10 ways to take a bite out of the cost of dog ownership

Before you become a dog parent, plan for the potential costs that may come with your new best friend.

By Pat Swanson, assistant vice president, U.S. Bank
Tags: Budgeting, Home, Life events, Lifestyle, Planning
Published: August 23, 2018

It’s 3 a.m. as the elevator creaks down from the ninth floor of our building. Skateboarders rattle by as we step out the door into the night. We wander down two blocks and step over caution tape onto misting grass.

The night had gone as expected. That morning, I had insisted to my wife that for many reasons the time wasn’t yet right to adopt a puppy. That evening, $300 and a lease violation later, we were dog parents.

The evening after that, we were suburbanites living with my in-laws. Thanks, Cleo.

When I heard U.S. Bank was hosting pet adoption events at two new branches in Orange County and San Diego, I got to thinking – from the kitchen table of Cleo’s new three-bedroom $175,000 colonial – what do I wish I knew a year ago? With help from other U.S. Bank dog parents, here are the 10 tips that barked the loudest:

Your dog won’t fit in a carry-on. Check out dog boarding reviews on Yelp before you decide where to live. We drive 30-45 minutes across the city to take Cleo to Dogtopia every time one or both of us goes out of town. She loves the place, as she should for $50 a night. Less expensive options include boarding at the vet for $20ish or using dog-sitting services such as Rover for something that’s often in between those costs.

When using dog-sitting services, be the first to show your teeth. U.S. Bank employee Jackie Mennie suggests naming your price and letting dog sitters or walkers come to you – especially with multiple dogs or those with special needs. She’s found services at her price that way through Care and Craigslist.

Add a couple more recurring bites to your monthly budget. Amazon, Chewy and other online retailers offer a 5 or 10 percent discount for subscriptions to dog food or medications. Similarly, buying in bulk at warehouse stores such as Costco should net you a significant discount.

Save on toys and beds, but splurge on food. It’s tough to reap a return on that $12.99 squeaky toy when it’s headless 24 hours later. Buying high-quality food, on the other head, will pay off in your dog’s long-term health. “But you probably don’t need to be spending $17 on a free range organic chicken for them,” obliged U.S. Bank employee Melissa Gamble. (And on that note, go with your vet’s recommendation and avoid giving table scraps.)

Pet insurance isn’t worth it, until it is. Pet insurance will cover you in the case of a catastrophic expense but plans are complicated, so read the fine print to make sure you understand your deductible and coverage. It’s probably a good idea if you’re active outdoors with your pup. If you’re simply worried about the ups and downs of care costs, consider a wellness plan. “As a first-time puppy owner, my [vet’s wellness plan] has been great,” said U.S. Bank employee Amy Batchelder. Many vets offer monthly payment plans.

Bury a few sticks in the yard. If you opt to forgo pet insurance with its typical $30-$50 monthly premium, consider instead stashing that money away in a savings account. It will calm your nerves when driving to the vet after your dog digs up and eats one of their actual buried sticks.

#AdoptDontShop can double as financial guidance. My 45-pound Pyrenees/Labrador mix (Pyrador, if you were wondering) doesn’t have the lineage to make it to Westminster, but she also doesn’t have the hereditary health issues that plague many pure breeds. Plus, our $300 fee for adoption – on the high end but lower than those for nearly any breeder – covered vaccinations and spaying or neutering, as is typical.

If you’re not able to commit to a long walk, go on a short one. U.S. Bank employee Kim Mikrot has fostered dozens of dogs over the course of the past decade. "It makes me feel like I’m making a difference in a dog’s life. When they come to me, they’re often scared, confused and unloved. I give them all my love, make them feel safe, and let them know they’re wanted. It’s hard to give them up, but it’s totally worth it when you see them with their forever family,” she said. To learn more, visit PetFinder to connect with local animal shelters and agencies.

Turn your four-legged cost center into a revenue stream. The Wall Street Journal reported a couple of years ago that dog accounts with large followings on social media can command around $3,000 per sponsored post on Instagram. Mennie, whose dogfluencer-in-training Pomeranian boasts 1,700 followers, sheepishly pointed out a $50 charge from Pottery Barn on her bank statement, “Becoming Insta-famous can be expensive.”

Don’t expect your pup to appreciate your financial sacrifice. Despite your fenced-in backyard, their favorite place to play will probably be under your bed and favorite place to, err, mark their territory will undoubtedly be under your office desk.


Learn more about finding the right dream home to go with your four-legged friend.


Pat Swanson is in public affairs and communications at U.S. Bank.