Updated on 08.14.14

Ten Tactics for Saving Money on Pets

Trent Hamm

My wife and I are considering getting a puppy for our son, who really seems to love small dogs and often asks us whether we’ll ever have one. While we haven’t made up our minds yet on this decision, I did take a few moments to ask a few of my pet-owning friends if they had any advice about how to reduce the costs of acquiring and caring for a pet without skimping on the quality of care. Here’s what they suggested.

Visit a shelter to pick out your pet.

Yes, you have to be more selective when visiting a shelter because some of the animals have been mistreated and may not react well to children (or adults). However, if you visit a hand full of shelters, you’ll often find many wonderful pets that will fit your needs well. There are a lot of reasons that pets wind up at shelters, and neglect/abuse is just one of them.

Check out their programs first, but quite often, a $100 donation will ensure that you get a pet that has already had vaccinations and has already been spayed or neutered. These procedures can cost hundreds of dollars if you take your pet in to a vet to have it done later.

Don’t skimp on food.

A fifty pound bag of Ol’ Roy might be a cheap way to feed the pet, but it will result in long-term health issues that will be expensive to treat. Instead, research what kinds of food are most appropriate for your pet and be willing to spend a little more to get good food. This will help to keep your pet healthier, happier, and active for a lot longer. One of my friends doesn’t even feed her dog traditional “dog food,” but has studied what raw foods their diet should consist of and feeds the dog those items.

Buy that food in bulk.

Once you figure out the best food for your pet, don’t hesitate to buy it in bulk and store it somewhere out of the pet’s reach. Depending on what you choose as the optimum food, you may find it at your local warehouse store or you may find a bulk seller in your area.

Groom the pet yourself.

Taking your pet to a pet salon might be an easy way to get the pet clean, but almost everything done there can be done quite quickly at home and a lot cheaper. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and clean your pet yourself.

Know their routine.

Pay attention to your pet. If the pet’s routine starts to change, that’s a sign that there’s some sort of medical issue coming down the pipe. If you notice it now, it’s often easy to treat with a dietary change or something else that’s simple. If you wait until it’s disastrous, it can be very expensive.

Hit the library.

If you have a new pet, learn about it. Learn what things it needs. Learn about some of the basics of caring for that pet, as well as signs for the most common ailments and how to treat them. Learn how to train your pet in the skills that it will need – and put in the time to train the pet yourself.

Treat simple things, like fleas, ticks, and heartworm, yourself.

This involves understanding your pet’s health (the tips above), but if you’ve actually invested the time to know how to properly care for the pet, then you’ll know what simple ailments you can treat yourself instead of paying a vet to treat. It’s much less expensive to order the treatment yourself than to consult a vet for the most common ailments.

Keep the water bowl full.

If you notice the water bowl for your pet is low, fill it, and keep an eye on the bowl throughout the day. Appropriate amounts of water is perhaps the best insurance for a pet’s long term health. The exception to this is when you’re housetraining a puppy, in which case you need to stick to a strict watering schedule. Too much water for a puppy can result in accidents and a big setback in training.

Check Craigslist for supplies.

Need a pet carrier, a leash, or a food bowl? People on Craigslist are often selling this stuff for a pittance (and sometimes it’s free on freecycle). When you need reusable supplies like this, heading straight to the store is a sure way to spend more than you probably need to.

The best thing you can do for any pet, however, is to show the pet love. Just like humans, most pets thrive on being loved by others. So, go ahead and give that big, slobbery dog a vigorous petting and stroke the cat until it begins to purr.

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  1. Jeff says:

    How do you think getting a dog will mesh with working from home? This is my only problem with having a dog; it can be impossible to stay focused when they want your attention. I should note that she gets lots of attention all the time – it’s just those few occasions when I really need to buckle down that it’s difficult.

  2. Skeemer118 says:

    My husband & I recently adopted a wonderful Rat Terrier mix from our local shelter. I haven’t had a puppy in 10 years as my other dog is older now. Rocco has taken a lot of patience but he has been a total delight.

    A tip for researching food is to go to a pet store & ask for help choosing a dog food. We were taken aisle to aisle with explanation of what food contained what. We were then told the best food for our budget. We chose a mid priced food, Natural Balance…strangely endorsed by Dick Van Patton…& because it’s a better food our dogs eat less of it. So in the long run, it’s not really any more expensive. My husband says if Natural Delight is good enough for Dick Van Patton it’s good enough for us! LOL

  3. Noadi says:

    You missed what I think is the most important thing: pick the right pet for your lifestyle. Some things in this are obvious, don’t get a Great Dane if you have a small home with no yard. Don’t get a border collie if you can’t spend lots of time playing with it (they’re a very energetic breed). Mutts are great, I have one but you still need to consider the type of mutt, a terrier/beagle mix is going to be different than a lab/collie mix.

  4. lurker carl says:

    Few of these tactics are frugal. Actually, almost nothing about pet ownership is frugal – household pets are a luxury. It’s a living creature in your home that demands as much from you as would a child, they can easily overshadow children in cost and time.

  5. Vicky says:

    @ Noadi,

    I have a 908 sq ft home with a German Shepherd, a Great Dane, and a smallish mix.

    It’s a common misconception that Danes need a lot of space – they are a VERY laid back breed who tend to be super couch potatoes :p She would much prefer to snuggle on the couch with me than run a marathon.

  6. Dianne says:

    A few extra ideas: I agree with the commenter who suggested doing the appropriate research to make sure the breed you select is appropriate for your family. Also, I highly recommend a young adult dog as opposed to a puppy, especially for a family with kids. He will be past most of the housebreaking issues, a time and money saver (if it’s not ruining your carpets!) Inquire of the shelter if they offer free or discounted training and take advantage of it. Petfinder.org is a great resource for locating shelters and rescue organizations you might not otherwise be aware of. You might have to drive an hour or so but for the right dog, it’s totally worth it!

  7. Molly says:

    My cat is worth every penny. We did the math and budgeted for her BEFORE we adopted her, which I think is key. And we spent some time pondering the lifestyle cat we wanted (older, lap cat, has that being a cat thing figured out). The shelter folks know the animals – let them help you pick one.

