Do you know that song, “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” Well, about 20 years ago, the little girl singing that song was me.

At 12 years old, I was absolutely dog crazy. Maybe it was from watching too many episodes of Benji, or from my obsession with the Littlest Pet Shop toys, or just the universal truth that dogs are some of the most beloved pets on the planet. I dreamed of nothing else but having a dog of my own.

I would scour through the classified sections of the weekly mailers and local newspapers looking for “the one.” On Sundays, my mom and I would go to the local animal shelter to see what doggies were available.

The one problem? My mom was on the fence about getting a pet. We lived in a small, two-bedroom apartment and simply didn’t have enough space for a dog. But when we moved into an actual house, my mom caved. We ended up bringing home a golden cocker spaniel that we found in the classifieds. She was the runt of the litter, and the last one of the bunch to be sold. I loved her more than anything.

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Although I was only 12 years old, I was very serious — even a bit geeky — about being a pet parent. I checked out books from the library on how to properly care for a dog. Although my mom paid for most of my dog’s costs, I took care of her most of the time. I made sure my pup was properly trained, fed, and walked.

Average Dog Costs

The first year after either buying or adopting a puppy will be the most expensive. You need to get them to the vet, make sure that they’re current with their shots, decide if you want to spay or neuter them (the answer should invariably be yes), and acquire the basics for their care (a bed, toys, leash, harness, etc.).

That first year of owning a dog may cost you as much as $2,455, according to a study by PetFinder.com.

It gets a little less costly as the years wear on, but the study shows that costs can still reach nearly $2,000 a year in upkeep for your furry companion.

When you consider that the average lifespan of a dog is around 11 years, this means your companion will cost you more than $20,000 over the course of its life. That money could go toward a down payment on a home or a student loan repayment.

This number will go up if your pup is destructive, tearing through bedding and toys quickly, or requires special food, medication for certain conditions, emergency vet visits, grooming, a dog sitter or doggie daycare — the list goes on.

Thankfully, there are some ways to cut down the cost of a dog.

My Own Dog’s Costs

It wasn’t until my dog got older and she started to suffer from health issues that the vet bills started to bite. I was in college at the time, and a trip to the vet would cost on average $250. And the older my dog got, the more trips to the vet she needed.

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I wanted to make sure not only that she was happy and healthy, but also that she had the best care possible. There were times when I struggled with her medical bills. I knew I could ask my mom for help, but she worked two jobs to pay off her mortgage while putting my brother and me through school.

And after all, this was my pet. My mom helped when she could, but I didn’t want to ask too much from her.

There were times I had to dip into my savings to pay for my dog’s medical expenses. And looking back, it was a lot to take on, especially since I was a broke college student and living off of financial aid, scholarships, and student loans.

My dog passed away several years ago, at the ripe old age of 16 and a half years old. We could tell she was in her final days and arranged for an in-house visit from a vet to put her to sleep. However, a few days before the scheduled appointment, she passed away naturally. We ended up cremating her, and her ashes remain at my mom’s house. It was probably one of the most difficult things our family had to go through, and I cried for three weeks straight.

How to Prepare for the Cost of a Dog

Here’s what I recommend you do to prepare for and mitigate the cost of owning dog if you’re considering getting a family pet:

  1. Make sure that everyone’s on the same page and willing to split costs.
  2. Research pet insurance options if your dog has special needs.
  3. Look at cheaper alternatives to dog ownership, such as fostering or low-maintenance pets or interactive electronic pet toys.

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1. Getting on the Same Page

There were times when I felt that my mom and I had different opinions on how to care for my dog. I learned the hard way about what could happen if you don’t work things out with your family beforehand. Making sure that my entire family was on the same page with responsibilities and expectations would have eliminated stress related to her care.

2. Pet Insurance

There is a host of options for pet insurance. Take the time to do the research and figure out which plan fits your needs — if any — and budget. Shop around, and if you feel comfortable enough to do so, ask for recommendations from fellow pet parents.

It’s also helpful to set up a separate fund to pay for these expenses. That way you won’t get blindsided.

3. Alternatives to Pet Ownership

If you find that it may not be the best time for your family to get a pet, there are a lot of other ways you can enjoy furry companionship without the expense.

For instance, consider taking on a side hustle as a dog walker or pet sitter. I currently pet-sit for both dogs and cats, and not only do I get to spend time with some awesome animals, but I get paid to do so. You can also volunteer at a local shelter or pet adoption fair.

Plus, there are opportunities to foster animals if you want to help but have reservations about making such a big, permanent commitment.

You could also consider looking for other pets. If you can’t afford a dog or cat, please be responsible and look for a pet with less expensive costs when it comes to food and medical care. For example, fish and hamsters can be entertaining and relatively hassle-free if your children are begging for a pet.

The main chunk of the cost of fish and hamster will be spent on aquariums or breathable cages and toys or landscape. Pets like these can still teach them responsibility while being a better fit for your budget.

If you’re worried that your child’s interest in a real pet may wane after a while, test the waters with an electronic pet. Interactive electronic pet toys have one flat cost and can allow you to see whether your child actually wants a plaything or a real animal companion.

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The Bottom Line on Dog Costs

All in all, while the average cost of dog ownership should certainly be considered, don’t let the cold number alone dissuade you from bringing a new companion into your life. The fun and warmth a dog can bring is something you can’t put a price on. Do carefully consider the cost and make sure you can afford to properly care for a dog, but don’t let just the numbers define your decision.