The real cost of dog ownership

Dogs are awesome. I love dogs. Dogs love me. I grew up with dogs. And cats. And frogs. And hermit-crabs. And mice. And goats. And horses. And fish. And a turtle. And yabbies. And sea-monkeys! I’m pretty sure as a kid that my dirty laundry hamper had a sock that had mutated and come to life as well. I have always loved animals and will continue to do so – they helped shape my upbringing, taught me a healthy respect for the circle of life and lessons about responsibility.

But ultimately, its Mum and Dad that have the responsibility of paying for them. With an estimated $16 Billion dollar industry in 2020, pets are big business in Australia! The average pet owner spends $25,000+ on their pets over their lifespan, so getting a pet is not a lightly made decision.

CaptainFI dogs

Dogs are a long term commitment

Lets settle something first – dogs are a long term commitment. They become part of the family. You DO NOT get rid of family just because it doesn’t suit you anymore. You wouldn’t wheel Grandpa down to the curb just because he is a pain in the arse, so don’t do it to a dog either! The amount of people that do this need is heart-breaking. They need a firm Punch in the face, and a ban from ever buying, adopting or owning an animal.

Some of my awesome friends step in in this situation, to help foster and rehabilitate lonely dogs until they find their fur-ever home. It is an incredibly difficult and noble cause, and anyone who fosters deserves your respect!

My heart absolutely yearns for a four legged companion, but I know that as a fairly junior international cargo pilot who is effectively ‘on call’ 24/7, it would be cruel to do so. It would be incredibly selfish for me to lock a pup up all the time I am away, or try and hand them off to friends, family or scary boarding kennels. That would be so mean. I will wait, and when the time is right and I have put down roots (or a suitable lifestyle presents itself), I will be act on this desire.

The benefits of dog ownership

Pets and other animals are great for kids development. Both physically in terms of exposure to dander, allergens and bacteria, as well as actually exercising them, and also psychologically as they provide companionship, an understanding of empathy, and an opportunity to take responsibility for looking after them. It sounds harsh, but learning about grief and the circle of life when pets die is a crucial learning process and experience for kids.

  • Increased happiness for everyone
  • Companionship with ‘mans best friend’
  • Increased exercise from walking the dog and playing.
  • Increased life span – no joke! Dog owners in several global studies were on average 24% less likely to die of illnesses such as heart disease or cancer.
  • Therapeutic benefit of trauma or PTSD dogs
  • They help you make new friends – especially when they go up to attractive strangers for pats
  • Dogs are a crucial step in a romantic relationship – helping to ‘test the waters’ of responsibility as good practice for future kids
  • Great for a child’s development, both physically (exposure to germs and allergens) and psychologically
  • Protective of the family and home, will alert to visitors or intruders
  • Working dogs can provide a valuable resource, such as cattle dogs (heelers) on the farm or our families Rottweilers at the timber mill.
  • Training your dog is incredibly rewarding and builds a life-long bond.
  • Where I am from, the old codgers would sooner give up their wives than their dog. Whilst its usually joked about in jest, I think that goes to show just how loved they are.

Drawbacks of dog ownership

  • A serious time commitment to looking after – minimum 1-2 hours of work per day between walking, feeding, grooming and playing with (depending on size). The bigger the dog, the more time required.
  • Cost of getting a puppy can be several thousands of dollars upfront, plus registration, equipment and immediate medical costs (jabs, desexing etc).
  • Combined living costs can easily average out to $1500 per year
  • Surprise Vet bills and medical costs can be over $10,000! (Go on, ask me how I know…)
  • Life span of a dog is around 10 years, so you had better treat this dog like your investments and be in it for the long term!
  • If you don’t train your dog properly or you cannot properly mentally stimulate it, then its likely to have behavioral problems. This could lead to excessive chewing, digging, barking, aggression to other dogs, children or people, or other anti social behavior.
  • Increased wear and tear on your house, car and yards – carpets, furniture etc. Good luck to you if you think your going to have an ‘outside dog’ ! Ha-ha!
  • Not having your dog desexed can result in significant issues with spraying, aggression or unplanned pregnancy in females. Manageable if you are deliberately breeding, but otherwise a recipe for disaster.