  8. Tammy says:

    Every shelter we’ve ever utilized won’t adopt out an animal that hasn’t been spayed/neutered and still needs shots. That’s part of the ‘cost’ adoption. If it’s not included in the cost, it’s likely required immediately afterward. I’m not sure if making a donation to the shelter would change any of that, but it is a nice thing to do. Also, shelters needs lots of things besides food and bedding. They also need office and cleaning supplies, for example, which few people ever think of.

  9. reulte says:

    Great Danes (and some other large breeds) are actually giant couch potatoes.

    I would add another tactic to your ten for pet frugality. Make sure you train your pet at least to the ‘Canine Good Citizen’ level. A dog that attacks a non-family member or runs into the street and is hit by a car is not frugal.

  10. Jon says:

    We took both of our cats to a spay/neuter clinic. $55 for each cat. A neuter clinic is a great way to save money. They do one thing and they do it well. Every vet wanted a $250 “initial visit” fee before even considering the spay/neuter. What a rip-off!

  11. marta says:

    I am crazy about pets myself (I’ve got two) but is it wise to get one at this point, with your third child on the way? Hard to handle puppy training and *three* pre-school kids at the same time.

    I agree that it’s not a good idea to skimp on the food, and do take your pet for regular check ups — you can’t do everything yourself and there are illnesses that aren’t obvious right away to the untrained eye.

    Another thing to consider are pet insurance (medical/liability), and who will look after your pet while your family is away on vacations, for example — assuming you can’t take your pet with you (I can’t, so I either have family members or a pet-sitter come to my house daily to feed and check on mine).

    Also, if you are getting the puppy for your son, he needs to understand that there are responsibilities associated with it. He’s just four, so I don’t know how that would work out, but I am sure you will devise some sort of plan.

  12. marie says:

    If you are somebody with a small income, student, already has debt, I would suggest getting pet insurance. When pets get sick or injured, it can get really expensive, really fast (I’m talking in the $1000-$2000+), and until you have an emergency fund just for your pet, I say to get insurance, it will prevent a lot of really hard decisions.

  13. Lauren says:

    I totally agree with getting your pet from a reputable shelter. I adopted a “free” kitten, and my first vet/medicine bill was well over $200 dollars because he was so sick from living in a filthy barn. And I still had to pay to get him fixed later!

    My parents found their cat on display at PetSmart and for a low $75 dollars got a cat with all its shots, fixed, and declawed. (He was a few years old and was declawed when they adopted him.) Do NOT fall for the “free” kitten trap ;o)

  14. kat says:

    Pets do cost money, but they are worth every cent. Children raised with pets are less likely to delvelop allergies, are generally more responsible, show more empathy, and do better at school. Plus they are there for the adults as well. My pets give me love no matter what ( they give me fits as well when they do things like eat the sofa), but they are worth it.

  15. MegB says:

    If an animal is not already spayed or neutered at the shelter because perhaps it is still too young, the shelter will usually give you a voucher so that you can take the animal to be spayed or neutered once it reaches the appropriate age. It’s typically included in the adoption fee.

    As for food, I used to buy Science Diet for my kitty until I realized that she was eating better than I was (I was a student at the time). I then switched to Purina One, and she is still an incredibly healthy 10 1/2 year old cat. We also have a 13 year old dog and an 8 year old dog who have eaten generic dog food and ‘Ol Roy for most of their lives, and neither have any health problems. Like many other purchases, the “middle of the road” option often works just fine.

    Lastly, I would caution new pet owners on going overboard with toys right out of the gate. Animals are kind of like children–you might buy them the most expensive toy and all they want is the box it came in. So, introduce toys gradually so as not to waste your money on something that your pet may have little or no interest in. I bought expensive catnip toys, and my cat never wanted them. But boy, a wadded up piece of paper thrown across the room was a real treat!

  16. Heidi says:

    As the “mom” of a 3 yr old shepherd mix and 4 yr old pointer/hound, both rescues, thanks for suggesting adoption first!

  17. Des says:

    While pets do cost extra money for supplies and vet visits, I would contend that the largest expense is time. They need attention and exercise, not to mention they need to be cleaned up after. We have 2 very small long hair dogs (combined they weight less than 20lbs). I would say between walks, play time, and extra cleaning for the pet hair we spend 5-10 hours a week tending to them, and always feel like we should be doing more. If I worked those hours at minimum wage that’s between $2k and $4 annually where I live, in addition to the $1k we estimate they cost in supplies and vet visits.

  18. Jeff says:

    A great way to learn about different dog breeds is to hang out at your local dog park. Of course each dog is different but lots of pet owners love to talk about their pets and won’t hesitate to answer your questions. It’s also a great place to go once you have a dog because it allows them to socialize with other dogs.

  19. Mz Ruby says:

    I echo several remarks already made – #6 Dianne is right-adopting a slightly older pet (10 months or so) will save you lots of accidents and destroyed things (chewing peaks at about 6 months). With a baby and 2 little ones, your wife may ask you to choose between her and a destructive puppy! Also, DO NOT FEED YOUR DOG ‘PEOPLE FOOD’, except low calorie crispy lettuce, carrot pieces, etc. Most balanced dog foods are high in calories – use a measure and do not exceed the recommendations. A 200 lb. man can handle a helping of mac and cheese – a 20 lb. dog cannot without getting dangerously overweight.

  20. KC says:

    Don’t overfeed your pet – that includes treats. Read the directions on the back of the bag of food and stick to that. Pets should have a figure – a dog should have an hourglass shape when looked at from above. Like humans, if pets are overweight they have problems, too, like diabetes, hip and leg problems, as well as heart disease.

    Don’t feed your pets people food either – sure we all might sneak them a scrap of steak or something every once in a while, but don’t make it a habit – it will also improve your dogs manners if they don’t beg for food.

    Certain pets need exercise – especially dogs – its good for you and good for your pet. Not only does exercise keep them in shape but it helps with behavioral problems. If you were couped up in a cage all day and no one let you out to walk or play fetch you might start tearing up stuff around the house, too.

  21. Maureen says:

    Our SPCA charges considerably more than $100 to adopt a pet:
    Dog $ 330
    Puppy $ 410 (under 7 months)
    Specific Breeds Price to be determined
    Cat $ 220
    Kitten $ 240 (under 6 months)

    Tax is added to these prices.

    Please be realistic about how responsible your young son can be for caring for a pet.

    FWIW, I also think it would be unwise to bring in a new pet concurrently with the birth of a new child. There will already be a lot of upheaval.
    I would wait a couple of years.

