How Much is that Puppy? The Most Detailed Dog Cost Analysis You’ve Ever Seen

by Darwin on August 16, 2009

Owning a dog can be both the most rewarding purchase and life experience one could imagine while the full implications of dog costs and puppy costs can also be one of the most poorly and misunderstood family purchases one makes in a life time.  Would you be surprised if I told you that raising this dog below could cost close to $100,000 over a lifetime?  Using realistic and reasonable assumptions and calculations, you’d be surprised to learn what buying a puppy now can cost you over a lifetime – Read on.


Meet Jack. Jack is a beautiful friendly yellow lab who is excellent with our children, loves us to death and makes us laugh constantly.  We love Jack like a child, and he was sort of our first child when my wife I first got hitched.  Well, after my wife returned from the vet recently having spent $200 without even bringing in and animal (all medicine and Frontline, etc.), I decided it was time to reflect on the true cost of owning a dog from puppy purchase all the way through when Jack leaves us for happy dog land in the sky.

This article will serve two purposes:  First, I will highlight many common dog costs that people may not consider early on.  I’ll tackle some of the hidden costs we’ve seen and I’ll also ask readers to comment on your common dog or puppy costs that you feel I’ve omitted and I can adjust from there.  I’ll also cover how our approach may not have been the cheapest and how you can mitigate costs by taking a different approach in your decisions.  Next, I’ll calculate a Net Present Value (NPV) model for our dog in particular – actually, a Net Present Cost (NPC), but same concept with more popular title. While this preliminary model will be applicable to our dog specifically, it can be easily adjusted and altered to fit your circumstance.  What this NPC does is gives you a real time snap shot of not just what a dog will cost over its lifetime, but in today’s dollars, just how much are you paying for that puppy?  i.e. what is it worth today in future discounted cashflows out? You’ll be surprised.

Our Puppy Cost / Dog Cost History:

Dog Adoption vs. Purebred from a Breeder: We chose to buy a purebred dog from an AKC champ father knowing that we’d eventually have children and we wanted the best the the Labrador retriever breed had to offer.  While it’s rare that lab mixes or adopted labs actually end up having aggression problems (but we actually have one in our neighborhood that’s extremely aggressive, so it is possible) or other problems that are insurmountable, the breed is prone to hip dysplasia and other maladies that we didn’t want to suffer with a few years down the road by saving a few hundred dollars up front.  So, we sought out a small breeder (not a puppy mill!) with a pedigree line and great looking parents/puppies.  We chose Jack from the litter, as he was the biggest and most voracious eater and was all over us, licking us and whatnot.  It wasn’t really a choice – he chose us in hindsight.  But he wasn’t cheap – $800.

It’s not uncommon to get a rescue/adoption dog either for free or less than $100 to account for some initial canine vaccines, etc.  If your situation is different from ours, there are thousands of needy dogs and cats that would benefit from adoption though.  So, please consider that as an option as well.  To highlight places where that option is cheaper or not required, I’ve marked those items with an “*”.

Puppy Costs Early On: Right off the bat, there were several purchases and modifications we had to endure which were not cheap.  We need things like:

  • dog bed
  • water/food bowl
  • leash/collar/tags
  • a crate to potty train him
  • dog gates for the house
  • puppy food
  • puppy toys
  • early vet visits and so on.

All in all, probably another $400.

Puppy Costs First Year

Aside from just getting Jack acclimated to our house and family (we had a lovely cat at the time too), there were several expenses we underwent during his first year including the following:

  • neutering/spaying cost – ~$200*
  • repairs to walls and cabinets from chewing – could be any range, but assume at least $200* in damages from your dog early on.  While some things just can’t be replaced, it’s inevitable that your puppy will either destroy a wall or property of a friend or family that you have to repair.
  • dog training cost – a must, especially for large breeds.  For decent training on a sustained basis, we spent a few hundred dollars – $300*

Routine Dog Costs

  • Ongoing medication on an annual basis:
  • Heartgard – A 12 pack (1 years supply) is $68
  • Frontline – A year’s supply is ~$150 for a dog our size.  You’ll pay less for smaller dogs.
  • Cosequin – Jack takes this twice a day to reduce the likelihood of hip/joint problems later in life.  It’s pretty expensive at ~ $400
  • Pet-sitting cost -While we’re not paying for this now since my wife’s home with the kids, early on, while we were both working, we didn’t feel it was right to leave Jack alone in the house 10 hours at a time.  So, we had tried both doggy day care and a visiting pet sitter.  For a minimalist approach, if you assume 1 petsitter visit per day for each working day at $12 per visit (this can vary dramatically depending on your location), and assume 250 work days per year, that’s $3000.  Doggy day-care will likely run even more.
  • Vacation – who’s going to watch the dog?  While we take Jack on the vacations we can, sometimes, we go somewhere that doesn’t allow dogs and we need to find a place for him.  We have either a friend for a bonded and insured petsitter that takes him in.  We usually pay between $25 and $35 per night.  So, if we do 2 vacations per year for a week each at $30 per night, that’s $420
  • Food – Jack is a big guy and eats a lot.  He also has a bit of a sensitive stomach and my wife talked me into paying more for a higher quality feed with better ingredients than what you get in some of the generic brands (like horsemeat or leftover grease), so we pay about $40 per bag for a 40 pound bag and that lasts probably a month.  $480
  • Gifts, Holidays and other silly stuff -because Jack’s part of the family, of course, we need to include him in celebrations and get him the occasional dog treats, toys, dog ice cream treats in the summer, etc.  Probably $200 per year.
  • Dog Vaccination Costs and Vet Visits – These costs easily amount to $500 per year.  In our case, probably more given Jack’s various bowel/vomiting issues, poopy issues and other strange maladies that seemed to pop of over the years.  We’ll go with $500 for now.
  • Dog grooming costs and more – While we don’t pay for this, it’s pretty common, especially for certain breeds, to have a routine grooming arrangement.  On top of that, there are nails to cut and anal glands to drain and it can add up.  Conservatively, perhaps $250 per year.

