Get a good idea of the costs—from adoption fees and other up-front costs to on-going ones such as supplies and vet bills—before you adopt a dog.


Sharing your home with a dog is one of life’s greatest pleasures. But even a ‘free-to-a-good-home’ puppy isn’t really free. Providing only the bare-minimum basics has on-going costs attached; and giving a dog a happy, healthy home for his full lifespan can be expensive. It's always a good idea to evaluate the short- and long-term costs of any big, life-changing decision—and adopting a dog is no exception.

Here’s a look at the expenses you can expect, from adoption fees to vet bills, and additional costs you may incur as a dog owner. With an honest look at how much it costs to adopt a dog, you can be certain you’re ready to bring home a four-legged family member. 

Adoption Fees

Fees vary widely—from $0 to hundreds of dollars—depending on location and whether you are adopting from a city shelter or a private rescue organization. When you adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue group, you can be assured the dog has received more than just food—and the care the dog has received in the shelter far outpaces the adoption fee. 

“The adoption fee for our dogs is $80,” says Abbey Weimann, Foster Coordinator at Ames Animal Shelter and Animal Control, in Ames, Iowa. “All the dogs are vaccinated for rabies, distemper, and bordetella. They're also dewormed, provided with a flea preventative, tested for heartworms, and have a microchip implanted.”

She also shares that local vets provide free exams to shelter animals, so there are no medical costs initially for the dog’s new owner. Mick McAuliffe, Director of Behavior and Enhancement for Animal Rescue League of Iowa adds, “Depending on the shelter and the state laws, the dog may also have been spayed or neutered.”

The Basics: Dog Supplies and Care

Providing the most rudimentary care for your dog includes both the on-going expenses of food and annual vet checkups as well as one-time (or rarely repeated) costs of spay or neuter, bowls, and a crate. Be prepared to spend a minimum of $150 on initial supplies, depending on the size of your pooch and your style. An annual wellness visit to your veterinarian can run $50 and up depending on where you live and what’s included in a routine check-up. That said, if they need to run any tests, those costs could increase—you might want to consider asking for a list of routine prices at your first vet appointment.

Monthly needs for your dog can be included in a household budget. Your dog will need monthly doses of flea/tick and heartworm preventatives, grooming (if required for his coat), daycare or a dog walker if you are away from home for most of the day, and a sitter or boarding when you are traveling. You can expect to pay a dog walker around $15-$30 for up to a 30-minute walk. Food is also a very important cost to include in your budget. “Dog food costs can range dramatically based on the dog's developmental stage (puppy vs. adult), size (small vs. large), and the selected food quality (low vs. high),” Weimann says.

Other infrequent expenses include getting set up for having a dog in the house. These items include, “an enclosure to crate the dog, a leash, collar, harness, bed, treats, toys and enrichment items such as Kongs, puzzle toys, and others for mental stimulation,” McAuliffe says. “If the place where you adopt has a store, buy these items there. The money goes back to the shelter to take care of the other animals and you are set up to go home with everything you need to make the first day the best day.” 

Puppies require regular vet visits throughout their first year. If your pup was not spayed or neutered before he came to you, consider asking your vet about local low-cost clinics. After that, an annual check-up is required and includes on-going vaccines. For example, rabies is offered as a 1-year or 3-year vaccine, at different prices. Your city may also require you pay an annual fee to register your dog. 

The Extras: Training and Dog Licenses

Attending a training class is a wonderful way to learn how to communicate with your pup. “Whether the dog is a puppy or adult, I recommend a training program that is positive-reinforcement based,” McAuliffe says. “Taking the time to go to an appropriate training class will set you up for success.” 

Playtime at the dog park may require an additional license fee to the local municipality. But, McAuliffe adds, “only if the dog park is suitable for your dog. Some of us are introverts and don’t like big parties all the time.” 

And there are all kinds of services that cater to pet owners. “If you don’t want to pick up your dog’s poop from the yard, you can hire it done,” he says. 

Planning Ahead: Pet Insurance and Saving for the Unexpected

Even with the very best of care, dogs will still get injured and have health issues; they will get old and require the care that comes with aging. And that care will come with additional cost. “Besides daily feeding and yearly vet visits, something will probably happen to your dog that will require more spending,” Alex Miller, a veterinary technician at Ames Animal Shelter & Animal Control, says, “Something simple like an ear infection, rotting teeth, arthritis—you should be prepared.” 

Pet insurance, which works similarly to human health insurance, is an option for helping with the cost of care when an emergency happens or you get a costly diagnosis. Another option is Care Credit, McAuliffe says, “It’s a line of credit offered by vet clinics.” 

Weimann says she keeps a savings account for those unforeseen expenses. “Because of the mix of breeds of my 85-pound adult dog, I stock away an extra $25 a month into an emergency fund in case he develops any issues with his hips or various cancers.”