  22. Honey says:

    I agree with those who say a small adult dog is probably better than a puppy because it will already be house- and leash-trained, and the folks at the shelter will have a good idea of whether the animal is good with small children or not.

    You should watch some episodes of The Dog Whisperer to get some tips and tricks – you want a dog that is submissive and low- to medium-energy. Smaller dogs eat less and generally live longer and have fewer health problems than large dogs, but many super small breeds like Chihuahuas can be aggressive, especially around children, because they are easily scared of things bigger than them and small children are not known for showing a lot of restraint or respect for the animal’s boundaries.

    If you get a short-haired breed, then you do not need to worry as much about grooming (which either takes time to do at home, or money to do at the doggie salon).

    We found our dog abandoned in a parking lot – she cost nothing! But then again, she was not fixed, which is much more expensive to do at a vet than they charge for pre-spayed animals at the shelter.

  23. Gretchen says:

    Two small children and one on the way?

    i’d wait.

    I’ve also never not seen some sort of an adoption fee for an animal (always higher for kittens then adult cats, as It should be. )

  24. Moby Homemaker says:

    Cars and pets…the two biggest money suckers in a home–next to the people living in it.

  25. Sunny says:

    Check the Whole Dog Journal for recommended pet food, bad dog food will cost you more money in the long run with allergies, stomach upset etc. poor growth. Add to the emergency fund too :-)

    Read up on what’s poisonous to dogs too, grapes for example will cause kidney failure.

    Enjoy, there’s nothing like the love of your dog!

  26. Sandy E. says:

    Take note of what’s on your floors hour by hour that a dog might ingest and get sick. I say this because my daughter was visiting me for 7 weeks with her 4 yr. old, 3 yr. old and 10 mo. old and I was sweeping the floors 5x a day, because you know how kids are, and the little one was crawling. She wanted to get a dog too, but I convinced her to wait until the kids were older, and after seeing everything that was getting swept up, she agreed with me. You might not get there in time to sweep before a dog sees it, eats it and gets sick, and expensive vet bills. Another thing is the importance of having a fenced yard because walking a dog every day might not fit into your schedule. I’m an animal lover, but waiting until my daughter was 9 before we got a dog. By then, there were no longer all those messes on the floor.

  27. How do you go about treating a dog for heartworm on a DIY basis? The drug used to prevent heartworm is a prescription medication, and your vet needs to do a blood test to determine that the animal is not already infected before administering the drug.

    The SPCA and dog pounds in this part of the country spay and neuter as a matter of course–that’s part of the fee you pay to get the animal. Is that not so in the Midwest?

    Animal rescue societies sometimes provide spay & neuter and sometimes do not. Sometimes, too, they’ll tell you the animal is neutered when it’s not–as happened to a neighbor whose “spayed” labrador delivered eight puppies a few weeks after it was adopted.

    One thing not mentioned here: Accept the animal only on the contingency that your vet can examine it and pass on its health. Take the dog to the vet within 24 hours of picking it up, and return it immediately if the vet finds any serious health problems.

    Few indulgences are more costly than a pet.

  28. Ashley says:

    For those who insist that dogs not eat “people” food, I offer this testimony.

    When our beloved dog, who was always fed “Iams” and “Science Diet”, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 11, the vet (if you can believe…an “ocologist” vet from Angel Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston)told us in no uncertain terms that his diet had to be adjusted. Our dog was now to eat sensible table scraps…ground chicken, beef, lamb, fish, or pork with a cup of cooked brown rice. USDA requirement far exceed the health benefits of crude in canine diets.

    Bart lived to be 16. We put him down in 2000 due to his arthritic condition…the cancer had long gone into remission.

    As such, we feed our 8 year old dog ONLY sensible leftovers with rice and a cup of Pedigree dry food.

    As an aside, we are more cautious with our cats’ diet. But we do mix some meat-based (not fish) leftovers with their Purina One dry food. Cats have more sensitive systems, especially urinary tract. We nearly lost one of our cats to organ failure when we fed him IAMS Senior. It turned out it was the contaminated food that got into the pet-food a few years ago. When we realized we were poisoning our cat with expensive, “vet-recommended” cat food, we just abandoned wet food altogether.

    Lo-and-behold, our animals are very healthy and the pet food bill has been considerably reduced.

  29. Christine says:

    I second the caution about pet poisons. Tobacco products, sugar free gum, raisins, onions and certain houseplants are all poisonous for dogs.

    Don’t get a dog unless someone is going to walk it every day. Dogs need to experience new scents and new things on a regular basis. And the dog usually does not care that it’s sub freezing outside!

  30. Kara White says:

    I don’t know about where you live, but in WA, you “donate” the cost of the vet bills for the examination, shots, and spay/nutering. It can be upwards of $300 to adopt an animal from a shelter. The extra $100 would be a nice touch, though.

    I would add that regular vet visits are a must, but if your vet perscribes medicine, ask what it is and if there is a “human” form. My dog has allergies, and the first year he was sick he got skin lesions. The vet percribed medicine, and I payed over $50 for both things. I went home and looked it up on the internet and found out that I payed that money for neosporin and benadryl. Now during allergy season (he’s allergic to grass), I give him (generic) benadryl. Of course, this has been approved by the vet. My point is, you should ask if there is a cheaper alternative to the medicines perscribed.

    My view about whether you should get a dog right now is a little different from some of the others. While they have a good point, a puppy brought in and rasied with babies/small children generally turns into a very paitent dog, IMO. Just be willing to have, in effect, twins.

  31. Valerie says:

    I adopted an 8 week old puppy from a rescue shelter last year. Adoption fee $300 which included the spay when she was old enough. However, I still had to take her to the vet when I first got her, and for her 4 month and 6 month vaccinations and flea treatments. Plus, I took an obedience class at our local Humane Society. The first year of a puppy’s life is very expensive. I have averaged $150-200 each month for a small spaniel, larger dog = more food costs. And she is a chewer, so that cost does not include replacing: shoes, purses, undergarments, pillows, 3 sets of leashes & harnesses, countless toys, chewed cords (vacuum cleaner, dvd player, computer gaming mouse). If something is on a surface below 3 feet high, she will find it and destroy it. If you are considering purchasing a dog or puppy, examine all the potential costs and make sure it fits your budget. Is she worth it?…YES! Nothing beats puppy kisses.

