An Arm And A Leg – Dog Ownership Costs

Dog ownership costs in the industrialized world take up more than your time and emotions.  It can cost a small fortune!An Arm And A Leg - Dog Ownership Costs

I remember growing up in the Philippines where pets, especially dogs and cats, were not so much removed from their feral state.  No one then bought pets.  You took in strays.  Your pets had more pets.  You asked puppies or kittens from your neighbors when their dogs or cats had babies.  And they’re more than happy to oblige!  Especially if their litter is large.  

Third World Dogs

Filipinos loved their pets just as much as Americans do.  But economic situation plays a huge part in how pets are perceived, and how pets are raised, and how people decide when and how many pets to get.  For households where getting a meal on the table for the human members of the family is a daily concern, feeding and taking care of an additional member, especially if they are not human, is not a luxury many families can sustain for too long.An Arm And A Leg - Dog Ownership Costs

Pets in the third world also provide the emotional companionship that many Americans and Europeans seek from their furry friends.  But for us, growing up, pets also served a purpose beyond companionship.  They had to.  They had to justify the board and the lodging afforded to them.  

Dogs were essentially guard animals.  They alert family members, especially at night, of any intruders coming into the household.  Thieves and scoundrels abound where poverty is the reality.  They are allowed to roam free inside and outside the house and within the property compound.  I have seen our family dogs lunge at strangers who strayed into our property.  We’ve heard stories of neighborhood dogs chasing away crooks.  I’ve witnessed dogs protect their owners from other dogs.  And in the smaller towns and less affluent areas, dogs roam freely in the streets!  It’s not unusual for kids to be bitten at least once in their lifetime.  I was.

Cats served as rodent exterminators.  They kept the rodent population in and around the household at a minimum.  And that is important, as rats and mice carry and spread disease.  And people would rather spend whatever disposable income they had on many other things, which did not include exterminators.

And one more service pets performed as members of third world families.  They consumed leftover food.  Nothing could be wasted.  And in places where garbage disposal can be an issue, the less you threw out the better.  We never bought our pets “cat food” or “dog food.”  Our food was their food.  They ate what we ate.  But we ate first.  They’re welcome to what’s left over.  

The point I’m trying to make is not to paint a bleak picture of pet life in the Philippines.  We had fun with our pets.  We played with them.  They protected the household from intruders, both human and animal.  They lived less restricted lives.  They were free to come and go.  They knew who they belonged to.  And we knew them from our neighbors’ animals.  None of them had tags.  When they’re out, they provide for their own sustenance (don’t ask me how).  I once saw my cat catch a small bird in mid-flight.  He left pieces of his rodent trophies everywhere that my mom’s shrieks were an almost daily occurrence.

 An Arm And A Leg - Dog Ownership Costs

In the third world, pets knew how to survive.

Adopt, Don’t Buy

An Arm And A Leg - Dog Ownership CostsWhen we got our first pet in America, it cost us $1,500.  I cringe thinking about it now.  Why in the world did we spend a grand and a half to buy a dog when there were thousands of pets to be had from countless pet adoption centers that exist in many towns and cities across this country?  Yeah, Fudge was a wonderfully clever and beautiful Pug.  And we had many memorable years with her.  But still, $1,500 was not loose change.

You can also check out adoption days that your local pet stores usually host more than once a year.  Organizations and pet shelters that sponsor pet ownership have many pets that they are more than happy to find new homes for.  And while some do require minimal fees for the adoption, nothing comes close to the grand and a half that we spent for our dog.  

Think economical.  Remember, once you have your pet, the expenses do not stop there.  It’s like having an extra child.  It is!  You need to feed them, buy them toys and stuff.  There are doctors’ visits and immunization costs.  You need to adjust your life to accommodate your new pet. And these adjustments don’t come cheap.


Looking for good and affordable vets is as difficult as looking for good pediatricians for your children.  You need to find those who you can build a relationship with over the years that you own your pet.  And because veterinary expenses come out of your own pocket, you’d want vets that are at least friendly to your wallet, as well! An Arm And A Leg - Dog Ownership Costs

Our first vet was friendly enough.  But boy, he was expensive!  He had a nice clinic, staffed by one front desk clerk, and at least one assistant/pet nurse in the back office.  He also had a line of pet products that he endorsed.  These include anything from food to pet equipment and toys.  And he would often recommend special foods that you can only order through his office.  Having a cat AND a dog was beginning to take its financial toll on us.  And at that time, I also had an aquarium and a bird!  And they entailed a whole different set of expenses!

