How to Reduce the Cost of Dog Care

Although what you buy for your dog doesn't necessarily correlate to how much you love the animal, there's no question that the various expenses do add up and may put a hurt on your family budget. Here is our guide to reducing the costs for the things you have to buy, allowing you more room to buy those little extras like treats and toys.

Let's start at the very beginning...

If you haven't already taken a dog into your home, give some thought to the type of dog you wish to have. Small dogs are much cheaper to care for than larger dogs. Mutts are cheaper to adopt than purebreds are. Some breeds cost in excess of $1,000 per dog, while you can typically get a dog from a shelter for less than $100, including spaying or neutering.

Dog with calculator and money
Consider the size, breed and coat of the dog to help estimate cost of his care.

If your heart is set on a purebred, don't assume that means you have to give up on the shelter idea. If you establish a good relationship with your local shelter - perhaps by volunteering or donating old blankets, food, or leashes - you may be able to have them call you when they receive a dog of your desired breed.

Once you get your new dog home, one of the first things you should consider spending money on is spaying or neutering the dog, if that hasn't yet been done. The cost of spaying or neutering is minimal compared to the cost of having a litter of puppies to care for until you can find someone to take them. And most accidental pregnancies result in dogs of unclear heritage, meaning you will not be able to sell the puppies to vastly increase your wealth because they will not be pedigreed dogs.

Dogs can be spayed or neutered very early in life. Many veterinarians recommend waiting until the animal is at least six months old, but shelters are doing the surgeries much earlier - as early as two months - so that all animals that are adopted from shelters are spayed or neutered before they go to their new homes. If your dog is not fixed when you bring him or her home, make sure to have the surgery completed before the dog reaches sexual maturity at about six to eight months in order to avoid any surprises.

Keeping your dog where he belongs

Give some thought to how you will keep your dog contained on your property. Tying the dog to a stake in the yard is probably the cheapest way, although the time your dog spends staked out should be kept to a minimum for humane reasons. Although tying your dog out keeps him or her home, it doesn't prevent the neighbors' dogs and kids from coming to visit and torment your animal.

A better option may be either conventional or underground / invisible fencing, which comes in a variety of designs to suit any budget. Whether you create a smallish pen on your property or fence in the whole yard, make sure you provide enough room for your dog to get his or her exercise. Provide proper shade and water, particularly if you live in a warm climate.

Keeping your dog home helps reduce costs in a number of ways.

  • You will not have the liability associated with a dog who might bite people encountered while he or she is out running the neighborhood.
  • You will not have to spend money on gas to go out looking for the dog.
  • You will not have to print up flyers if the dog remains lost for an extended period of time. If your dog is not spayed or neutered yet, you will not end up with
  • unwanted puppies if your dog can't leave the yard to rendezvous with other dogs.
  • You will not have large vet bills when your dog gets hit by a car while he or she is out following a scent trail.
  • Last, but not least, you will not have to pay the dog warden for picking up your dog and returning him or her to you. The fines levied for loose dogs can be enormous!

Regardless of the type of fencing you choose to buy, nothing is fool-proof. Dogs dig under fences, kids leave gates open, and more than one dog has jumped over a fence to escape. Make sure your dog is trained well enough to return to you whenever you call. This can also help you avoid many of the expenses noted above.

Comparison shop

As a consumer, you have more options today than ever before. You can choose to buy your dog's supplies at the grocery store, at a big box retailer like Wal-Mart, at a specialty pet store, or online. The competition between these sources means you win, because they all want to have the lowest prices for the best quality goods.

Dog with a mouthful of cash
It pays to shop around and compare prices.

Do your research before you leave the house to purchase a particular item. For example, if you are in the market for a retractable dog leash, you can find one on e-bay for as low as $9.95 plus shipping, on for as much as $29.99, or at Petco for $30.97. The styles and sizes vary, but you can find just what you are looking for online, then use the price there to comparison shop when you hit your local flea markets, discount stores, and garage sales.

Wherever you buy your products and supplies, look for durability so you won't have to replace your purchase six months later. Also, check for any guarantees or warranties that may save you money if you are unhappy with the product's performance.