Getting a puppy

puppy
Cocker pups are very special

So you want a puppy? Of course you do. They are adorable. But looking at the price tag from a breeder or pet shop is one thing, you also have to consider;

  • The price of the puppy
  • Specialty puppy food and milk:
  • A dog bed
  • A transportation and or sleeping crate
  • Food and water bowls
  • Home and backyard fencing
  • Chew toys to help the dog teeth. Band-aids and moisturizer for your fingers and wrists!
  • Toys to help the dog stay stimulated
  • Treats to train the dog with
  • A lead, leash, harness, collar and muzzle
  • State or council registration of the dog
  • Microchipping, desexing and vaccinations
  • Grooming costs (more for long hair breeds)
  • Puppy school and the cost of training
  • Kennels, boarding or house sitters when you go on holiday

Ongoing costs of dog ownership

The first two years

The first few years of owning a puppy can be expensive. The price of the puppy can range from $500 to $5000 depending on the breed or pedigree, and subsequent costs adding up to over $5000 even for a frugal dog owner, plus any unexpected vet bills or accidents. Averaged out, this is a cost of around $3000+ a year for the first two years

The price of the puppy

Depending on what kind of breed you choose, a puppy can set you back anywhere between $500 to $5,000!

One-off dog equipment costs

When you first get a puppy, there are a number of one-off costs that you will face for equipment. Examples include;

  • A dog bed: $50+
  • A transportation or sleeping crate: $100+
  • Food and water bowls: $10+
  • Chew toys to help the dog teeth (and band-aids and moisturizer for your fingers and wrists!): $20+
  • Treats to train the dog with: $20+
  • A lead, harness, collar and muzzle: $100
  • A kennel (not that they will use it): $200

Total: $500+

Home and backyard fencing and doors

If your home or backyard isn’t suitable for your pup (which are little Houdinis at the best of times) you are going to have to fork out to fix this. God knows we did – between puppy gates, screen doors, doggy doors, front yard fencing and fixing the side gate, it added up to around $3000 for the DIY solution. This won’t be the case for everyone, and might not technically be called a ‘dog expense’ but it should be something you consider.

Total: (optional) $0+ all the way to into the thousands.

Toys and other miscellaneous costs

A young puppy needs stimulation, otherwise they will misbehave. All our our dogs have favourite chew toys, which do wear out. Although maybe unsecessary, the cost of toys and replacing leads (which mysteriously get chewed through) was about $100 per year.

Total: $200

State or local council registration of the dog

Our dogs cost $40 each with the local council, however I have read online that this massively varies depending on your local regulator and the breed of dog. Some dogs can cost over $200 per year to be registered!

Total: $80 – 400

Medical costs

Micro-chipping, Flea / Tick / Worming, Vaccinations and desexing have cost us over $1,200 per dog. Scheduled Vet checkups are more frequent in the early years, with recommended 3 monthly check ups setting you back around $200 per visit (this included booster shots and anti-parasite treatments). You don’t want to skimp on this or your dog could die of parvo or something else horrible.

Total: $2800 ($1200 upfront on a plan plus $1600 pay-as-you-go)

Puppy school

Puppy school is important to both train and to socialise the puppy, which most owners start from about 3 months onward. Its important that your puppy has had all its shots and anti-parasite treatments beforehand for its own protection. Socialising a pup is easier if you already have an older dog. in the family, so it can be helpful to have an overlap.

Lou keeps a watchful eye on his new companion from the rear

The RSPCA suggests an average cost of $170 for about 10-12 half hour classes, but expect to pay up to $250. The time taken to train the puppy can also be several hours per day which means it is a serious commitment

Total: $170 – $250

Wear and tear

Replacing things they chew and destroy! Its difficult to put a price on this, but if your puppy is anything like ours were, we all lost a few pairs of shoes and a couple of rugs. To be honest I think this is a small cost if managed appropriately, but I would hazard an approximation of around $0-$500.

