save money on dog expenses
Tips & Guide

9 Ways to Lower the Monthly Cost of Owning a Dog

Is your fur baby eating a hole in your wallet?  We love dogs, but having them is very expensive.  From purchase costs to food, to vet bills pet owners often get more than they’ve bargained for after picking up the “cute little puppy” from the shelter. Fortunately, there are lots of easy ways to save money every month. And these tips are not only good for your wallet, but also good for your dog’s well-being!

You see, buying a new puppy is often an emotional decision and those don’t tend to go over very well on the financial side of things.  Over the last couple of years I’ve learned a couple of different ways to save on my recurring expenses, but the first item on the list is important BEFORE you consider inviting a new dog into the family.

1.  Rescue Your Pet

The first cost of owning a dog is…owning the dog!  I know that this option may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how few people consider going to a shelter to rescue their new pet.  Shelters are awesome because they typically have a huge selection of both puppies and fully-grown dogs.

They also usually have a little bit of background on the dogs and can tell you about their parents (if its a puppy) or it’s previous owner (if its fully grown).  One thing that I did not realize is how often mature, fully-grown dogs are taken to a shelter simply because their owners can no longer take care of them due to age, jobs, travel, etc.  There are truly some gems out there just waiting on a new home!

Typically the cost of rescuing a dog is extremely cheap/free*.  Depending on the adoption/rescue agency you may only have to pay for the basic medical treatments to get them adoptable (neuter, shots, etc) or they may simply ask for a donation.  In our case we paid a small fee of $70 and off we were!  We ended up going back months later and donating some unused puppy supplies to the shelter because we loved what they were doing!

If you look at the potential cost of a purebred dog you will easily outpace a rescue.  Purebreds can cost anywhere from hundreds to THOUSANDS of dollars depending on the rarity of the breed.  For me, this is a no brainer.

Purebred dog ($1000) – rescue ($75) = $925 saved!

2.  Purchase Food, Treats, and Toys Online

Balancing the amount of dog food with the norm can be difficult. It’s not free, although some foods are cheaper than store-bought premium brands. I only recently got into this method of purchasing essentials for my dog.  After doing a little browsing online I realized that I could get my brand of dog food for the same price or cheaper than I could get it in the store by ordering online AND I got free shipping!  Add to that the fact that I actually get a frequent price discount/promotional offer with Amazon through my credit card and it’s a win-win.

There are often many more opportunities for discounts online and you can also take advantage of monthly/weekly/daily/add-on sales on everyday items that you could add to your cart with free shipping to boot.  There is also usually an option for recurring delivery which I don’t take advantage of, but could definitely help out those of you that are constantly having to run out to the store to fill up the dog’s bowl!

Premium Merrick Grain-free kibble + treat in-store ($74) – Merrick Grain-free kibble + toy online price ($63.85 plus 5% cashback) = $13.34 saved!  This is also a typical monthly order for me so if you add these savings up over the course of a year you’ll get $160 saved!

Getting a refreshing food for your pet is the alternative to wellness, but a great value and pet food is still a far superior option to affordable dog food, which is more affordable than premium brands.

3.  Look for Second-Hand Items

Second hand items may not always be on your radar, but when it comes to lowering the cost of dog ownership it definitely should be!  Now, you obviously aren’t going to be surfing the classifieds for used dog food, but there are lots of items that cost a premium new and are often resold for much less such as:

  • Pet crates
  • Kennels
  • Tie outs
  • Leashes/Harnesses
  • Outdoor doghouses

You can search through your local craigslist, facebook, and classified ads for great deals on these items that have great re-usability, but aren’t unhygienic or unsafe!  Some people may not always be 100% comfortable with second-hand items because you do not know their history or often the people that you are buying from, but most folks out there are just like us and you should always be prepared to take advantage of what’s out there.

Amount saved = will vary!

4.  Consider a Short-Haired Breed and DIY bathing

If you are like me often times you just want to do things yourself in order to prevent paying someone else to do it.  This isn’t me being cheap by any means, but rather that I know I can often do just as good of a job or better than a so-called professional when it comes to a lot of activities.  For me, this means that I can do a great job bathing my dog, but not such a great job with trimming or cutting his hair.  This is why I only consider short-haired breeds that don’t require a lot of maintenance for their coats.  Sure, there’s a bit of “tiny hair shedding” going on, but ultimately the time spent taking care of that each week is worth much less to me than taking the dog to a groomer once a month or so for an expensive appointment.

Some people might argue that their dog doesn’t like getting a bath, but my counter is that if you start while it’s young then the dog will get used to it in a hurry and it won’t mind so much.  Plus, if you have a removable shower-wand then it makes bathing a snap.  My dog loves it now and jumps right into the shower when we yell out “bath time!”.  A side benefit of bathing your dog yourself is that you can do it whenever you want or as needed.  If the dog runs around outside and comes in with mud all over him I can just throw him in the shower rather than worrying about having to set up an appointment, drive to the groomer, etc which wastes time and money.  Dogs will be dogs and they are going to get dirty!

Typical groomer bill for a large dog (bath and cut) – $50/every 3 months = $200.  Shampoo (this is what I use) – $4/every 3 months = $16.

