9 Things You Should Know Before Adopting a Dog

Man playing with his dog

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Adopting a dog can be one of the most rewarding decisions you get to make, but it's also a significant life change. And like any important commitment, the more you know going into the process, the better.

Here are a few ways to prepare and aspects to consider that will make the process of adopting a dog a little easier, less scary, and less financially risky.

Financial Costs

Owning a dog doesn't have to be expensive, but it's also not cheap. In 2020, American pet owners spent a total of $103.6 billion on their pets, including $42 billion on food and treats, and $31.4 billion on veterinarian care and products.

You should be prepared for the known costs and have a little savings cushion for the surprises. Consider making a budget for your dog's care or adding it to your own.

1. Vet Costs

veterinarian and assistant in animal clinic at work

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If you are adopting from a reputable organization, they will likely provide you with your new dog's health history and records. Depending on the age of the dog, they will also have already spayed or neutered the dog. You can have a conversation with the rescue about future care and they will have a good idea of what your pet might need (like additional vaccinations or medications if your pup has an ongoing issue).

Feel free to ask them for cost estimates; they will probably know the local costs of what your new dog needs. Vet care costs can vary significantly by location, and an animal rescue organization will know what prices are like in your area and will likely have some vet recommendations for you as well.

If you aren't adopting from a rescue or are adopting through an organization of people who foster unwanted dogs, be sure to ask about vet records and anything that they know needs taking care of in terms of your new dog's health. A dog can look perfectly healthy but still have hidden health issues, from the easy-to-solve, like worms or ear mites, to the more complex.

If the dog is not spayed or neutered, that's an important and significant expense you will have to consider. There are programs that offer low-cost spay and neutering, sometimes provided by local vets or animal advocacy organizations.

Your dog will probably need vaccinations unless there's already a record or the person fostering the dog has taken care of some of these expenses. If you are adopting a puppy, there will be several sets of vet visits for vaccinations and check-ups to ensure they are growing well.

2. Pet Insurance

Pet insurance allows you to prepare for pricey unforeseen vet costs due to accidents and illness. Some policies also include routine care such as yearly visits, vaccinations, and prescriptions.

According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association's industry report, a total of 3.45 million pets were insured in 2020. Average premiums paid by dog owners in the United States ranged between $18.17 and $49.51 per month for various levels of coverage.

3. Dog Training

Group Of Dogs With Owners At Obedience Class
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Dog training can be a very expensive endeavor if you hire an expert trainer to work with your dog. But it's most effective and fun if you do it yourself as part of a class or group, which is a lot less expensive and has the added bonus of helping you and your new dog get to know each other, work on a shared goal, and bond.

If you are on a very tight budget, there are also video courses and books you can check out from the library, but you will have to be very good at making a commitment and sticking to it. Dog training works best when there's lots of consistency for the dog.

4. Food (And Treats)

Of course, dogs need to eat—and treats are very important as a positive motivation while training and getting to know your dog. How much you spend on this aspect of dog care is highly variable, depending on the size of your dog (big dogs eat a lot more than small ones), if they have any special dietary needs, and their activity level and age (young, growing dogs need more food than elderly dogs).

You can choose among a huge variety of dog foods at many price points. Or you can cook for your dogs (recipes abound online, and it's an easy way to feed your dog high-quality food for a lower cost). It could be more expensive if there's a special food or type of food the dog rescuer or vet tells you is needed for your dog's health issue.

Whatever your dog's situation, figure it out in advance as best you can for your dog's size and age— food is a regular expense you should budget for and shouldn't be a financial surprise.

5. Grooming

Pug dog at grooming salon having bath.

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This is another category that can vary widely depending on the size, breed, and type of dog you adopt. A short-haired chihuahua might just get an occasional bath in the sink, whereas a labrador might need regular baths to prevent a stinky coat.

Dogs that don't shed much like poodles, Bichon Frises, and Kerry Blue Terriers need regular haircuts by a professional dog trimmer. Dogs with long or thick fur usually need regular brushing and may need baths as well.

There are less-expensive options (like bathing at home or taking your dog to a DIY dog wash), and pricier choices, like weekly grooming, but this is definitely another question to research and ask the person you are adopting your dog from.

6. Unexpected Expenses

Dogs sometimes break or destroy furniture, shoes, walls, and clothing—especially puppies. They might get sick or pee on your favorite carpet. At some point, your dog will do something that will cost you money to replace or fix. If you are prepared for this to happen it will be less upsetting.

In terms of ongoing vet care once your new dog is settled, well, dogs are like people in that they can have expensive accidents, like eating something that is poisonous to them (check this list of seemingly harmless foods that can make a dog sick), or breaking a bone. They can also catch diseases, get cancer or have an inherited health problem like a weak heart or bad kidneys that needs treatment or medications. You should definitely be prepared for surprise trips to the vet if your dog gets sick or hurt.

7. Walks and Exercise

Female jogger running with dog on leash

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You should budget an hour a day of walking time for your dog—even if they have a backyard to play and use the bathroom. It's very important that they get regular exercise, and depending on the dog, they may need more than just an hour of walking each day—or they may need to run or swim to really get their energy out. This is especially important for younger dogs, but older dogs need regular exercise, too.

If you don't have at least that much time for your dog, you might have to rethink adopting one.

Before you adopt, you should ask about the energy level of the dog, how much activity it's getting currently, and how much the adopter thinks it will need.

If you know the breed or breeds of the dog, that might help you understand how much time you will need to spend exercising your dog. Some dog types are notoriously high-energy, like huskies, Jack Russell terriers, dalmatians, border collies, and Australian shepherds. If these dogs don't get enough exercise they can turn destructive and depressed.

Time Requirements

Dogs need a lot of care, and that will take time from your existing schedule. This is one of the aspects of adopting a dog that many people enjoy—grooming, walking, and playing with their dog. But it is a regular, ongoing time commitment.

8. Freedom to Travel and Spontaneity

Dogs are ideal for homebodies or if their responsibility can be shared among a few people. Unless you have a very small dog that can use a pee pad in the house, you will need to be at home every few hours so your dog can poop or pee—while most adult dogs can hold it overnight, they also need to go out early in the morning. So keep in mind that if you like to sleep in, you will have to take the dog out for a walk late the night before or interrupt your morning rest.

Traveling on short notice is also difficult when you have a dog—unless you can bring your dog with you. Whatever the length of trip you might go on, you'll need to find a reliable kennel or have a local pet-sitter come to your house—so budget that in when you are thinking of your expenses for dog adoption, too.

The cost of leaving your dog home alone for too long can include a sad and upset dog, pee or poop on the floor, and possible chewing on shoes, furniture, or other destructive behavior.

9. It Won't Be What You Expect

You won't be able to predict all the expenses or time you will spend on your adopted dog—but most people find it's more than worth it for all the wonderful benefits of having a dog in your life.

You can never really know what it will be like, but you can prepare for adoption by being aware of all of these costs so they won't be a nasty surprise—and you can get back to loving your new pup.

Why Pets Matter to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. The better we understand our dogs, the better we can support and protect their wellbeing. We hope our readers will adopt rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores, and will also consider supporting local animal shelters.

Originally written by
Jaymi Heimbuch
Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer specializing in wildlife conservation, technology, and food. She is the author of "The Ethiopian Wolf: Hope at the Edge of Extinction."
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View Article Sources
  1. "Pet Industry Market Size, Trends & Ownership Statistics." American Pet Products Association.

  2. "State of the Industry 2021." North American Pet Health Insurance Association.