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The Simple Dollar

Beware the financial impact of pet ownership

Choosing to bring a pet into your home is a responsibility that comes with significant cost, Hamm writes.

By Guest blogger / March 13, 2013

A dog walks past a landscape of central London, on Hampstead Heath in London. Dogs are enormous money sinks, Hamm writes.

Matt Dunham/AP/File

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Sarah and I are very close friends with a couple who are dog lovers. They have two Saint Bernards in their home.

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The Simple Dollar is a blog for those of us who need both cents and sense: people fighting debt and bad spending habits while building a financially secure future and still affording a latte or two. Our busy lives are crazy enough without having to compare five hundred mutual funds – we just want simple ways to manage our finances and save a little money.

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I quite like their dogs. One of them has awful breath, so I somewhat avoid him, but the other one is a charmer. I’ll pet them and play with them a bit every time I go visit them. In both cases, the dogs were rescued from animal shelter situations, and I applaud my friends for doing that.

However, their dogs are enormous money sinks.

The other day, I sat down to calculate what it would cost us to have a similar dog to one of theirs. Here’s theupkeep cost I came up with.

A fully-grown Saint Bernard eats five to ten cups of food per day. Ideally, I’d want to feed my pet a food that’s good for his or her health, so I’d probably select something that’s highly recommended by various sources for pet health, such as Castor and Pollux Adult Dry. A twenty five pound bag of that costs about $55, based on what I’ve seen shopping around. 

Let’s figure that each cup weighs four ounces and that our dog eats six cups per day – a reasonable diet. Over thirty days, our dog would go through almost two bags of this dog food, costing us about $100 in food.

(Obviously, you can spend less on dog food, but with questionable ingredients, or you could make something yourself – which is probably what I would do.)

You wouldn’t necessarily be feeding a Saint Bernard. However, they are surprisingly low-energy dogs, requiring less food per pound of body weight than a lot of other breeds. There are many larger breeds that eat more food per day than a Saint Bernard.

On top of that, you’ll have an annual vet visit for their shots and a checkup. This will run you in the range of $150 per year. Similarly, you’ll likely have to feed the dog heartworm medication, which can add up to another $15 a month.

Assuming there are no other costs – you don’t need any equipment, you never buy the dog treats, there’s no special health concerns (and good luck with that if you have an older dog) – you’re going to be investing between $1,000 and $2,000 a year in that pet (depending on the dog food quality more than anything).

A smaller dog will likely be somewhat less expensive, but not incredibly so. You’d lose some of the food consumption, but you would maintain the cost of vet visits and potential medications.

A dog is expensive. A cat is a bit less expensive, but has similar costs. If you’re not prepared for these costs, then you should think very carefully about your decision to have a pet.

In any case, choosing to bring a pet into your home is a responsibility that comes with significant cost.If you’re not prepared for that responsibility, don’t choose to bring a pet into your home. The potential pet does not deserve to be in a situation where their basic needs – nutritious food, water, shelter, basic health care – may not be a given.

An aside: what about a pet you can no longer provide adequate care for? Life happens. Sometimes, you can’t adequately care for a pet in a way that you could when you first chose to have that pet due to illness or other life-altering situations.

I’d argue that a responsible pet owner would handle the situation with the pet’s best interest in mind before neglect becomes an issue. I trust the ASPCA’s advice on this situation.

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