  32. Diana says:

    Pets give back way more than they cost. They are worth every penny. I am the “mom” of three German Shepherd adopted mixes, one 67lbs, one 78lbs and my big guy at 109lbs. Maybe this was mentioned before, but keep in mind on really large dogs (100lbs+) you have to buy 2 Heartguard doses (one for dogs up to 100 and then one for dogs up to 10lbs. Thier flea and tick medication also seems to go up significantly on dogs over 100 lbs. Also keep in mind buying your food at private pet food stores if there is one in your area. We buy a private label food that is the same price as the high end brands at PetSmart etc, but is made at a small company in Southern Ohio that does no advertising. This works really well for us and the owner of the shop is very knowlegable and helpful.

  33. Lis says:

    @ #18 Jeff – excellent suggestion – I totally agree! If you have access to a dog park, it’s a great place to meet lots of different breeds and the people who love them.

    Given a very specific situation, in this case a family with multiple very young children, I would strongly encourage potential adopters to look at dogs in rescues that use foster homes. Dogs in foster homes actually live in a house with people, and the foster “parents” get to know these dogs inside and out, and can test exactly how the dog reacts to sounds, sights, smells, and activities of normal family life. Also, you may be able to find a dog being fostered by a family that mirrors your own situation, and can be more confident the dog will easily and comfortably adapt to your lifestyle. For instance, if you have cats, you may be able to find a dog currently being fostered in a home that also has cats. You can know for sure that this dog has successfully lived with cats. At a typical shelter, all you may have to go on is a note on the cage card. This information usually comes from the previous owners, who may or may not be telling the truth. If the dog was picked up off the street, you’re flying blind.

    Please don’t misunderstand – I am all for people adopting dogs from traditional shelters too! But certain people’s situations don’t leave a lot of room for error. If I had very young children I personally would not be too excited about bringing a new dog into my home that I was not reasonably certain had the right temperment and experience to live safely with my kids. Nothing is guaranteed, and no child should ever be left alone with any dog. However, a dog with a proven track record of living with children would minimize the risk to both children and the dog.

    Also want to throw in my vote with the really big dog lovers! :)
    I have an Irish Wolfhound, and he is the most laid back, calm, tolerant animal I have met.

  34. We groom our dogs (they have hair and not fur so it keeps growing and growing).
    The smartest thing we did when we were wanting a second dog was to foster dogs. We tried out the dog and if it wasn’t a great fit they moved on to a permanent home. Our kids were young at the time and we were initially worried they would get attached to a dog we didn’t want to keep. Once we explained to the kids we were saving a dogs life if we let this one go on to a good home and took a new dog in they had no problem! We did this for almost a year and fostered over a dozen dogs. It was a great experience!

  35. anna says:

    @ Lis, my boyfriend has a picture of an Irish Wolfound on his phone and you would think he is a little kid because he will show anyone who mentions a dog that this will be his next kind of dog.

    I am proud of you for promoting rescue dogs Trent, there are LOTS of homeless dogs out there looking for a home. Petfinder (already mentioned by someone else) is not only great for finding dogs in your area but also for tips on pets. If you find a certain breed that interests you and will match well with your family, youtube any breed that interests you for a ‘Dog 101’ video from Animal Planet. Than search for the breeds rescue group website. I know that almost every breed has a rescue group and you can get a purebred for a steal, most of them are around $400 but they come with all their shots & fixed. A lot of them have puppies but with small children and a busy family, I would recommend a young adult, maybe 1 or 2 years old, most of the time they are already potty trained and have some social training to help save your time and your carpet.

  36. Jane says:

    I agree with researching the best food for your dog, but don’t knock Ol’ Roy! We fed our Labs Ol’ Roy High Protein, and the lived to be 14 and 16, with no health problems.

    Please, please do not get a dog and then crate it in your house/tie it up in the yard. It is not a toy you can put away when you’re not playing with it.

  37. Liz says:

    Try to get a pet that does not require regular grooming. My previous dog was a black Lab/Rottweiler mix from the shelter that only needed bathing; we used a large tub in the back yard for this.

  38. Dawn says:

    I would agree with other posters that talk about the time and energy factor; puppies require a LOT of up front time training, cleaning up after the inevitable messes included chewed household items (chair legs!) THe work will all fall to you and your wife and with a lot of hands on time for your kids already, a puppy might not be a good bet. Even an older dog may need to be re-trained which requires a lot of time and energy. Cats require much less work if you are looking for a household pet. The expenses are slightly less as well – no “training”

  39. How about–don’t have them?

    Actually, we researched the costs of different pets before deciding on a parrot.

    I amn ot anti-pet, but some of them can get to be quite expensive.

  40. et says:

    2 things to consider – contact dog rescue organizations in your area – many of them are for specific breeds (many are purebred); others specialize in overflow populations from shelters. The greyhound rescue org for retired race dogs is one of the more well-known (& those dogs make extremely wonderful pets). Also, I live in a town near the county line; several of my friends have gone to the shelter in the next county for pets because the fees are lower for non-residents.

  41. Jessica says:

    I recommend adopting an adult dog from a local rescue agency that uses foster homes. These agencies get their animals from the same place as the shelter, (ie. animal control, abondned pets, etc., animals the shelters are about to put down). The advantage is that the dog will be disposioted and get some training in a foster home, and you’ll be able to know a lot more about the animal than from the shelter. The foster parents will have been living with the animal for some time. This way you will ensure that you get a pet will mesh well with your home. Also, the adoption fee (around $100-$200) ensures they have already been spayed/nuetered, had any ailments addressed and all their shots.

  42. Jessica says:

    Also, if you have small children adopt a dog over 2 years old. Many families with small children find the addition of a puppy very overwhelming. Training is stressfull on parents, and the puppy playfullness is scary for toddlers.

    Also, many foods that people think are good, Science Diet for example, is horrible because is really just grain and animal by products. The healthiest diet for your dog is raw meat and vegatables. But if you can’t do that, the least you should be buying is a grain free dry.

  43. Virginia says:

    Hire a puppy trainer for a day soon after you bring your puppy home- yes, it is an extra cost but it will be well worthwhile in the long run because your dog will become a much more agreeable companion and you may avoid destruction of property as the puppy grows.

