Before adopting, be sure you can afford a new friend, experts say:

It’s essential to understand the costs of pet ownership before choosing an animal, experts say, adding that getting real about costs should stop owners from adopting — and then surrendering — pets they can’t afford. Some 13 million U.S. households acquire a dog each year, but nearly half are taken to shelters within 12 months, according to Dogtime.com. Owners should be prepared for an initial investment that includes fees for adoption, sterilization, vaccinations and training. However, TV trainer Joel Silverman says families who can handle the costs will find dogs worthwhile: “This is your best friend, right?” U.S. News & World Report

 

By                            January 14, 2013    RSS Feed      Print 

So you got your kids a puppy for the holidays.  And now, looking at your vet bills, the cost of dog food, and several  pairs of chewed shoes, you may be wondering if perhaps you should have  just bought them an Xbox.

Maybe you should  have. Many pet owners buy a dog without thinking through the financial  costs of their prospective pooch. According to Dogtime.com, a news and  information website for canine lovers, every year, about 13 million  American households adopt a dog or a puppy and within 12 months, half of  them have been taken to a shelter.

“I often try and talk people out of getting a pet and [play] devil’s advocate,” says Harrison Forbes, the author of Dog Talk: Lessons Learned from a Life With Dogs, host of a nationwide radio pet show, and a semi-regular pet expert on television, including The Today Show.  “There’s an odd peer pressure, especially in the shelter world, that we  always need to be pumping up the benefits of pet ownership, and that’s  great. I’m fully on board. But it’s like home ownership. Owning a house  and having a dog is the American dream, but you only want to do it if  you can afford it. You don’t want to have to give either up because you  didn’t think it through.”

Robin Ganzert,  president of the American Humane Association, agrees. She is, of course,  unabashedly on the side of the canine: “My dream would be for every  child to have a pet in their lives.” But in the same breath, she also  acknowledges, “So many folks are trying to do the right thing and going  to shelters to adopt dogs, but that doesn’t mean they’re equipped to do  it. They still need to go through the same thought process as you would  if you were buying a dog from an expensive breeder. A lot of dogs are  recycled back into a shelter or abandoned, and it’s not a good life for  them.”

If you have a new puppy and are  overwhelmed by the costs or you’re thinking of getting a dog this year,  here are some factors to consider before you do anything rash, like  replacing your furry pal with a gerbil, or before you get too caught up  in daydreams of throwing a Frisbee at the dog park and watching old Benji movies together.

[Read: 4 Things Your Dog Can Teach You About Starting a Business.]

The lifetime costs of owning a dog. Odds  are, the cost is more than you think. A variety of sources have  different numbers but they’re all high. PetInsurance.com places the  average cost of owning a dog—over the dog’s lifetime—at $20,000. In  2011, Bloomberg.com crunched numbers and came up with an eye-popping  $59,668.88 for a mutt over its lifetime, but the study assumed the New  York City-based family would be sending the animal to doggie daycare,  expensive kennels, and would buy virtually every available accessory.  RaisingSpot.com, which provides tips on raising a dog, suggests a dog  that lives 12 years might cost you anywhere between $4,620 and $32,990.

In  other words, if your car is one broken head gasket from putting you  into financial ruin, now is not the time to get a dog. If you’re doing  OK, well, keep in mind that if a dog costs you $20,000 in the long run,  that averages out to a little more than $1,500 a year—a much friendlier  number.

Set-up costs. If  you’re buying from a breeder, you might easily pay in the neighborhood  of $1,000, or much more. If you’re buying from a shelter, an adoption  fee might be closer to $100. However, you’ll also need to set aside  money for vaccination shots and for the dog to be spayed or neutered (if  the adoption fee doesn’t cover it). Your dog will need some smaller  items such as a collar, a leash, and a dog license.

“The  average cost for supplies to set up a small dog is around $300 to  $350,” says Dawn Burch, the veterinary relations manager for Petco. “The  average cost for supplies to set up a large dog is around $400 to  $450.”

Dogs will be expensive at the outset,  says Forbes. “Fifteen years ago, a lot of shelters’ adoption fees were,  like, $20, and there’s a lot of hard evidence that those low costs  helped make it easier for people to return their pets,” he says.  “Shelters that make you pay $300 to $500 for a dog have way less returns  than the ones who give animals away dirt-cheap. When you shell out some  money on the front end, you take owning a dog a little more seriously.”

Ongoing costs. Food  will be the biggest strain on your wallet, but vet check-ups need to be  factored into the budget. You may need to put your dog in a kennel when  you travel, or you may want to send your canine to a doggie daycare if  nobody’s in the house all day. Of course, there are treats, rawhide  bones, dog beds, sweater vests, pet insurance, and an untold number of  dog accessories you could purchase as well.

Experts  warn not to skimp on food and veterinarian services. “If you go to a  grocery and buy a 30-pound bag of dog food for $10, there are health  consequences for that with increased vet bills later,” according to  Forbes, who acknowledges that consumers often feel they have no choice  but to go for the cheap stuff. “When you have to pay your gas bill, dog  food always ends up being cut.”

Forbes, who has  worked for a number of dog-food brands in the past but is no longer  affiliated with any, says if you’re pressed for cash but want to buy  something relatively healthy, Pedigree, Purina One, and Iams are sound  choices. But he adds that the expensive dog food usually has the best  nutritional value.

[See: 10 Reasons Older People Need Pets]

If  you’re having trouble caring for your dog and think the shelter is your  only option, Ganzert says your local shelter or animal control might be  able to steer you to places that can help you access free or  inexpensive dog food and low-cost vet care.

Training. Raising  a dog on your own can be mentally taxing. Ganzert suggests getting  help, whether through an obedience school in your neighborhood (a  five-week course can cost between $50 to $350) or a guide book. Or you  could opt for the cost-free alternative of watching a dog training TV  show, says Joel Silverman, who hosted Good Dog U on Animal Planet for 10 years and currently stars in the TV show Dog & Cat Training with Joel Silverman.

“One  of the biggest reasons dogs are returned to shelters, I believe, is due  to training issues,” says Silverman, who also cites gifting someone a  dog as a return-to-sender route. He believes dog owners should choose  their pet to ensure a better bond and match.

Cleaning.  You may want to buy cleaning agents, a carpet cleaner, or have a  carpet-cleaning service on speed dial. “Look at your house and home  facility and what’s likely to be impacted, because you’re going to have  accidents the first year,” Ganzert warns.

[Read: 5 Ways to Save on Pet Costs]

And  unless you completely puppy-proof your home, you can expect to  encounter costs to replace items such as shoes, books, and toys.

Economic benefits of having a dog.  Ganzert says furry family members save people more money than they  spend. She cites studies that show dogs help lower people’s blood  pressure, and show that children who are exposed to dogs at an early age  often avoid developing asthma. Kids who have dogs and are walking them  and playing with them are less likely to be overweight, adds Ganzert.

Silverman  sides with Ganzert as far as thinking the positives outweigh the costs:  “These aren’t really major expenses. This is your best friend, right?”

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