My $14,000 Dog, Cooper

by Joel -

Post image for My $14,000 Dog, Cooper

How much do dogs cost?

Last month we had to rush my dog to the vet. Well actually it was my wife who took him to the vet … I’m a huge wimp when it comes to blood and doctors and stuff.

Anyway, Cooper had ripped off one of his dew claws at the dog park. He was born with a few extra toes on his back feet, and they’ve never really been a problem until now. Not sure how he got hurt, I just noticed him limping and bleeding when we got home :( Poor little bugger!

After two hours at the vet, Cooper came home with a bandaged leg, and my wife handed me a $186 vet bill. Yay.

I know $186 might seem a bit excessive for a simple bandage and some antibiotics, but honestly I’d probably pay 10x that amount to take the pain away. Cooper is our one and only fur-child.

cooper's back leg is taped up after an injury

Dogs Are Expensive!

Not sure if you other pet owner / personal finance nerds do this, but I keep a tally of how much my dog has cost us over the years. Cooper has his own line items in our annual budget for food, boarding, and vet bills. (He’s pretty good about sticking to his budget, but sometimes he goes over and I have to punish him. ;) Just kidding!)

We got Cooper in January 2013, so he’s about 7 ½ years old. So he’s actually 52 years old in dog years, making him officially the oldest (and wisest) member of our household.

Year 1 upfront dog expenses:

  • Purchase price/adoption fee: $0 (Coops was a pound puppy)
  • Shots, vaccinations, etc. as a new puppy: $300
  • Getting his balls cut out: $484 (he had a small problem during surgery when getting neutered so it was a little more expensive than usual for his procedure)

Recurring expenses:

  • Dog food: $37 per month, we get the Costco brand stuff. He’s been alive for 90 months, so that’s $3,330 in dog food total. Wow!
  • Flea Pills: $19 per month x 90 months, so $1,710
  • Shots: $100 per year, about $700 total since we’ve had him. Rabies, bordetella, and some of this is annual exam costs.

Other stuff:

  • Boarding kennel: $5,884. Works out to be about ~130 x nights in dog boarding facilities over the past 7 years. (If you travel a lot, don’t become a dog owner!)
  • House damage: $300. Cooper has smashed our front window three times trying to bite the mailman.
  • Biting the mailman: $400. One time Cooper actually got the mailman! Long story, but we basically had to bribe the mailman with $400 in cash to stop a small-claims lawsuit.
  • Random veterinary care: $859 (A leg thing, ear infection, weird eye mites, and an elbow bulge he had once that worried us)
  • Treats, toys, and bling-bling for his collar: $0. We don’t really spoil him at all.

There are a few other expenses like a dog bed here and there, maybe some towels and stuff, but I haven’t recorded those costs accurately. We also have no grooming costs because we bathe him at home and clean his teeth ourselves. And we haven’t paid for a dog walker in the last seven years!

Lifetime cost (so far in his life): $13,967!

Wow. That’s a big number. (And we don’t give Cooper the gold treatment that most dog lovers do.) Pets are luxury accessories, that’s for sure — especially if you got a pedigree dog from a breeder or are paying for doggy daycare, a pet sitter, lots of grooming needs, etc!

Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

When Coops was a pup, my wife and I did a quick search for how much pet insurance would cost. From memory, we got quoted somewhere around $300 a year for a basic coverage plan. (Just did a quick search —  looks like the national average for the German Shepherd breed is $34.32 per month).

Ultimately, we decided against getting pet insurance for a few reasons:

  • We have enough money to cover an emergency if something comes up.
  • We didn’t really feel like insurance would help us sleep any better at night.
  • Honestly, the cost alone was a big factor. We were willing to risk that having no insurance would end up being cheaper in the long run (it has been so far).

If we did purchase insurance, we could have saved maybe the $859 for his random vet visits … But it would have cost us an extra $3,068 ($34 monthly x 90 months) in insurance premiums.

Looks like no pet insurance has worked out better financially so far for us. And knock on wood it stays this way for the rest of his life!

Is Dog Ownership Worth the Cost? :)

I must say that I am 100% OK with how expensive Cooper is. It’s a shocking figure when it’s all totaled up — there’s soooo much I could do with an extra $14,000 right now!