    This is different from “obedience school” and may help you do most of your obedience training yourself. The puppy trainer should teach you how to teach your dog without spoiling or cruelty so that he/she grows up to be a good companion. Getting this training as an owner early is good because
    1.) the puppy is new and exciting and everyone in the family will feel more motivated to participate
    2.) neither you nor the dog will not have had time to develop bad habits before you begin working on proper manners and behaviors.

    We had a trainer for a day when our Ziggy was small. She watched us with the dog and corrected our mistakes and taught us how to engage the dog in a way that he could understand. He is by far the best dog I have ever known and everyone who visits our house is charmed by his playful but polite demeanor. The only thing he chewed on was the binding of my Bible once – I figured that he was just hungry for the word of God or something. :)

  44. mellen says:

    Actually, Great Danes are great apartment dogs b/c they are “lazy” (they prefer the couch to running) but I agree to get a dog that fits your lifestyle. Another suggestion is to have your kids tested for allergies before adopting a pet. There is nothing worse than letting them have a pet and then having to take it away (and the new baby should be checked before you get one because allergies are not hereditary so the 2 you have could be fine and the new baby could be allergic). Take it from someone who knows, I have a dog but she has hair, not fur, which meant adopting was not going to work for us so I’m thankful for quality dog breeders. They shouldn’t be vilified because they charge for their dogs, if it weren’t for them I wouldn’t have my dog and I can’t imagine life without her. I highly recommend having a dog but you should look at the breed characteristics carefully first. Terriers have a LOT of energy while Beagles are just goofy and fun but have training issues because they will always follow their noses (so don’t get one unless you have a fenced yard…) Just some examples, watch Dogs 101 on Animal Planet for some good doggie info. I’d also recommend watching “It’s Me or the Dog” – the trainer has great advice, especially if you are planning to adopt.

  45. Ronnie says:

    HA!! I have 2 turtles :D, an Eastern Box and American Woods. Nothing on here helps me, or their $77 yearly checkup. And one had an ear infection, which cost $200. The other was darn near killed by my Rottweiler (may he rest in peace), and that put us out $1,000. But they’re my babies, and I’ll do anyting for them.

  46. Sharon says:

    Getting an older dog doesn’t gurantee it will be trained to your specifications. I got lessons on the proper way to train a dog and each morning after their walk reinforced that trainig for @30-45 minutes. It paid dividends because visitors to my home couldn’t believe how well behaved they were and that they would just sit to the side of the table while we ate and not beg or come over to the table.

    For your sake and that of your friends, PLEASE make sure your dog is properly trained. I’ve been jumped on by too many badly or untrained dogs. Not everyone is a dog lover and is not amused by someone’s animal leaping on them.

  47. AC says:

    You and your son could volunteer one evening a week at the local shelter, or you and he could offer to walk a neighbor’s dog a couple evenings a week. Neither of these options will even come close to costing you what dog ownership will cost, and they won’t require the long-term commitment, either, as you can stop anytime you want.

  48. Dawn says:

    As someone who owns 2 dogs (large mixed breeds) we got as puppies and 2 cats, I am well experienced in the costs of pets (and how to keep them down). in fact, our pets are generally our largest voluntary expense every year. We jokingly refer to them as our vacation house.

    I agree with everyone who said get the right dog for your lifestyle. And the right age for your lifestyle. Little puppies are cute–if you want to put the time and energy into training them. I did and it was great (I also worked from home while I did it.) But, it was very expensive because we had to pay for all of the medical care.

    Medical care. You might talk to a couple of vets in your area. Some have preventative care plans that include all of the first year shots, spay/neuter and a number of annual visits. Basically, you pay up front so they guarantee the business and you get a discount.

    Set up an ING savings account and put a small amount (we do $5 per animal) into it for medical expenses so they aren’t as big of a hit.

    Do training (look for someone local). The best $40 we spent was the puppy training class through our local town’s recreation program (you can call the dog control office to find out about them). It really helped us understand our dogs and them to be well trained animals, and to be around other dogs. After one session we knew enough to do the rest on our own at home.

    Crate train or get a pen for them. Puppies chew. Everything. A crate keeps them from chewing when you don’t want them to. Our first dog, no problem (crate trained). Our second, we got lax–chewed the coffee table, tv stand, sofa, blankets, and multiple pairs of my husband’s shoes.

    Watch for coupons. We use coupons for treats, toys, cleaning supplies, bathing things and sometimes food. A lot of food has loyalty programs through the manufacturer. Pet stores often have discount cards or e-mail lists for coupons. Our local store has generic dog food coupons, so we use one a month and buy food monthly (it ends up being cheaper than buying in bulk). We take the dogs with us to the store for socializing every month.

    Get a kong toy or similar high quality toy that you can put treats in to entertain the puppy. Instead of bones to entertain the puppy, get a kong that you can refill with treats. The treats cost $3 a bag and last for a month. A bone costs $3 and lasts a week (this is just an estimate of cost). You can also put wet dog food into a kong like toy and freeze it, then give it to the pup. Takes a long time and gives you peace and quiet. I used to refill the filled bones and do the same thing, but you have to use them in a couple of days or the food goes bad.

    Use preventative medicines year round. I know they tell you you don’t have to, but again, one of our more expensive vet visits was when my puppy got a tick during a time of year we weren’t supposed to have them. and down the road, this could result in more problems for him. For that reason, we paid the extra to vaccinate our other puppy.

    Get a cover for the car seat. Muddy paws are expensive to clean out. A cover costs $20.

    Get professional grooming 1x a year. One of my dogs has long, Shepard like hair and sheds like crazy in the transition to spring/summer. We have a place that grooms for $25 per dog (that’s bath, furminated, ears cleaned, teeth brushed). We have the dogs done when it gets really bad and usually one other time. The relatively small cost saves me headaches in cleaning the house and frustration in grooming.

    Learn to brush their teeth and do nails. This is two things I wish we’d done. Nails cost about $10 each time a groomer does them (some vets include them for free, so ask while there). Teeth can be even worse if there is tarter build up that requires surgery.

    Figure out what you’ll do for vacations. Unlike cats, dogs can’t be left alone. So, you probably want to investigate what you’ll do, the cost of the options. We try to trade smaller trips (weekends, etc.) with friends, but we board for larger trips.

