services are cheaper in areas where the cost of living is lower. But that’s not guaranteed.
- Vet Care Drives. Nonprofit organizations like local animal shelters frequently offer lower-cost services to supplement your regular vet. They offer monthly clinics where nail trims and shots are available at a discounted price. Some for-profit vet clinics also offer discount vaccine drives as a marketing tool.
But finding the right vet is only half the battle. There are also ways to save with individual veterinary practices.
- Negotiate. If your dog needs a lot of expensive treatment, negotiate to see if you can get a better rate. At the very least, they may be able to put you on a payment plan.
- Get a Second Opinion. If you have concerns about a problematic and pricey diagnosis, see another vet, who might have a less expensive treatment strategy.
- Consider Three-Year Vaccines. Three-year vaccines are often cheaper in the long run than getting shots every year.
- Fill Prescriptions With a Pharmacy. Many of the drugs vets prescribe are drugs humans take too. Instead of taking any medicine the vet gives you, ask for a prescription and price it out at local pharmacies to see if they have it cheaper. That also lets you use cost-saving tools like GoodRx or a prescription discount card.
7. Shop Around for Pet Insurance
Pet insurance reduces the chances of a sizable unexpected pet emergency bill.
Most monthly pet insurance premiums are cheaper than traditional types of insurance. In 2020, a North American Pet Health Insurance Association analysis showed the average accident-and-illness premium for dogs was $49.92 per month.
You can include that monthly fee in your budget more comfortably than an expensive procedure like a broken bone.
8. Purchase Medicine Online
If your dog requires frequent or regular medication, such as for anxiety during fireworks or a thyroid condition, those bills can add up, especially if you’re paying your vet’s markup. It’s often cheaper to buy your dog’s medications online if you can wait for delivery.
You can purchase essential medications, flea and tick treatment, and heartworm pills from multiple online retailers. A few to try include:
9. Buy Dog Food in Bulk
For instance, a 40-pound bag of Kirkland Signature Adult Formula chicken, rice, and vegetable dog food costs around $45, making it a little over $1 per pound. That’s a good deal, according to Statista, which lists the average price of kibble in 2019 as $1.97.
But before you buy a giant bag of food your pup doesn’t like or can’t eat without stomach upset, try it first. You can buy a single can or small bag, but you may also be able to get free samples from small pet stores or your veterinarian.
10. Don’t Pay for Monthly Microchipping Services
Many shelters chip pets routinely before they place them for adoption. That means if someone finds your lost dog, they can use that chip to locate you. However, many companies try to convince you to pay a monthly fee to monitor your dog.
But microchip registration costs nothing. And you’re not required to subscribe to any service for a vet to read the chip if someone brings your fur baby in. And at your annual vet appointment, the vet can double-check that the chip is working properly.
11. Look for Freebies
You don’t always have to pay to get the gear your dog needs. There are several places you can look for freebies.
- Buy Nothing Groups. Turn to the Buy Nothing Project, which allows neighbors to sign up on a medium like Facebook and offer goods they no longer need for free. It’s common for people to give away dog crates, doggy gates, pet food, and pet bowls. You can also post on your local site that you’re seeking certain merchandise, and if someone has something they aren’t using, they’ll contact you.
- Nextdoor. Nextdoor has a free section where you can give away or find free items, and it’s guaranteed to be someone who lives close by.
- Free Samples. Just as companies that cater to people offer free samples, many dog companies do the same. For instance, you can get a free sample of Flush Doggy bags or an essential oil collar for dogs with stiff joints just for answering a few survey questions. Find more dog freebies on Deal Trunk.
12. Use Online Coupons, Rewards Apps, and Browser Extensions
The best resources for pet owners include:
- Receipt-Scanning and Cash-Back Apps. Cash-back apps offer rebates on certain products after you scan your receipt. Ibotta and Rakuten have robust pet deal sections. You can also find occasional pet deals on Checkout 51. Or download apps that give points for any receipt, such as Fetch, Receipt Hog, CoinOut, or ReceiptPal.
- Coupons. You can download coupon apps or search coupon sites. Coupons.com frequently has deals on food and grooming supplies. And Coupon Sherpa has coupons for health supplies and outlets like Chewy and Petco. Or you can search manufacturer websites.