One-Time Dog Costs

  • Unexpected Vet/Medical Procedure Bill – We’ve all faced it as a pet owner – the dog swallowed a bag, ate an entire container of chocolate (heart risk), has an unexplained malady that requires x-rays and surgery…at least once in a dog’s life, it’s likely that you’ll have to shell out a bundle on a series of exams and treatments totaling ~$1000.  While it sounds like a lot, each dog I’ve known in my family and extended family has had one such issue.

End of Life Dog Costs

  • No different than humans, a large portion of all health care expenditures will occur in the final months of life.  If you choose to prolong your dog’s life by fighting cancer, anemia or whatever other canine malady may exist, there will likely be some hefty vet bills toward the end.  Plan on at least $500
  • When your beloved friend is dying, you’ll want to do the humane thing and put them to sleep.  You may also want to have the remains cremated.  This will likely run a few hundred dollars.  $400

Total Dog Costs Analyzed


With the assumptions I listed here and based on our experience with Jack, a Yellow Lab from puppy to the end, here’s what I calculated as both the total cost and the Net Present Cost using a 4.5% discount rate (see my prior NPV article to understand more about NPV/NPV calculations).  Since Pet-sitting comprised such a prominent cost factor, I also calculated what the costs look like if you don’t utilize petsitting.

Lifetime Dog Cost (with Pet-sitting): $96,000

Net Present Cost (with Pet-sitting): $70,000

Lifetime Dog Cost (without Pet-sitting): $45,000

Net Present Cost (without Pet-sitting): $33,000

If you’re interested in seeing how this compares with raising a child, check out this article on Child Costs I wrote at Everyday Finance.  Again, if you want this model to structure if differently based on your dog’s specifics, feel free to leave a comment here or request via my contact form.

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1 beyrx August 17, 2009 at 4:31 pm

I know its a small thing, but I’d do some research on the Cosequin. Suprisingly there is little GOOD evidence that glucosamine and chondroitin supplements work (Seems like every Senior that stops by my pharmacy uses it). I have some decent Pubmed articles I could email you if you’re interested.

2 Funny about Money August 24, 2009 at 9:56 am

My favorite hobbyhorse!

After the German shepherd and the greyhound passed through the doggy veil (both aged about 13), I figured I’d spent $48,346.36 on them. That figure, generated in a Quicken report, reflected only the items I had put into the category “dog.” Plus the minivan I “needed” to schlep two 90-pound dogs around. There were plenty of other costs that just got folded into grocery and Home Depot bills.

Semi-Demi-Exboyfriend used to call the shepherd “the thousand-dollar-a-day dog.” This sobriquet arose after she ate a leather chair.

Beyrx is right about glucosamine. In any event, if you’re convinced it’s worth stuffing down the dog’s throat, don’t use the veterinary version. My vet said the veterinary formulations of these quack drugs are hugely overpriced, and that you’re far better off to get the stuff in lifetime supplies at Costco, where it’s much cheaper. Might see what Walmart has to offer, too. The vet said human versions contain the same product.

Many other drugs and procedures inflicted on dogs are unnecessary. Frontline can be toxic or allergenic to some dogs and should not be administered routinely (google frontline dogs adverse reactions or frontline dogs safety). Heartgard: what part of the country do you live in? If you don’t have a lot of mosquitoes and you don’t take your dog to mosquito-infested areas, you may have no need for Heartgard. Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes. No mosquitoes, no heartworm.

Dogs are routinely overvaccinated. Research has shown that the common core vaccines are good for seven years and in some cases as long as 12 years. There’s some evidence that administering certain vaccines annually contributes to the plague of canine thyroid dysfunction we see in this country.

Veterinarians, pet food manufacturers, and pet product manufacturers are not in business for their health or because they so adore you and Fido. There’s a reason it’s called the pet industry (and clear-eyed vets consider themselves part of that industry). Caveat emptor!