    Borrow, borrow, borrow. Especially if you’re getting a dog that will need several size crates, collars, etc. Ask friends who had puppies. They are likely to have stuff that’s too small sitting around (we regularly loan our puppy stuff out to people).

    check all kinds of stores for pet stuff. We’ve been surprised to find cheap stuff at bizzare places.

  49. Mol says:

    I’ve been waiting forever for this article! It should be noted that you should continue stroking the cat after it begins to purr *nodd* ^^

  50. Larabara says:

    Pets bring joy to our lives, and who can put a price on that? However, I agree with Sharon–any pet owner should take steps to train their pet to behave, or life gets very difficult. I am a dog lover, and I HATE getting jumped on/barked at/ inappropriately sniffed by untrained dogs, and then have their owners act like I should tolerate that behavior from their pets. I had a huge, ferocious-looking Doberman for 14 years, and very early on it was obvious that training was in order. It wasn’t cheap, and it wasn’t easy (turns out the dog as well as the humans needed some behavior adjustments) but once the obedience training was done, life was a joy. Visitors to our home were also very impressed with how well-behaved our dog was. The dog was also trained to obey commands only from us, and ignore commands from other people. And as an added plus for me, when we went on walks, this well-trained but demonic-looking dog of mine was a man magnet :-)

  51. reulte says:

    I’d also say crate-train your dog. The crate itself provides a ‘private room’ for the dog where he can go and not be bothered (make sure your family understand this also). You can also train your pet that when you put him/her into the crate — it’s your quiet time. I have my girl trained to go to her crate when I say “Crate) and to her bed every night. I have friends who crate-trained their cat to lock himself into his crate every night.

    I agree with whomever above suggested that you and your boy volunteer at a no-kill rescue center. This will get you familiarized to dogs and to different breeds’ characteristics.

    Also whether or not you do get a dog — teach you children how to react to OTHER dogs. Don’t try to pet a dog — even one on a leash — without permission, reach out underhand to pet instead of overhand, freeze like a tree when there is an unknown dog in the area, roll up and protect stomach and head if attacked.

    Go to dog shows and check out the area where the breeders are waiting or grooming their dogs. Ask how long it takes. Unless you have all the time in the world — forego poodles, pulis, komondors. Actually, unless their dog needs to be in the ring in the next 1/2 hour, dog people usually love to talk dogs and extol the virtures of their breed. Infodog dot com has a listing of various dog shows and can be sorted out by state. Specialty shows or shows with a dog type (i.e. Brittany, German Shorthair Point) usually show only one breed of dog.

  52. KAD says:

    I agree with those who are suggesting that you wait a while or visit dog parks or shelters for a bit. Or maybe your son could stay over at a friend’s house where there is a dog, and see how much work a dog really is.

    Having a puppy around is like having a baby around. You’ve got a lot on your plate already. And you don’t want to be one of those families who never exercise their dog enough; that leads to health problems and housetraining issues (furniture chewing, barking, digging outside, etc etc).

    If you do go for it, don’t buy dog food (no matter how good, no matter what the bargain) in such bulk that your dog can’t get through it all before it goes bad. I had to learn that the hard way with my dog!

  53. Michele says:

    I have to echo what others have said about having a baby on the way and two pre-schoolers–dogs take a LOT of time and effort…almost as much as a young child. Dogs also DESERVE a lot of time and effort because what they give is priceless- unconditional love and affection.
    Please reconsider getting a pet until you have the time! My husband and I got a GSD mix from a shelter when we got married, and Sarge was 3 years old before we had our first child. He was trained, in a good routine with our schedules and lives and we were able to safely introduce our son to a well behaved canine member of the family. Sarge lived to be 13 years old and both of our sons learned to walk by holding onto his back fur! But it required a lot of work and love to keep him healthy and in good condition and care for him with two working parents and two active kids. Seriously, a LOT of work.
    We got more dogs when I quit working full time so I could spend time training, feeding, grooming and walking the dogs. It takes several hours a day to give them what they need and I’m glad I have the time to do so. Now that the boys are both on their own, we have a GSD and two Yorkies. They bring joy to our lives, but they still require a lot of care. We can give them that care because I still only work part-time.

  54. Pamela says:

    I appreciate you mentioning good dog food and considering shelter pets. Some comments also mentioned finding the right dog for your lifestyle – that is a must!

    Another place to look for dogs is local breed rescues. Decide what breed(s) would work well for you and search for a local rescue organization for that breed/breeds.

    A few comments:
    1) Heartworm cannot be treated at home or with over-the-counter remedies. The monthly heartworm medication from the vet is a preventative. Depending on the brand, it may also include a dewormer and/or flea and tick preventative.

    2) Parasites – Keep pets dewormed and promptly cleaning up feces is very important, especially when small children are present. Some worms that dogs and cats can have are transmissible to humans.

    3) Treating at home – While there are certainly some things that can be handled at home, remember that a vet has gone through seven to eight years of schooling (yes, same as an MD – three to four years of undergrad and four years of vet/med school) and can often tell you if the problems your pet is having is simply due to worms or is indicative of a bigger problem or of something that may become a bigger problem if it’s not treated promptly.

    4) Grooming – While you can groom at home, getting your dog professionally groomed has benefits. For example, the groomer at my place of employment doesn’t just bathe, brush, and trim the dog – she also does a nail trim, pulls the hair out of the ears (mostly in little dogs), trims the nails, and expresses their glands (expressing the glands is not something you want to do at home, but it is important that it get done). The blow-drying will blow out a lot of the hair the dog sheds (if it’s a shedding breed) and greatly reduces the hair left around your house.

    5) Water – please do not limit water for puppies. They need water just like adult dogs and withholding it for convenience is not a good idea. Puppies and house-training takes work. While limiting water may reduce how often they need to go outside, it will be because they aren’t well-hydrated. Young dogs need to go out frequently – take them out after they wake up, after they play, after eating and drinking, and before bed. If you aren’t willing to take the time to do that, don’t get a puppy.

    6) Vaccines – Please look into getting your dog a bordatella vaccine (kennel cough). This vaccine is required for boarding at any good kennel and many kennels require it be done a certain number of days head of time. While you may have a neighbor that is willing to watch your pet, what happens if you suddenly need to go out of town when your neighbor is out of town? You may have to leave your dog at a boarding kennel and if the dog is not current on it’s vaccines or doesn’t have one, it won’t be able to stay. I work at a boarding kennel and I’ve talked to many people who never planned to board their dogs because so-and-so always watched them but now so-and-so is out of town/sick/moved last week and there’s a family emergency and no one to watch the pet.

