What My Dog Costs Me, What My Dog Saves Me

Last week I got an estimate from my vet on a “minor” surgical procedure for my nine-year-old pit bull, Zen. Actually, they gave me two estimates—one for the surgery, plus some “optional but recommended” bloodwork, and one for the surgery, “optional but recommended” bloodwork, and a dental cleaning while she’s under sedation. The latter “estimate” came to a cool $1,021.96, which got me thinking two things. One: I should get a second opinion, and maybe a new vet, and two: Just what is the value of my dog? How much do I spend on her and what is she worth to me?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my dog. It’s like one of those cheesy Mastercard commercials: You really can’t put a price on the happiness I get from being greeted by a tail-wagging friend after a long day or watching her laze belly-up in the sun, waiting for someone, anyone, to start petting her. But, $1,021.96 isn’t a small amount of money. Let’s break it down:

The average dog owner spends about $1,542 a year on their pet, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) (cat people are right up there, spending $1,217 a year on their haughty companions). The biggest costs are “surgical vet visits” at $407 (which is way under the cost quoted by my somewhat-opportunistic vet.) I just adopted Zen in November, so I can pretty easily track my own costs over the past seven months and compare to an adjusted average rate, rounded to the nearest dollar.

The major categories:

Food: Average cost $188, my cost $184
Zen eats Science Diet, Adult Advanced Fitness, because that’s what the shelter was feeding her and I got a free bag, and she seems to like it well enough. It’s $43.99 for a 35-pound bag and since she’s a muscular little bitch, she goes through that about every six weeks. She also sometimes gets all-natural, made-in-America treats, which are either $7.99 a bag or free when my boyfriend makes them from leftover grain from brewing beer (yes, I live in Oregon.)

Vet Visits & Vitamins: Average cost $438, my cost $375
Pinkeye, heartworm testing and medications, investigating (and bandaging—$50 for gauze and an Ace bandage?!) a small soft tissue growth, plus antibiotics and other medications. See how much I love her?

Kennel & Travel: Average cost $205, my cost $20
I have amazing housemates and a network of friends who will feed and hang out with Zen while I’m off travelling or rafting or doing any of a myriad activities that are less fun/more expensive with dogs. So far, I’ve repaid their kindness with beer and flowers, but I’m also planning to buy them tickets to a sporting event, which will up this cost in the future.

Groomers/Grooming Aids: Average cost $43, my cost $25
Short hair dogs are the best – minimal grooming required. Other than dog shampoo and flea powder both of which I inherited from a friend, the only tool you need is the Furminator. Seriously, it’s the best. But don’t pay full retail price, instead seek out a half price deal on Amazon like me.

Toys: Average cost $25, my cost $30
Most of Zen’s toys are donated by my tennis-playing friends, but the Chuckit! is as indispensable as the Furminator. She also LOVES stuffed toys, which are promptly destroyed 5 minutes later. But, the sheer pleasure of watching her pull the stuffing out makes it (sometimes) totally worth it.

Other: Average cost N/A, my cost $106
The APPA numbers don’t seem to take into account the upfront fees that come with owning a dog, like bedding, and food bowls, and leashes. Luckily, Zen’s previous owner passed on all those good items to me, so my only upfront costs were shelter adoption fees and new tags.

My total grand cost, 7 months in: $740, 18% below average costs

The next step, though is to consider all the ways my dog has saved me money over the past seven months, at least hypothetically.

Gym membership: $400
Ok, so I don’t belong to a gym, and haven’t, since college. Buuut, there needs to be some way to quantify the savings I get by running, walking and hiking with Zen instead of (again, hypothetically) reading Us Weekly while sweating profusely on the elliptical.

Occasional counseling session: Insurance co-pay 15%, $210
I’m not sure if it’s the added exercise or the unconditional love or what, but having a dog is good for my mental health. It’s certainly not a substitute, but I haven’t utilized the occasional therapy session since the fall.

Happy hour: $280
I work a typical 8-to-5 desk job so by the time I get out of work I feel obligated to head straight home to let Zen out. As an older dog, she has a bladder control that I could only dream of, but I start to feel pretty guilty leaving her at the house all day. That means I pass up (or don’t suggest) drinks after work on average of about once a week. Of course, a happy hour drink inevitably turns into drinks + dinner + more drinks, which really starts to add up.

My total hypothetical savings: $890

So far, so good. I’m ahead of the game in my cost v. hypothetical savings example, and really, having a dog is worth that and much more. So, it’s probably about time to start calling around to vets to get other estimates for Zen’s minor surgery—because even though I love her, I love a great deal even more.


Previously: The Economics of Adopting a Puppy

Dana Beck really does think Zen is priceless. She lives in Oregon, where she has learned to re-wash plastic sandwich bags.



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