- Browser Extensions. Browser extensions look for better deals or coupon codes while you shop. Capital One Shopping, PriceBlink, Honey, and Piggy provide a range of doggy deals. If you buy your pooch’s products on Amazon, check out the Camelizer, which tracks Amazon’s pricing.
13. DIY Toys and Snacks
Dog toys and snacks can be expensive. But if you make them yourself, you can save significantly. Search the Internet for instructions.
You can use generic key phrases like “homemade dog treats,” “homemade dog toys,” or “homemade dog enrichment.” Or you can search for something specific, such as “peanut butter dog treats” or “DIY dog snuffle mat.”
14. Find Alternatives to Dog Walkers and Doggy Day Care
One of the essential parts of having a dog is making sure it gets plenty of exercise and interaction with other dogs. It helps them avoid boredom, which can lead to destructive behaviors like chewing on the couch.
As such, many busy pet parents take their dogs to doggy day care or hire walkers. Both are expensive. Costs vary based on where you live, but expect to pay around $30 per day for doggy day care and $20 per half-hour for walking.
That doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up. Imagine you hired someone to walk your pup for half an hour on Wednesdays and boarded them every Friday. You’d rack up $2,600 per year in additional costs.
But there’s no need to shell out that kind of cash to exercise your dog. Some strategies to avoid walker and day care costs include:
- Walk the Dog Yourself. Doing it yourself slashes costs to zero. You can vary your routes in your neighborhood and nearby parks. If you work from home, you can go on short walks of around 10 or 15 minutes a couple of times per day.
- Trade Walks With a Friend or Neighbor. If you’re swamped at work or your schedule is crazy with your kids, ask a pal to help you walk your dog and return the favor for them in the future.
- Schedule Play Dates. Rather than pay for doggy day care, have a pal bring their dog to your house. In return, you can take your dog to their place for a few hours on another day.
- Find Off-Leash Dog Parks. Off-leash dog parks are generally free or have nominal fees and give your dog exercise and stimulation. Go to Dog Geek to find a free off-leash park near you.
15. Groom at Home
Professional grooming can be quite costly. Standard grooming can cost between $30 and $90, depending on the dog’s size and hair type.
Pet owners can save money by grooming at home. It’s best to research and watch grooming videos before you dive in.
Any task a groomer can do, you can do at home if you take care to do it regularly. For example:
- Bathe your dog once every three months (or more often if they play outdoors regularly or have skin problems).
- Brush your dog’s fur regularly to detangle, remove dirt, and spread natural oils.
- Trim your dog’s nails when they almost touch the ground when the dog walks. You shouldn’t hear them on hard surfaces. You can purchase a trimmer and styptic powder to stop any bleeding if you cut too close to the quick.
- Brush your dog’s teeth, but don’t use toothpaste made for people.
- If your dog has particularly long hair that’s prone to matting, purchase a pet hair trimmer, which is cheaper than one trip to the groomer.
16. Find Alternatives to Kennels
When it’s time for vacation, boarding your pup at a kennel is quite pricey. You can expect to pay around $30 to $50 per night, though some boutique boarders may charge even more. But there are plenty of other options for pet care when you’re away from home, including:
- Free Housesitting Services. Many housesitters will also take care of your pets. Check out Trusted Housesitters, which connects you with people willing to do it for free to stay at your house while they’re in town.
- Swapping With a Friend. You and a friend can agree to watch each other’s furry friends while each of you is on vacation. It’s an even trade and won’t cost either of you anything.
- Taking Your Pet With You. Many hotels allow dogs for no additional cost. For instance, Kimpton Hotels, Motel 6, and Red Roof Inn allow animals.
If you must use a traditional boarding or kennel center, get a complete accounting of the costs upfront. Some centers offer additional services that cost extra. For example, you might have to pay extra for grooming, playgroups, treats, access to a webcam, or luxury suites.
There’s no question having a dog is an additional expense, but many strategies reduce those costs dramatically. In addition to actively saving money on your dog, build an emergency fund to ensure you’re equipped to handle any financial surprise that arises.
Once you’ve got your emergency fund, start collecting gear and looking for dog supplies before your pal arrives. Just hold off on anything size-dependent, like collars, until you can measure.
Once you’ve got your pooch, keep your eyes peeled for freebies and deals, and you’ll be surprised how much money you can save and still have your pup.