Though there’s nothing you can do about the cost of boarding your dog while you’re on vacation (and the subsequent veterinary bills when you have to treat the dog for the ailments it picks up at the kennel!), dogs do not need to be babysat routinely during the day.

Most mature dogs sleep a large portion of the time. When left alone during the day, they often will sleep most of the time the humans are at work. Dogs can and should be crate-trained. If your dog is inclined to eat the furniture or excavate the back yard, you can crate the animal while you’re out of the house. Obviously, you can’t leave the dog in a crate for more than a workday at a time, and really…IMHO if your household has no one home during the day, you shouldn’t own a dog.

How about a cat instead? Nice pet: less demanding, but you can still spend lots of money on it.
.-= Funny about Money´s last blog ..Preparing for the worst =-.

3 Darwin August 24, 2009 at 11:29 am

Thanks for these insightful comments. I agree on several points and can clarify some others. On the Cosequin stuff, i’m always skeptical about this stuff as well. I intially thought it was a waste of money and the vet agreed that many products out there have no benefit but he cited some studies showing that the particular product we buy helped prevent problems. Who knows maybe useless but I know if Jack develops issues later because I stopped the treatment my wife will blame me. We trust our vet but agree that just like pharmaceuticals there are always some special interest at play.

On the other medications, yes we live in a mosquito area. Heartworms are an agonizing horrible way to die. We know someone with a dog in the area that got them and it was real bad. Could have been prevented easily by spending the money. Wrt ticks, our yard backs to woods and we’ve found ticks on the dog, the kids and myself before, so we definitely need frontline. While you get about 3 days to remove a tick before Lyme sets in it’s tough to find ticks on a lab so we rely on this to keep him free and clear. I’ll have to research the side effects a bit more but I assume the benefit outweighs the risk to both Jack and the humans in the house.

On the dogsitting thing, being alone in the house 10 hours at a time just seems excessive to us for such a social creature. It’s also nice to get a bathroom break now and then. And on kennel cough, if you get those vaccinations the dog usually doesn’t pick much up. But we’ve never used a run of the mill kennel. We either use a friend with a dog (and pay them) or we have a woman who takes in labs, lets them swim in her pool, sleep in bed with her, etc. He doesn’t want to leave! But on a routine basis, my wife’s home now with our 3 kids so he’s got company every day.

It looks like when I excluded the boarding cost, we ended up pretty close!

4 Jennifer August 27, 2009 at 2:07 pm

My beloved akita-shepherd mix ended up costing well over $35,000 over the course of his 14-year life, although I didn’t get as specific with it as you did here. I think the figure actually could be higher. I went the natural route with him as much as possible, but he still needed two knee surgeries for ACL tears and medication for arthritis.
.-= Jennifer´s last blog ..Does Your Inner Critic Stop You Before You Get Started? =-.

5 VVS-Hedestoker September 1, 2009 at 12:02 am

Wow, and thanks for a very in-.depth articl on the topic. Very interesting, indeed.

6 Ralph Lowe April 7, 2010 at 8:28 am

I am considering a Book which covers many issues involving pet owners and the cost of their care vs the cost of a child.
I find it rather strange in some instances that Children are less considered than pets. There is a multitude of issues surrounding this phenomenon.
Including Marriage, Divorce, Loneliness.
The outrageous amounts of capital spent on Healthcare for Animals, yet thousands or even millions of Children live in unsafe conditions, regarding healthcare , proper feeding and housing.

7 Kathleen Jones December 21, 2010 at 9:14 am

HI – I am thinking of purchasing a puppy in the next 2-6 months. I am looking at Daisy Dogs since I want a non sheading small dog. My husband is retired so he would be home with the puppy while I will be working for the next few years. We do long distance traveling about 2 times a year where we would have to board the dog or have someone watch it. For the most – being a smaller dog, I feel I could take the puppy/dog with us for day trips or short weekend trips. Just want to have folks give me an advise on puppies for training, teaching tricks etc – any topics so that I will have a wonderful time with my new puppy! Thanks.

8 Kevin August 28, 2011 at 12:45 pm

With such a big cost, maybe it will be a cat instead 🙂

9 Jacques October 16, 2012 at 1:34 am

You can also add to your NPV equation how your beloved fido lenghens your life by a couple of years and how he protects the family deter intruders or how he teaches your kids ownership and responsibility. Seeing that everything has a price you will find that weighing the options.. Its better to live with him than live without him. 🙂

10 Maria Payan October 4, 2014 at 6:46 pm

I would gladly pay $1000 for unexpected vet bills. In an 20 month period of time, we lost 3 pets and their bills totaled over $15,000. Two of my cats also needed surgeries to say their lives at a cost of $6500 each. My pets are members of my family and as such they deserve the best I can give them. If the possibility of future vet bills keeps you awake at night, then get pet insurance. In the past none of my pets have had insurance… but we just recently got a kitten and she has insurance for less than $16 a month. When we are ready to get a puppy, he/she will be added to the insurance policy.

11 Leo September 18, 2015 at 6:15 am

please send me the NPV excel model for cost of dog ownership

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