You can also shop online for pet medications and then ask your veterinarian or pharmacist to match the prices you found. If you choose to buy your medications online, make sure they are the same formulation as those made in the United States for veterinarians. There is no point in saving money if the product you are buying will not help your dog.


Food prices run the gamut from very low end dry food that is often full of "leftovers" from human food processing, to very high end food that promises to give your dog all the protein he or she craves.

There are two things you should look for when deciding on a food for your dog: the ingredient label and the serving size. The first ingredient (and preferably the first two ingredients) should always be protein. The food should also contain some carbohydrates and fats for proper nutrition.

Look carefully at the recommended serving size. Lower quality foods must be fed in higher quantities because the dog cannot digest all of the fillers contained in the food. He or she will simply pass most of the food out into your yard. Higher quality foods, while more expensive on a pound-per-pound basis, may be cheaper in the long run because you will feed less and your dog will retain more nutrients.


Consider grooming your dog at home. A good pair of clippers or shears can more than pay for themselves when compared to the cost of professional grooming. If you don't need a professional-looking cut, it may be well worth your while to do the job at home. Don't forget to trim the nails and clean out the ears, as well.

If your dog doesn't need regular hair cuts, simply brushing the coat frequently can keep him or her looking spiffy without any added expense.

Remember that dental health is key to physical health. Brush your dog's teeth frequently to prevent infections that could later cost you a bundle in vet care.

Around the house

Just as you would when you bring a new baby home, make sure your home is safe for your new puppy. Decide if there are areas that should be off-limits, and find a way to confine your dog to the area of the house where he is permitted. Baby gates are marvelous for this purpose. They not only keep your dog from soiling on your expensive carpets, but they also allow you to puppy-proof only those parts of your home where the dog will be.

Cords should be hidden to prevent shocks related to chewing through the insulation. Household cleaning products should be placed behind locked cabinet doors or high enough on a shelf that the dog can't get to them. Small toys should be removed from the area where your dog will be confined. Staircases should be gated off, particularly if your puppy is very small. Crate your puppy when you cannot provide direct supervision. All of these actions, which may cause minor inconveniences for you, will help you control emergency medical costs by keeping your puppy safe to begin with.

Make up your mind not to smoke around your dog. Secondhand smoke can cause a variety of problems, not just for puppies, but for dogs of any age.

Provide both mental and physical stimulation for your dog. Exercise will keep him or her healthy, and will help curb any destructive tendencies your dog may have.

Medical care

One of the most important things you can do for your dog is provide proper medical care. Pay attention to your dog closely enough that you will notice any changes such as lack of appetite, diarrhea, changes in sleep patterns, or behavior that is out of character for your dog. Schedule a time monthly to do a home check-up, looking for unexplained lumps, hair loss, and joints or other areas that seem painful when you touch them. Any of these symptoms can indicate the beginnings of a serious health problem which may be much cheaper to treat if caught early.

Keep a first aid kit handy so you can care for small injuries yourself. As long as a cut is less than one-inch deep and / or one-inch long, you should be able to treat it with antibiotic cream and bandages. Make yourself familiar with common medications that are safe for dogs, such as aspirin, and those that are unsafe, such as acetaminophen.

Provide the proper preventative care to reduce high veterinary bills later. It is much cheaper to give a dog heartworm preventative than to treat heartworm. That said, check out the vaccine laws in your jurisdiction, and discuss with your vet any additional vaccines that he or she may recommend. Make sure the additional shots are really needed before you agree to them.

Consider purchasing veterinary insurance. Most policies run about $300 per year, and depending on vet costs in your area, you may come out ahead by buying a policy. Check the fine print to make sure you know what percentage of the final bills you will have to pay, and make sure the policy covers preventative care.

Last, but not least, begin a savings account for your dog. You may have to dip into it for emergency veterinary expenses, but the primary purpose is to provide for your dog's care when he or she is elderly. The cost of geriatric care for a dog is much higher than the health care required for a young dog. It would be a shame to have to put your dog down prematurely simply because you couldn't afford to care for him or her.

Many of these topics are covered in more detail in our dog den. Take a moment to peruse the available articles to see if you can save even more money by following our simple tips.


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