  55. SLCCOM says:

    Two words for chewing: bitter apple. This will keep most dogs from chewing on most things. It is bitter, though. If you accidentally get some on your fingers and taste it, you’ll understand why it is so effective!

    Another money-saving tip. Take your dog(S) to the same vet at least once a year for a check-up; once the dog is over 7 years old, make it twice a year. If you get surgery for the dog, have the blood tests done first, and have a baseline blood panel done when you first get the dog. It can save their life!

    And brush their teeth at least 4 times a week! It will save on the dental cleanings, if not prevent the need for them entirely.

    Personally, if I were in your shoes, I’d wait on the dog. Try fostering and see how it works ut.

  56. Mel says:

    If you are planning to groom your dog yourself, getting a puppy you can train to enjoy bath and grooming time (ESP nail clipping and teeth cleaning) will save you so much hassle later. I know loads of older dogs who just can’t be trained to allow nail clipping/teeth cleaning and have to go to a groomer/vet.

    High-quality food is so important. I feed my dog Ziwi Peak (organic air-dried meat-based). I think it’s the reason he has never had a health problem in 3.5 years. Expensive, yes, but a smaller dog won’t eat much (and the manufacturer’s advice on feeding quantity is usually a bit excessive).

  57. Nicole says:

    For what it’s worth, my mom says that age 10 is the ideal age for a child to have his or her first own pet (that he or she takes primary responsibility for).

  58. Shevy says:

    A breed-specific rescue organization is better than a general shelter in that they often know a lot about the animals and their previous situation, are staffed by people who have a lot of knowledge about the breed and its strong and weak points and really want you to succeed (so the dog doesn’t end up back with the rescue).

    You will always have to pay vet fees, vaccinations, spay/neuter etc. before you are allowed to adopt (or in the case of a very young puppy, will have to sign an agreement to get the pet spayed/neutered at the correct age). Expect to spend at least $300 in order to adopt, plus possibly a donation on top of that.

    Puppy vs older dog? If you get an older dog it will come with “baggage”. It may have bad habits, it may not like kids or men or loud noises (or something else you aren’t aware of ahead of time). It may have health problems or have been abused or neglected. Of course, all those dogs need to be adopted too. Just let it be by someone who doesn’t have 2 preschoolers and an infant. Puppies need some intensive work for the few months, including 8 or 10 walks (at least 10 minutes each) per day and well into the night. And you have to clean up accidents instantly in a house with tiny tykes (especially crawling ones) and watch with eagle eyes to make sure puppy isn’t chewing on a favourite (kid) toy. (We found the feet chewed off a couple of dolls!) Possibly a good solution would be a young dog somewhere between 6 months and a year. That is, old enough to be toilet trained and have some basic obedience training. But still young enough to be trainable.

    Smaller dogs cost less to feed and medicate than bigger ones but don’t go too small with young kids in the house. A toy size dog is very fragile (and more susceptible to health issues). If a toy poodle can break a leg jumping off a couch, imagine what could happen being mauled by a hug-hungry toddler! A miniature sized dog is much sturdier, but still not a big eater.

    However, don’t cheap out on the food in an attempt to save money. Read the labels. Remember that ingredients are listed in order the same way as in people food. The higher on the list, the more there is in the food. So, when you check out wet foods, notice that “water” or “water sufficient for processing” is often the first or second ingredient. Don’t buy any food where the grains take up the first several spots and then the protein ingredients follow. Don’t buy foods that contain “meat byproducts” or “meals”. Look for real foods, real meat, eggs, fish. A raw food diet is healthy for your dog but not recommended when you have small children around as there is a small risk that the pet could lick them and transmit salmonella or the like.

    Learn to groom your dog yourself and do it regularly. I started by taking Dog 2 or 3 times the first year, a couple of times after that and then doing it all myself. Our pet is a miniature poodle and they should be groomed every couple of months. At $53 a time that would be over $600/yr! Even if you go to a pro once a year and keep it up yourself in between you’re saving a lot of money. I keep Dog in a puppy clip, not a fancy cut and do it over a couple of evenings while watching TV with Dog cuddled up. It really doesn’t take tons of time that way and he’d be cuddled up watching TV anyway.

    As for the comment that equated crating and tying a dog in the yard, the 2 are worlds apart. Crating is something dogs find comforting and safe. It gives them a den of their own and a place to retreat to when the kids get too wild. We crate Dog when we’re at work, although he sleeps with us. Tying a dog outside (whether you’re home or not) usually causes a lot of anxiety and boredom and leads to bad habits like digging, barking, jumping at people who approach and the like. Don’t do it. For one thing, leaving a dog in the yard is not the same as walking the dog. Dogs are nomadic pack animals. They need to walk daily with human members of their pack. And not 10 minutes in the morning and 10 at night. A half hour at a time is a good start. Yes, it takes time. Do it when you do errands on foot or consider it *your* exercise time. Each spouse can do at least one walk per day. Kids 12 or older can take a turn (not applicable in Trent’s household, for quite a while).

    One last thing. Don’t buy a puppy from a newspaper ad or a pet store. Most of those are puppy mill pets and that’s just a disaster waiting to happen. Besides I consider it wrong to buy a puppy mill puppy because that only encourages the practice. (Some rescued dogs are ones that were kept in cages and forced to have litter after litter. Pitiful.)

  59. Jules says:

    It takes a lot of dedication and time to raise a dog right. Don’t get one unless you’re sure you’ve got nothing else more demanding on your plate, or are willing to give up your current job for taking care of and training the dog.

    And, let’s be honest–it’s not for your son. Let your son call it “my dog”, but in my book the owner of the animal is the one that scoops the poop.

  60. Hope D says:

    My family adopted a 5 month old puppy from a shelter. My daughter who was nine wanted a pet badly. She really wanted a cat but my husband is allergic. We then saw a mixed breed dog that was all parts non shedding. We adopted him. It was very difficult. He was pretty crazy. The kids were scared of him. He ran back and fourth all the time and would scratch the kids. He wasn’t all the way potty trained either. I called the shelter only to find out he had been adopted before. He had been brought back because their children were afraid of him. We also noticed he was afraid of men. The shelter worker said she had noticed this. I don’t know why she didn’t tell us. She said we could bring him back. I got a little angry. I decided we would work to train him. It wasn’t easy. He is still afraid of most men. He is very tolerant with the kids. He does like them but isn’t the kind to wait at the door for them. My sister kept telling me dogs are crazy until 1 year. He chewed everything until one year.