$200 – $16 = $184 saved!

5.  Use Dog-Swapping Instead of a Kennel

Boarding your dog is something that hardly anyone thinks about while they are deciding whether or not to bring home a new pup.  Unless you live extremely close to your family (I don’t live anywhere near them!) or you have great, dog-loving friends next door (I don’t!) then one day you will have to look into kennels in your area to board your dog while you travel.  As we found out in the early days of our dog ownership boarding fees can add up quickly if you are gone for more than a day or two and can greatly increase the cost of owning a dog in the long run.

Another issue with kennels is that your dog is often put in a tiny crate for the majority of their time and sometimes they are “stored” outside and subject to the elements.  Obviously every boarding place is different, but we were surprised when we started looking into our options.  We have found that you can expect to pay as little as $15/night for bare-bones outdoor kennels or as much as $30/night for indoor pens with entertainment and extra care.

So, what is dog-swapping?  This is where you volunteer to watch someone else’s dog in your home while the friend/co-worker is gone and they then return the favor when you are out of town.  If you swap sitting with a friend or co-worker then you know they will be getting more attention and love and you’ll also know exactly where your dog will be sleeping on a cold night and that they have their normal food, toys, and bed.

For some owners, including me, this is really the reason that I love dog-swapping:  peace of mind!  It could be a little difficult finding someone to swap pets with, but I bet that if you search around your office, church, or neighborhood that you can easily find someone that would be willing to work out a deal with you.

Boarding for 10 nights/year = $150-300.  Dog-swapping 10 nights/year = FREE!  

This adds up to $150-300 saved!

6. Make your own pet toys

Don’t give in to the urge to go to a pet store. You’ll find the cutest toys there, but they’re usually pricey and don’t last long.
Homemade toys make your pet just as pleased! Cardboard boxes and lightweight toys, such as paper balls, are very appealing to dogs. Be creative or get inspiration from tutorials. With toilet paper rolls or paper towels, your cat will be easily filled. For your dog, cloths, balls or bottles can do the trick.

For accessories like collars, bowls, cat houses, etc., why not buy used? They are much cheaper at garage sales or second-hand stores (flea markets, thrift stores, etc.). You just have to disinfect them well before using them.

7. Mixing dog food brands

This is a tip I use for my dogs. They get a higher-priced, higher-quality brand, but I know it provides them with lots of high-quality protein and fat. I’m able to do so because I combine a less expensive “filler” brand with the more expensive food to lower the average cost.

To get a good food mix that stays healthy for your dog, you need to understand their nutritional needs. There’s nothing wrong with finding cheap brands at the grocery store. They contain a lot of “filler” in the form of grains that are cheaper to produce than meat.

8.  Decide if Pet Insurance is Really Worth It

I personally have never really considered pet insurance because I’ve always thought that it was a little bit bogus, but lately I’ve at least entertained the idea of covering my dog.  Once I really started to dig into the details, however, I realized that insurance is typically not worth the cost unless your situation is pretty specific.  Basically, your pet would have to be covered early and then be unfortunate enough to endure some pretty serious medical events for the payouts to exceed the premium costs.

If you check into this article you’ll see that it’s very hard to find a good excuse for these types of plans.  I hate to imagine serious issues plaguing my dog in the future, but I just can’t justify spending $250-500 a month on pet insurance.  That’s WAY MORE THAN I SPEND ON MY WHOLE FAMILY!  Do your own research, but I’ve made my decision.  I’m not even going to include these premiums as potential money saved because as the article states only 3% of dogs and 1% of cats currently have insurance anyway.  Major medical events are definitely one of the biggest liabilities when we talk about the cost of owning a dog, but we must also weigh our options against the likelihood that something catastrophic will happen to your pet.

9.  Use Preventative Vet Care to Save in the Long Run

Unlike pet insurance, this is an area that I totally believe in and hope that everyone reading this readily agrees with and implements ASAP.  Just like preventative care for humans, preventative vet care could potentially save you thousands in the future by either catching serious issues early on or eliminating them completely.  Here are just some of the issues that can be avoided or reduced by bringing your dog to the vet for his/her checkup and providing the necessary preventive treatments as scheduled.

  • Bad breath
  • Tooth decay
  • Fleas/Ticks
  • Heartworms (monthly medicine)
  • Parvo, hepatitis, rabies, etc (vaccinations)
  • Ringworm

All of these issues could cost hundred or thousands of dollars at the vet to treat a severe case.  They could also lead to the death of your dog if they are never caught and treated.  I, for one, would not be able to live with myself if I skipped out on the basic preventative care necessary to ensure that my dog has a good fighting chance at a full and healthy life!

Hopefully these ideas will help you make some smart decisions when budgeting for your pet and will allow you to lower the cost of owning a dog and take some potential savings to the bank for your family.  As always, please chime in with a comment below with your own ideas, comments, suggestions, or whatever else!


My work covers a few topics: personal sustainability practices, eco-friendly technologies and the link between personal action and global consequences. You can expect to learn actionable and practical information to help you become more sustainable – often with the side benefit of being healthier, saving money and having fun

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Kara Bout It