But, here’s why I’m OK with how expensive pet ownership is:

  1. I like spending money on things that make me happy in life. Cooper provides unlimited happiness to our house and extended friends and family.
  2. Just like the reports say, dogs improve your fitness and your social life. My wife and I have connected with most of our neighbors because our dogs like to play together.
  3. Coops is an excellent guard dog (well, most of the time … He was snoozing when my car got broken into the other day). I pity the person who tries to actually break into our house with Cooper on guard.
  4. Since my wife and I don’t have kids yet, a dog gives us something to care for together. And to give us companionship when the other person is away (Cooper is an excellent drinking buddy when my wife is not home).
  5. Just look at his face!

joel's dog cooper looks at the camera

Do you keep track of your pet expenses? If so, how much do your furry family members cost? Guessing your mileage will vary based on dog breed and size … is a large dog like a bernese mountain dog more expensive than a smaller dog like a beagle mutt? Let’s compare notes.

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Suz June 5, 2020 at 6:14 am

Dogs are worth every penny IMO. (I have two tiny spoiled ones.)

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2 Joel June 5, 2020 at 10:30 am

Agreed! We were going to get a second one but big dogs take up so much space. Wow, now that I think about it, that would have doubled my cost to $28k for 7 years. That’s expensive!

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3 Matt June 5, 2020 at 8:00 am

The dog is totally worth it but they are sooo expensive. I don’t keep an itemized list but a lump category for Roxy and she is pretty good about staying on budget.

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4 Joel June 5, 2020 at 10:31 am

Good to hear that Roxy takes FIRE seriously and sticks to the budget :)

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5 Kim June 5, 2020 at 8:07 am

I didn’t keep track of expenses for my dog over his entire life, but as a small, healthy dog who didn’t need grooming and who was never boarded, they were manageable.

The eye-opener was the last 18 months of his life. He started having recurring GI issues in February 2018, was diagnosed with a tumor in his intestines in June 2018. He was 13 at that point so I opted not to do further diagnostics or invasive treatment, and just opted for supportive care.

In the 18 months between when he first got sick and the time he passed in August 2019 at age 14, I spent approximately $6000 on vet visits and meds, prescription food, and at-home euthanasia.
But it was worth every penny.

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6 Joel June 5, 2020 at 10:39 am

Wow. Thanks for sharing. And sorry for your loss :( Such a tough decision about spending money on older dogs. The longer a dog is with you, the more ingrained they are in your family, so I totally get that the cost is worth it for supportive care.

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7 Christine June 5, 2020 at 8:45 am

We have a 1-year old large mixed breed dog and I haven’t kept exact track in a way that I can easily access the amount but I know it’s in the thousands. We paid $500 for his adoption from a rescue and of course vet bills for shots and the normal things plus a few extra because he had some issues with his tummy as a little guy. Our dog food is $51 for 30 lb which usually lasts a little over a month. Heartworm and flea/tick prevention are I guess around $20-$30/mo. We don’t spoil him exactly but we have definitely spent a lot in treats, toys, etc too. We also bought 2 dog crates (which we no longer use), 2 gates (don’t use regularly but are keeping for those times we need to keep him contained like when repair people are in the house), 3 beds, car backseat “hammocks”, an “exercise pen” for when he was a puppy that we now use outside to block off the deck, and another travel playpen that I mistakenly thought he’d be cool to stay in in my office while I worked. He wasn’t. Then of course, collars, harnesses, leashes, bowls, etc. and we DO use doggy daycare when I go into the office or when I travel. That’s $30-35 a pop. $50ish for overnight. It was cheaper than frequent dog walks and worrying about potential puppy destruction. We still have credits at a place because they stopped taking him when he was 7 mos. and not neutered yet (it’s coming soon! Little does he know!)

There are people who swear by the pet insurance but I made the same assessment you did. They all seemed way too expensive.

I think he’s worth every penny though. He has improved my life and mental state so much for the better.

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8 Joel June 5, 2020 at 10:49 am

It adds up quickly! Especially year 1 costs. Things should settle down after the neutering.

Another good point about mixed-breeds.. Apparently they are a little healthier because they have more genetic diversity… Which means less medical bills and thus a cheaper pet. No idea if this is true or not, but this was part of the reason we wanted a Mix breed too. (Coops is a mix, not pure white german)

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9 Jackie June 5, 2020 at 8:47 am

I am a dog person surrounded by a cat family! So unfortunately I don’t have any idea about dog costs. Cats are pretty reasonable most of the time (although we have had a very expensive cat or two in the past). Food, litter, annual vet visit and shots. Ours don’t go outside – so no extras for things they may pick up in the wild (fleas, parasites, etc.). But because they’re inside – we do spoil them with treats, toys and scratch pads. The food/litter is in the regular grocery budget (since they’re family members) however their vet bills get their own line item. We have 3 and annual vet & shots is about $110 each – so including any extras we average about $400/year for 3 cats (not including food/litter).

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10 Joel June 5, 2020 at 10:56 am

$400/y for 3 cats isn’t bad at all! Cool that you include food/little in the regular grocery budget, I should do that vs. breaking it out separately. Cheers for sharing Jackie!