    He is now 3 years old and pretty calm. He does not have that selfless, protective nature some dogs have. He is willful and will steal crackers from the baby. We have never been able to keep him from digging in the trash. We have to keep it covered.

    My advice would be to make a list of questions. You will forget to ask them if they are not written down. An adult dog is also good. They are much more calm. They also don’t chew up everything. They are more likely to be potty trained and behavior issues are more apparent. When you go to check out the dogs, look for ones that like your son. Our dog doesn’t mind the kids but wants to be with adults. You don’t want the dog to be afraid of you, but you want it to engage your son. I wish we had done that. Our dog is allergic to Kibbles and Bits. My mom buys that. My dog just throws it up.

  61. Tamara says:

    I have four cats, two were shelter cats and two were strays.

    I concur with the posters above that food is important! The cats are fed Purina One, but that’s one you have to be careful of. Not all the varieties have meat as the first ingredient. Some have corn or the mysterious “byproduct”. Once my financial situation is a little more stable I want to put them on a food they sell at the local feed store. My mom gets it for her dog (obviously cat formula is different) but it is grain-free and made to suit pets’ nutritional needs.

    I also made an amazing discovery not too long ago, and that is that the plain, non-clumping, clay litter works better than the fancy silica litter that I had been using before. Even with 4 cats, as long as I scoop & stir daily it lasts about a week, and I can get a bag of fresh litter at the dollar store.

    As far as flea control goes, we were using the stuff you squirt between their shoulder blades, and still had fleas. That was until I had a “duh” moment and realized they were grooming each other and licking it all off. Now they are on a monthly, liquid flea treatment you mix with a serving of food. No fleas, finally!

    My oldest cat is 3, and we have had no major issues so far. That same cat got pinkeye a few months back and that’s been about it.

  62. ~megan says:

    I agree with many previous posters about kudos for wanting a shelter dog. I also concur that crating a dog is not equivalent to being tied out in the yard. Crate = safety.

    I have a two-year-old daughter, a 14-year-old cat and a 10-year-old mix breed German Shepherd/Beagle mix. Our dog was just diagnosed with terminal cancer and we have a predicted 5 months left with her. I will be getting pet insurance for our next pet. Diagnosing and treating the cancer have cost our family $1000 this month alone.

    I am devastated about the potential loss of a beloved family member because the dog is SO tolerant of toddler antics–especially the “exploring her world (including the dog) with her mouth = biting.”

    I wouldn’t even consider bringing a puppy into our home for the chewing alone and no one else has mentioned that puppies have razor sharp needle teeth! NOT a good combination with young children. My daughter would be devastated if puppy got a hold of her beloved “do-do.”

    Go for a slightly older dog and share pictures with us when you meet the right canine to add to your brood.

  63. Courtney says:

    I’ve had several dogs, most rescues. I would say a couple of things:

    1) All other things being equal, bigger dogs are calmer, and more wary of small children.

    2) Your local feed supply store (Southern States, etc.) has some mighty useful stuff much cheaper than your vet can sell it.

    3) Make sure your pet is spayed/neutered.

    I’m not knocking vets, mind you, but you can buy Ivermectin (heart-worm/tapeworm killer) much cheaper at a feed supply store. Yes, you have to dose it yourself, and yes, not all dogs can tolerate it, and yes, you need to be careful with it. But, I’ve talked to my vet about it, and he’s copacetic – at least I worm my dogs & cats regularly, unlike my neighbors.

    BTW, I think crate training is Evil.

  64. Jenny says:

    I agree with getting the animal from a shelter. In Denver, we have the Dumb Friends League. They have competitive prices for cats and dogs. Puppies and kittens are more expensive, but when the pets are around a year, the prices drop, too. We have adopted two cats from the DFL, for approximately $60. They include fixing the animal, and an exam by an approved vet for free after the adoption. Our second cat got very sick after we adopted her. They took her in and nursed her back to health, no fee.

    Also, I highly recommend putting in time and effort for training the animal, especially if it’s a dog. A well trained dog will be less likely to chew on shoes and ruin other items that will cost money to be replaced. Training also makes them more enjoyable to have around.

  65. Chantel says:

    I love animals! However, not everyone does, and those people should not have animals. However, humans are by nature social creatures. Having a pet is one of those rare things in life that actually makes your life better. Yes, there are costs associated with pets, but there are also costs associated with having children, having friends(don’t believe me, what about all the times you went out and spent money, just to hang out with your friend?), not to mentions all the non relationship oriented things that clutter up our lives. A pet that you love, and love to spend time with, can increase the QUALITY of your life, and even the quantity. People with depression or agoraphobia, high blood pressure and the elderly can actually be prescribed a pet. Service animals are not just for the physical aspects of disability, but also the emotional. In the end, the minimal cost of basic care for your pet can lead to extra years of your life, companionship and love. Can the thousands of dollars you spend on a car or a game system make that claim?

  66. Check your local veterinarian’s bulletin board. I can’t tell you the number of animal postings I’ve seen on vet’s bulletin boards. I guess if you have an animal that needs a home, a vet’s office would be the place to post the ad because those people are likely to care about animals. Many people will give their animals away if they know they’re going to a good home.

  67. Inquisitive Raven says:

    I’m surprised no one mentioned microchippingor licensing your pet. Cities require dogs to be licensed, and some places require licenses for cats as well. Bellevue (or King County, I don’t recall which), WA requires licenses for both cats and dogs. Philadelphia, PA only requires licenses for dogs. I never looked into it in Bellevue, but Philadelphia offers a lifetime license .

    This is one of the places where microchipping comes in. You can only get the lifetime license with proof of a permanent ID, i.e. a tattoo or microchip. It’s more money up front, but you save money in the long term. Permanent IDs are also invaluable for identifying your pet in the event that they get away from you and picked up by someone else. A tattoo on the ear can be removed (along with the ear), and any tattoo loses clarity over time as the dyes migrate, so microchipping is generally the recommended option. I recently adopted a new cat and microchipping was included in the adoption fee, which was only fifty bucks.

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