Food

Your young pup will chomp its way through a fair bit of food! After the initial expense of puppy food and milks for the first 3-6 months, the dogs diet will stabilize closer to that of an adult dog.

We feed our dogs twice a day – a rawhide strap first thing in the morning (as we have our coffee), and then they get a couple of raw chicken necks or wings, or a bone each in the morning (as we eat out breakfast). In the evening they get a small amount of a mixture of dry biscuits, carrot / potato / pasta and wet canned food or kangaroo/horse mince (We do this to stretch out the meat). You can work out how much food you need to give them based on their weight using online calculators. The spoilt brats also get many treaties throughout the day.

We usually spent about $300 on special puppy food for the first 6 months, and then about $300 per dog per year after that (3 dogs so enjoying the economy of scale). I would estimate it closer to $500 per dog per year if you just have one dog.

Total: $1050 (one dog for first two years)

The costs of an adult dog (2-10)

The costs of a dog tend to stabilise after the first year or two, as they cement their place in the family and you figure out you don’t need to buy ridiculous new shit every week. On average, this has been $1040 per year per dog for us (3 dogs) during the ‘adult’ years.

  • Regular dog food costs – Rawhide, treats, bones, chicken wings, dry and wet food: $500 per year. This cost reduces with multiple dogs (our cost is $300 per dog per year for 3 dogs)
  • Yearly vet checkups and fees (inc tic, worming etc): $400+
  • Toys: $100 per year
  • Yearly registration fee: $40-200

The golden years (10+)

As your dog enters its golden years, its life changes. Things start to slow down, hairs start to grey and walks get shorter. Tails still wag ferociously, and walks are still exciting, but a good long nap is usually taken right after (or sometimes during in the case of my old girl).

Basically I have found the only appreciable change to the cost of an adult dog is increasing vet bills. We scale back their food but its a offset since we tend to spoil them with extra treats and more comfy beds or cushions.

Increasing medical costs

Just as it does with us, your dogs medical costs will increase as it ages. This usually means increasingly frequent checkups, routine dental care, some medications and increasing risks of emergency vet care.

As an example, since our dogs reached 10 years old they have cost the family approximately $6,000 each in both routine and unscheduled vet bills. They are 14 and 15 now, and we know they probably wont last much longer so we want to make this last phase of their life as comfortable as possible, but we aren’t paying additional thousands on what we believe to be unnecessary, risky and expensive surgeries to extend their lives.

Other than the yearly checkup, this has included surgeries to have skin tumors removed, dental surgery to remove rotten back teeth, heart medication and arthritis injections and tablets.

Total: $1200 per year (+$800 on the cost of an adult dog’s vet fees)

Total lifespan costs of a dog

For our dogs, we came up with the following figures:

  • $3000 per year for the first two years
  • $1040 per year for the next 8 years
  • $1840 per year for the ‘golden years’ (ages 10+)

Based off an average lifespan of 15 years of our dogs, this is a total cost of $23,520 each, or an average cost of $1560 per year.

However! Beware! We also received an $11,000+ VET bill for our youngest bitch when she was only 18 months old. It was horrible, but she managed to escape under our feet as we were bringing home shopping and ran directly out onto the road and was hit by a car.

She was lucky to survive, but broke her leg in 6 places. It was extremely stressful and required a couple of expensive operations to have it re-set and plastered. It took months for her to recover, and she had to have strong painkillers (tramadol) and would cry because we had to lock her in her crate to stop her walking. We sometimes took turns sleeping by the crate with a hand on her so she didn’t sook.