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11 Jen Hun June 5, 2020 at 9:00 am

Wow that’s expensive! We feed 4 neutered farrel cats that live in our neighborhood. Runs about $140 a year. Man it adds up quickly!

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12 Joel June 5, 2020 at 10:59 am

haha! I’d put that under the ‘charity’ line item in the budget. Do you name them?

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13 Becky H June 5, 2020 at 9:13 am

I love Cooper!
I’ve got two cats, since I’m still an apartment dweller, but I definitely would love to get a doggo once I move somewhere with a nice yard.
For my cats – I haven’t kept track of their monthly food/litter expenses, but I do have a “Kitty Emergency Fund” in my sinking funds account, so I can also avoid pet insurance.

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14 Joel June 5, 2020 at 11:06 am

Nice. The kitty emergency fund is like self-insurance. There if you need it, but if you don’t it’s not wasted in premiums. Good call on waiting for a yard to get a dog. :) Especially if you get a big dog like Coops!

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15 martinus June 5, 2020 at 9:21 am

Now take that $14,000 discretionary expense and see what the future value is at a reasonable interest rate a la Mr. Money Mustache. The $14,000 is just the beginning. Worth it? Not to me.

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16 Joel June 5, 2020 at 11:19 am

Yep, I can see what you mean! Dogs over the course of my whole life might end up costing over 100k when I’m looking back as old fella. A discretionary expense for sure!

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17 Launch Personal Finance June 5, 2020 at 9:39 am

We’ve got a French Bulldog (Penelope) and did go the puppy insurance route (Healthy Paws). It’s certainly not cheap, but we feel like we’ve gotten our moneys worth.
Ultimately, you’re right, dogs aren’t cheap, but couldn’t imagine life without her.

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18 Joel June 5, 2020 at 11:24 am

Good to hear insurance has worked out financially. But I also think insurance goes beyond the possible financial breakeven – it can be worth it even if you don’t recoop the costs, knowing that your pooch is covered.
Hello to Penelope! French Bulldogs are awesome :)

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19 stephanie t June 5, 2020 at 10:08 am

Cooper is fabulous!
Cat person here because I honestly do not have the quality time to dedicate to a dog. Between work and other responsibilities…so, I’m the very proud owner of a rescue kittie who is indoor only since she has no sight in one eye and is nearly deaf, so indoors she rules the empire!
She has her own line item in my budget, and often comes in under budget. She’s very good about that.
I owe her about a bazillion dollars in therapy fees though; she listens so carefully when I pour my heart out, rant and rave, or cry. She’s awesomely compassionate and wise with a very well-developed air of sophisticated comprehension of my oh so human woes.
*sigh*. I adore my kittie.

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20 Joel June 5, 2020 at 11:32 am

Hahaha! Perhaps you can rent your cat out to others that need a cat counselor. This could be your side hustle, and your kitty could be an income stream vs. an expense in your budget. First step is to build her a resume. :)

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21 Leslie June 5, 2020 at 10:20 am

I would be so scared to tally up our vet bills. At the moment we have 3 dogs, 3 cats, and 2 birds. Over the years with our many pets going to the emergency vet… I’m glad I don’t know.

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22 Joel June 5, 2020 at 11:35 am

Yes it’s so shocking when you add it all up! Wow – you have a full household!

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23 Jennica Harris June 5, 2020 at 11:48 am

What type of dog is Cooper? He looks similar to my parents’ previous dog Juneau, who was a German Shepard/Husky/Chow mix.

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24 Joel June 5, 2020 at 12:57 pm

Coops is a White German Shepherd mix with something we don’t know. Maybe a Lab of some sort? (When he stands next to a yellow lab sometimes they look the same color, plus he has some Lab character trait). We were gonna get one of those DNA things, but it’s more fun not knowing :)

I must say, White German Shepherds are becoming very popular in LA… I see a lot of them around now and didn’t really even know they existed before we found Coops.

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25 JoshDoesFatFIRE June 5, 2020 at 4:11 pm

We had a Beagle for 11 years. He was great, and we were very lucky that he never had any major vets bills through out his life.
I have heard some real horror stories. I think they were worth it though!

