Health Care Costs for Dogs

Be financially prepared for both routine and unexpected veterinary expenses.
BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images

When you fall in love with those pleading puppy eyes, consider your financial status before signing the adoption papers. Few things are more exciting than welcoming a new furry family member into your household, but the costs of caring for a dog extend far beyond adoption fees, food, toys and a leash. To keep your promise of providing your dog with years of happiness, good health and longevity, you must be prepared for important and unexpected health care expenses.

The First Year

The first year of your dog’s life, be prepared to incur hundreds of dollars in veterinary costs. Puppies must receive a series of vaccination booster injections to achieve protective immunity. Initial puppy care also includes deworming treatments for intestinal parasites and followup fecal analyses to confirm that the dewormers eliminated them. If your puppy comes from a shelter, spaying or neutering likely has been performed. Otherwise, the expense of this necessary procedure will be your responsibility.

The Unpredictable Years

In the years that follow, expect to pay for a yearly checkup, which may include heartworm screening, vaccination boosters and a fecal analysis, and expect the unexpected. Your dog can require medical attention at any time, and the cost is unpredictable. You may deal with a simple ear infection one year, a costly orthopedic surgery the next and a dental cleaning procedure the year after that. Do your homework before selecting a particular breed, as some dogs are more prone to certain conditions, such as ear infections, dental disease, allergies or hip dysplasia.

Expenses of His Golden Years

The average age when dogs are considered seniors is 7 years though that varies based on breed. As his body wears over time, his chances increase for developing costly medical conditions. The American Animal Hospital Association recommends that senior pets receive blood panel screenings every six months to catch looming illnesses early. Some of the common senior dog illnesses include cancer, kidney disease, diabetes and Cushing's disease. Added health care costs to treat or manage these conditions include chemotherapy, medications, diagnostic tests for monitoring the disease’s progress and prescription diets.

An Ounce of Prevention

Preventative products, including heartworm preventatives and flea and tick control products, are a lifelong expense. Do not gamble with your dog’s health by cutting corners on these products. The consequence could be more costly in the long run. Ticks transmit Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis and babesiosis, all of which require treatment. Fleas can make your dog miserable, especially if he suffers from flea allergy dermatitis. Heartworm prevention is safer for your dog and far less expensive than the treatment for heartworm disease.

The Bottom Line

Once the cost of food, toys, treats, dog licensing fees, obedience training, grooming services, boarding or pet sitting, dishes, collars and leashes are added to the above veterinary care, the cost to own a dog for a 14-year life span can average well more than $18,000. Veterinary care makes up at least one-third of this figure, and that figure may be lower in rural locales, or it can be double the cost in metropolitan areas. The size, breed and overall health status of your canine companion throughout his life also will influence the bottom line.

Plan Ahead

Before taking on the financial responsibility of owning a dog, consider how you will pay for these expenses. Some options include maintaining a savings account for your dog’s health care expenditures, keeping a credit card solely for veterinary use or applying for a medical payment card. Many pet owners are turning to pet health insurance to cover some of the veterinary costs. When considering a pet insurance plan, be sure to read the fine print and have a complete understanding of how the policy works and exactly what is covered. And remember, a trip to the emergency vet hospital costs double or more than a regular visit to your vet.