If we add this into the average yearly ownership cost it boosts it a bit. At that stage we had enjoyed 14.5 ‘dog years’ of companionship (across 3 dogs), and $11,200 / 14.5 = +$770 per year. I have no idea if this is how the statistics work or whether this is a reasonable ‘risk level’ for such a serious accident. I know a lot of people would have just put her down, but we just couldn’t face that as she was my sisters disability assistance therapy dog.

captainfi dog
Young and old, the fireplace is a favored spot.

This boosts our average ownership cost to $2330 per year, or nearly $35,000 per dog for the estimated 15 year lifespan. By the way, 15 is pretty amazing for our medium sized breed dogs – most dogs don’t live much past 10, especially larger breeds. Our dogs get looked after very well and spend lots of their time next to the fireplace.

If you are better dog owners than us, you will hopefully never let this happen to your dogs, which should keep the costs to a more reasonable $1500 per annum.

The cost of adopting a rescue dog

Charities and shelters like the RSPCA take in strays, abandoned, seized or surrendered dogs and provide them with care. Rescue shelters help give these dogs a second chance at life, and are desperate to find a loving forever home for them.

The sad reality is that most unwanted or abandoned pets will die. Whether that is humanely euthanised at a shelter, in excruciating pain or from starvation on the streets. It is pretty heart-breaking, and is a direct result of irresponsible and evil people like puppy farmers, dog fighters and impulse buyers that need to be punched in the face.

By adopting a rescue, you can help to start break the cycle and limit the cruelty and damage of designer puppy farms and ‘throw-away’ pets. To say something cheesy “To you its just your dog, but to your dog you are the whole world”.

Adopting from a shelter usually has some costs, and this is for a couple of reasons.

  • Firstly, it discourages irresponsible owners who would load up on ‘free’ animals
  • Secondly, it helps to recover expenses that the shelter incurs by providing initial vet examinations and tests, medical care or rehabilitation for abused animals, micro-chipping, anti-parasite treatments, desexing, feeding and providing kennels.
  • Thirdly, it helps generate cash-flow within the charity organisation or shelter which helps manage the day-to-day running costs. Most shelters are only able to operate based on donations from the public, government grants, and volunteer staff and veterinarians. Sadly the less funding they receive, the higher the rate of animals that are put down because there simply isn’t the space, food or other resources available to look after them.

According to sources such as the RSPCA and PetRescue.com, adoption fees can vary from $200 to $1000, with the costs of puppies higher than adult dogs. Two of my sisters have both worked in local animal shelters, and they agreed that the average cost of adopting a rescue dog was closer to the $500 mark.

When you consider the costs of adopting a rescue dog against the cost of buying a puppy (which more than likely has come from a puppy farm), adopting is incredibly great value for money. Whilst a retail puppy might set you back anywhere from $500 to $5000, and then another $1000+ in initial medical costs (microchipping, vaccinations etc), adopting is likely to be much closer to the $500 figure since medical costs have usually already been taken account of.

One of the major drawbacks with adoption however, is the psychological trauma the dog may have experienced. Sometimes they might have been abused and there is no real way to know the history of the dog. This means it might take a little longer to build its trust and establish a good relationship, and there could be small ‘teething’ issues such as a fear of collars or leads, or agression toward other dogs. Remember that a dog is long term commitment (10+ years), so you will have plenty of time to work through these issues together.

The cost of fostering a dog

For those who want to help out shelters, and volunteer their time, home and resources to the privilege of having a dog in their home, then fostering can be the answer. I think fostering dogs is a noble cause, and it can also be a cost effective way to enjoy the company of a four legged friend.

Every Foster organisation or scheme have their differences, but typically;

  • You take in the dog and agree to provide a level of care and attention, such as physical exercise, playtime and training.
  • You agree to cover cost of food for the dog, but are often provided with some free bags of, or subsided food arrangements from sponsored pet stores or through the shelter directly
  • The fostering organisation or shelter covers the cost of the dogs council registration and vet bills.
  • The fostering organisation or shelter often provides you with a range of basic equipment such as a bed, lead, collar and a few toys.
  • Sometimes, depending on the age of the dog and any stress or trauma it has experienced, the shelter may cover puppy classes or special dog training or rehabilitation classes.
  • Fostering period is usually around 1-3 months whilst the dog is advertised for its forever home.
  • ‘Foster-to-Adopt’ schemes are quite common, which means if your new furry friend fits in well with your family and you fall in love, you can usually adopt them for free.

