Taking Care of Your Dog on a Budget

Joined: April 20th, 2010, 12:23 pm

December 18th, 2011, 9:11 am #1

Taking Care of Your Dog on a Budget

Routine vet visits, dog food, and other items can eat into your pet care budget pretty quickly. Here are some ideas for keeping costs down.

By Sally Schloss for WebVet

Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, VMD

The annual costs of owning a dog have risen considerably over the years. Once upon a time, dog owners often got their dog for free, paid a few bucks for a license, a bit more for their pooches’ rabies and distemper shots, bought a collar, chose a dog food from their grocer’s shelf, bathed the dog when needed, and let the dog run free. And that was pretty much it.

Except for food, the annual shots, and the rare trip to the vet when the dog broke a bone or became seriously ill, the cost of a pet was relatively inexpensive. Veterinary treatments were basic and affordable. Everyone knew that people weren’t going to spend a lot of money on their animals. In fact, the prevailing attitude was no dogs in the house.

Welcome to the 21st century, where dogs sleep in bed with their pet parents, have food and water bowls with their names inscribed on them, wear coats and booties in cold weather, have groomers, walkers, sitters, trainers, therapists — and for the dearly departed — dog psychics. The list goes on.

By the Numbers

Somewhere between deprivation and excess lie pet solutions that are sensitive to a dog lover’s pocketbook. First, a few facts:

According to the 2007-2008 statistics from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), there are 44.8 million dog households in the United States, which house 78.4 million dogs.

The aggregate cost of raising a dog over its lifetime varies. Two examples below are indicative of the range:
$16,800 for 10 years ($140 a month/$1,675 per year)
$48,000 for 10 years ($400 a month/$4,800 per year)

From 2000 to 2005, the Bureau of Labor estimated that pet services, such as veterinary and grooming costs, rose more than 5 percent. The increasing costs of all things pets are on the rise — from the necessities to unprecedented luxuries.

Not to Panic

Certainly, for those who have never put pen to paper to estimate a dog’s lifetime expenses, seeing the numbers is somewhat shocking. When love and companionship enter the equation however, Americans still choose in the dog’s favor. Americans’ desire to own pets is rising faster than the costs, up from 58 percent of households in 1998 to 63 percent today, according to an APPMA consumer survey.

For the growing number of dog lovers who are on a budget, the tips below offer practical ways to economize. Being resourceful and willing to commit time to save money is a good place to start.

Getting a Dog
Consider getting a mixed-breed. The odds of having a healthier animal are greater. Purebreds may have inherited health problems.
Compare the costs of a shelter, versus the pound, or a rescue agency. Find out what’s included: neutering and basic shots?
Adopt a grown dog instead of a puppy. As adorable as puppies are, they require extra veterinary care, immunizations, neutering, and obedience training.

Spay and Neuter

Spaying and neutering greatly reduces the risk of hormone-related diseases in maturity. A dog license is usually cheaper if your dog is neutered.


Don’t skimp on food quality. A poor diet will create health problems long-term. Also, buying cheap food could end up costing more. Dogs may overeat to get the nutrients they need. Buying in bulk is cost efficient. Make sure to consult with your vet about any special dietary needs your dog may have.


Bake your own. There are countless Web sites chock full of healthy, inexpensive, dog-proven recipes.


The American Animal Hospital Association has changed its guidelines, recommending that a number of core vaccines be given every three years instead of annually. Check with your vet to find out how you can keep your dog protected and save unnecessary vaccination expense.

Veterinarian prices vary greatly. Comparison shop for the best-priced vet, without compromising on quality. Speak to satisfied clients. Ask for referrals. Check out reputations. You can also reduce the number of vet-dental cleanings by brushing your dog's teeth regularly.

Pet Insurance

Pet insurance might well be worthwhile for those who consider expensive, specialized treatments to save their dog’s life, (MRI’s, chemotherapy, kidney transplant). Insurance typically doesn’t cover the costs of routine care or pre-existing and inherited conditions. The age and health of your dog influences the value of its benefits. Educate yourself.

Toenail clipping is a habit to be introduced when your dog is a puppy. Ask your vet to show you the proper way to clip so you won’t accidentally cause injury and pain.
Clean your dog’s ears. Use ear wash for dogs, or make your own by mixing two parts water with one part white vinegar. Make sure you review ear cleaning techniques with your vet. Bathe, brush and trim your dog yourself.
Invest in professional tools. It will cost you upfront but will pay for itself many times over. Get videos or DVDs on grooming and clipping technique for free from the library. Watch a pet groomer.


Make your own dog shampoos, fragrances and skin conditioners and then light some candles, put your dog in the tub and share the time together for a fraction of the cost of a doggie spa.


To reduce or eliminate the cost of professional obedience training, get books and videos from the library. Watch pet training shows on television or join an online discussion group to get help with questions.

Playtime and Toys

Play and exercise time costs you nothing and means everything to your dog. Long-term health benefits will save you on vet bills. The best toys are often the cheapest: a stick, a tennis ball, an old box, etc.


Once your vet has determined what medications your dog needs, comparison shop. Many medications prescribed for dogs are approved for people and can be purchased in generic form from a pharmacy. You can also shop for flea/tick control products and heartworm medication online. Never give any medication without checking with your vet first.

End-of-Life Costs

There are expenses that we never think about until a pet dies. Learn the costs in advance and create a savings plan.

What Dogs Save Us

Every day it seems there are more studies touting the human health benefits of pet companionship. Dogs force us to exercise and become more social, getting us out of the house even when we’re depressed. Just petting a dog lowers our blood pressure or helps us recover from illness faster. Dogs make us healthier. That saves us money. But their real value lies in making us happy.

Last Updated: 08/01/2009