By the time we had a second set of pets, we settled on an older, more laid-back vet that was about thirty minutes drive from our home.  He was an older doctor, and he ran a clinic with only him and his front desk secretary.  His prices were more reasonable than our last veterinarian.  And he did not endorse as many products as the other guy.  And he seemed a perfect fit for us that we’ve been with him for years now.  

When searching for vets, remember, there are places online that do reviews of local veterinarians.  One dog owner tip, check out Yelp!  They’re not just good for foods and restaurants, you know!  Look around, check their profiles online, as well as their reviews.  If you can, do this before you get your pet so you already have someone in mind when you do bring your new family member home.  

Free Rabies Shots

An Arm And A Leg - Dog Ownership CostsContinuing with the money saving theme of this post, you should know that many townships provide free rabies shots for your pets.

When you register your pets with your local government agency, ask to be included in their mailing list and newsletters. Our township public health office usually provides free vaccinations at least once a year and they will announce this ahead of time.  This is a great service because not only do you get your pet vaccinated for free, the agency also keeps and update your pet’s record right there.  

So check your local health office to see if they provide this service.  If they do, take advantage of it!  Your taxes at work!

Vaccines cost anywhere from $15-$30.  Free shots are always preferable (of course).  Some animal shelters also provide this service and may charge less.  They are another option you might want to explore.

The Cost of Food

Our dog is a 65 lb black Labrador.  His gut is pretty selective.  We tried feeding him dried dog food and we tried different brands.  We could not find one that suited his system.  We finally settled on a well-known national brand canned dog food.  The recommended amount is ½ to 1 can per 10 pounds of adult dog per day.  That’s 3 ¼  to 6 ½ cans of dog food a day!  A tray of 12 costs about $10.  Do the math. 

An Arm And A Leg - Dog Ownership Costs 

Now, the literature on the can of dog food suggests mixing it with some of their dry dog food products.  I can only guess at how much those bags of dog food cost, and how fast he’ll go through one!  So no.  This is not sustainable.  

We’ve spoken with a lot of dog owners that we’ve met in the neighborhood, friends of ours, those we’ve met at dog parks.  And everyone has this same dilemma: how NOT to become a poor dog owner.  

Well, a common thread is cooking their pets’ food.  

We have been feeding our dog a mix of the canned dog food (and you can use whatever brand works for your pet – we’re not endorsing any brand here), and good old Asian steamed rice!  Our pet loves it.  That spreads out the supply of canned dog food, and it satisfies Mochi’s appetite and calorie requirement for the day.  An Arm And A Leg - Dog Ownership Costs

We’ve also taken to cooking chicken meat (no bones!) and vegetables in broth and mixing that with rice.  Another dog owner told us about this strategy.  He goes out to the local grocery store, buys, in bulk, chicken that’s on sale, and he stocks those in his freezer.  We also use the cheaper rice that you can buy from stores like Costco, larger bags that will last for a while, instead of the more pricey Asian brands that we use for ourselves.  Second class citizens, you say? Well, we love him, but he IS a dog, and I don’t think it really makes a difference to him what brand of rice he eats.  He’s just happy that he’s getting home cooked meals! 

When buying or cooking any food for your pet, start small first.  You don’t know how their system will react to any new food.  They might like it going down, but some foods just go through your dog that it messes up their system, and your carpets.  So be careful.  Try out small amounts first before committing to a brand or a recipe.  If they tolerate it, then that’s the time to get a larger supply.  

“Penny Wise and Pound Foolish”

An Arm And A Leg - Dog Ownership CostsIt’s always a good strategy in life to be thrifty.  Whether you can afford it or not.  And this is true with pet ownership, too. Now, thrifty does not necessarily mean cheap.  Cheap sometimes does not take into consideration quality.  Thrifty is more complex.  It’s multi-dimensional. It may mean less expensive, serves the purpose or satisfies the need, and it’s good quality.  Keep that in mind when considering any expenditure.

Remember, pets are just one aspect of your life.  You love them, you care for them.  You try to provide them with everything that you can, with the best things that you can afford to get away with.  But remember, the best does not always come with a hefty price tag.  You have to research.  You have to shop around.  Do your due diligence.  

In this post, we tackled expense and pet ownership.  I discussed some ways you can make pet ownership less burdensome to your bottom line.  But it’s not everything.  Definitely not everything.  

In another post, we’ll discuss more strategies that can help you experience the joys of pet ownership, without costing you an arm and a leg.