In terms of total costs, I have been told by good friends who foster that they on average spend about $500 per year. This is just the cost of food, treats and some extra play toys they like to buy for the dogs to help them stay stimulated and having fun.

Is pet insurance worth it?

For our freak accident and $11,200 surgery we were offered a ‘vet loan payment plan’ to fund the surgery. The details were 14% for 3 years. This worked out to be at $100 a week or a total cost of $14,140, or about $3000 worth of extra interest and monthly fees.

I thought this was akin to predatory lending that traps people into debt. But what are you going to do if you don’t have the money? After all your dog is a family member and you would do anything for them right?

Pet insurance is a form of ‘private health insurance‘ for your dog, which is designed to cover exactly this expense. Average pet insurance premiums range between $800 to $1200 per year depending on your policies level of cover, deductible and excess.

Usually, you can claim back somewhere around 80-90% of your vet bills under these schemes, but of course you usually have to pay it out-of-pocket first and then claim it. An excess usually applies, as well as a deductible threshold of minimum expenditure before you are allowed to claim any rebates at all. After all is said, your co-pay or ‘gap’ is usually much higher than the 20-10% advertised.

In our family we crunched the numbers and it wasn’t worth it. Based on our total expenses, elapsed number of ‘dog-years’ (i.e. the time we have had our dogs), and our risk tolerance we chose to self insure.

My advice is that if your emergency fund doesn’t have at least $10,000 in it which could cover a pet emergency, and you need to buy pet insurance, then you can’t afford a pet.

Summary

Dogs are super awesome. I think the richness and value they provide to your life and family (especially your children) far outweigh any monetary cost required to support them. However, the cost is significant.

Cost of dog ownership

On average, owning a dog will cost at least $25,000 in direct costs over their 10+ year lifespan. In my family – which I acknowledge is potentially not a fair representational sized sample to be statistically accurate – the cost has been a bit higher – closer to $35,000 per dog over an estimated 15 year lifespan. This puts the ‘amortized’ (or average) cost at around $2300- $2500 per year, with the majority of expenses realistically being within the first and last 2 years of the animals life.

Investing for your dog

Of course, this article wouldn’t be complete unless I equated this to the required amount of invested assets to support the ongoing costs of dog ownership.

Put simply, using the maths behind the 4% rule but applying it to a higher draw down over their expected 15 year lifespan (a much shorter period than the typical retirement period of 30-35 years the 4% rule is based on), and an annual cost (draw-down) of $2333, the magic number comes out to about $24,300 worth of ETFs per dog at about a 9.6% Safe Withdrawal Rate, without factoring taxes or brokerage. The average Aussie would need closer to $36,000 invested to cover these additional costs.

Why I can’t get a dog yet

I can’t wait to get a dog, its just not the right time now. My life is not stable enough yet to responsibly become a dog owner (it is a bit ‘up in the air’) . I am hoping to get one within a few years, which will be the start of my awesome family – I just need to meet an awesome girl first.

My plan for dog ownership

I will be allocating $20,000 of ETF investments for ONE dog – this is because I plan to adopt a rescue dog (for the benefits discussed earlier), as well as FIRE on an income with an average final tax rate between 0 and 20%. 0% as a single bloke, scaling to 20% due to investment income required to support 6 kids, 1 dog and 1 wife.

Closing thoughts

Of course, for very frugal people – the great news is dog ownership is completely optional! Mr Money Mustache has written a very detailed and informative article on dog ownership but approached it from a different perspective.

CaptainFI

Further reading

RSPCA: https://www.rspcansw.org.au/what-we-do/care-for-animals/owning-a-pet/costs/

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