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26 Joel June 5, 2020 at 4:52 pm

Hey Josh, yep you were lucky! Some dogs just have wicked genes and never have issues. Cooper’s been great so far, health wise. I hope it stays that way… And I also have hopes that he lives until he’s 100 years old :)

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27 jen June 5, 2020 at 6:33 pm

We just lost our 16 year old dog last week. We got him when he was about 1, and I also decided insurance was not worth it. So ever since we got him, I put $40 per month for him into savings. After all of the vet visits throughout his life, the many meds required for congestive heart failure, final expenses, and anything else medical, we were left with about $1,700 when all was said and done (after 15 years of saving $40 per month). We have another dog who is still alive that is about the same age, we saved the same amount for her, and we have spent much much less on her so far. So I agree, the insurance isn’t worth it in most cases. I’ll also add that I once tallied up all the non-medical costs for our dogs in a year and it came to 5 figures, for ONE YEAR (including grooming and boarding, etc). So I stopped taking note of that number when I look at the budget because I don’t want to cut corners on food and stuff like that when it comes to the pups all for the sake of budget. Our dogs are our kids, for sure. I do however, do all the grooming myself now… that saves a ton. So if you’ve only spent $14k on his entire life, I really wouldn’t stress over that. :)

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28 Joel June 6, 2020 at 11:03 am

Dude this is super interesting! Kind of like self-insurance, saving monthly into a pet emergency fund. Thanks for sharing! I think more people should do this (including myself :))
Have a good weekend. – Joel

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29 Papa June 5, 2020 at 9:58 pm

Out of curiosity have you tried to sell your house after having Coop live in it, or do you rent? I heard dogs can lower home value by $20,000 and rent can cost 30% more with a dog versus without.

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30 Joel June 8, 2020 at 9:53 am

Hey Papa, great point!! We are renting currently (from family members who own our house). We have wooden floorboards, no carpet, and are pretty good about keeping things clean. That said, when we move out, there are definitely things we’ll need to pay for and fix. Not sure what it will do to the property value, but the house is definitely more “worn” with having a dog here!
My brother pays a extra pet rent to have a dog. I think it’s $50 per month or something, so that’s a huge cost to consider for people renting. Maybe the place that they live in now allows dogs, but maybe the next place they move to will charge a premium. Something to research for sure!

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31 Cindy Thomas June 6, 2020 at 12:36 pm

I’m a dog lover and we usually have a dog, but our beloved rescue Aussie-border, Lacey, passed away a few months ago. While trying to diagnose her problem, we acquired a cat to replace one that had died of old age, thinking she might be lonely. Turned out she actually had a fast-growing tumor, so we spent $1,400 unsuccessfully, although I agree that the pet insurance would have been much more than that.
Now we have just the cat, Dexter, who tries hard to be a dog–meets us at the door, lets us know when a strange car pulls in the drive, even walks on a leash (well, sometimes). We are dealing with elderly parent care, plus several remodeling projects, and are amazed at how much less expensive it is just having the cat (less food, cheaper nightly fee to board or hire a sitter), so we may keep it at that for awhile.
We do track expenses to make sure we are allowing enough in our budget, so when we are ready for another dog, additional monthly funds will have to be redirected. BTW Cooper looks like an awesome dog.

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32 Joel June 8, 2020 at 9:56 am

So sorry for your loss. RIP Lacey :(
Glad to hear you track your expenses and it’s interesting to hear insurance wouldn’t have worked out, even with the surgery cost. Thanks for sharing!

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33 Jane June 6, 2020 at 6:41 pm

Yeah. I didn’t have pet insurance. Then my dog (who was only 4) needed surgery on both back knees because she tore her ACLs. That was $12k. Now we have pet insurance.

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34 Joel June 8, 2020 at 9:57 am

Wow – a good lesson learned there. Was it a breed issue do you know?

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35 Northern Shelly June 10, 2020 at 10:38 am

I have two dogs and one has cost us a lot of money. We live in northern Canada and have had to fly her twice to another city for treatment. To Calgary for a broken canine tooth that could not be pulled. Second to Vancouver for a dislocated femur. The monthly average cost in the femur year was $974.00. Now we have a tumour in the tail. That is a cool $1K to have the tail amputated. All that said, our budget line is $400/month for the dogs. So the cash is there. And interestingly, the other dog is only food and regular vet visits. Up north a simple check up with the regular shots is nearly $200/dog. not cheap. Oh well, they are our fur babies that bring us much joy and terror when they scare up a bear.

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36 joel June 11, 2020 at 1:37 pm

Did you say BEARS? Ah, yes, definitely worth keeping those dogs around if they scare the bears away!
Sorry to hear about the tumor and leg issues! Good you got the $$ and budget to keep them well. Cheers for sharing!

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37 Megan June 11, 2020 at 7:38 pm

I thought you were going to have a story like ours! Two blown ACLs within about 9 months, resulting in two $4-5000 surgeries. But, she’s made a full recovery and I would spend it again :)

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38 Joel June 12, 2020 at 12:10 am

Ouch! Sounds like insurance may have been worth it for those bills? Glad she made it through ok!!

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