One of the most heartwarming scenes in movies is when a child receives a puppy he/she has been wishing for.  The first few moments when a dog meets its new owner, or when they are reunited after a long time apart, can make even the strongest person cry.  Images like these inspire people to buy or adopt a dog, especially around the holidays. During the COVID19 pandemic, the desire to adopt a new pet has been even higher as many people are spending much more time isolated at home.  Before you make the decision to get a dog, a cat or another domestic pet as a holiday surprise, there are some key questions you need to ask yourself to make sure it is a sound financial decision, and not just an emotional one.

Can you afford the necessary maintenance costs of vet visits and food?

The two most significant and unavoidable expenses to owning a pet are food and regular vet visits. Ask the breeder or shelter what they are currently feeding him/her.  Then go to a pet store or look online for how much that food costs.  To help you get a rough estimate of the cost of food, be sure to inquire how much an adult of your desired breed will eat per month.

Whether you get a pet from a breeder or from a shelter, as soon as you bring him/her home, you will need to bring them to the veterinarian.  When it comes to vet visits, things can start to add up rather quickly, even in a very healthy dog, and can easily add up to hundreds of dollars. Before committing to the purchase or adoption of your pet, go to your local vet office and ask them what the first year or two with your animal will cost.  This will help you see what you need to budget for check-ups, vaccines and regular preventative medicines (flea/tick and heart worm). The office may say they do not put together estimates but that is likely because no one has ever asked them before, be persistent and explain to them that you want to be a responsible pet owner so you need to make sure you can afford to properly take care of the dog.  Most offices will be so pleased to hear this that they will figure out how to create an estimate for you.

Do you have the time?

If you are considering buying a puppy, kitten or other young animal now that you are home so much during the pandemic, make sure you are thinking about the long term as well.  Will your job always be able to be done at home? If not, will you be able to come home to walk your dog at lunch? Until the dog is fully house trained, it will need to be let out every 4-6 hours.  Even after that, the dog will need to be let out around every 8-10 hours. If you can’t come home regularly to let out the dog, you may have to hire a dog walker or take the dog to doggie daycare.  This can range from $15-$75 per day depending on where you live and the type of service you need.

How about vacation time? Although more and more hotels and vacation destinations are animal friendly, they often require an additional deposit or cleaning fee. If not, you will have to plan for boarding or additional walks and visits from your pet sitter. These can add up and significantly increase the total cost of travel or vacationing.

How will you train your new dog?

No matter how sweet, cute or gentle your new dog is, he or she will need some basic training. Puppies will obviously need to be house trained, taught to walk on leash, and follow basic commands. If you rescue an older dog, they may need to be trained as well, especially while they get used to the members of your household such as children or other pets.  Will you have the time and skills to train the dog on your own or will need to hire a trainer?  Many people bring their puppies to puppy school. Find out how much all your training options are before committing to the purchase.

What breed of dog (or other pet) will you get?

Some breeds have a predisposition to illness and genetic diseases such as hip dysplasia. Other breeds are known to have allergies that will require more expensive food and treats.  For this reason, mixed breeds may be more desirable than pure breeds.  Learn as much as you can about the breed you are interested in and then speak to veterinarians or friends who have owned that breed to estimate how much a serious medical condition may cost.

Holding a puppy, kitten or other adorable pet in your arms or bringing a new furry family member into your home is exciting and wonderful.  To ensure that feeling lasts, this addition should not cause you to go into debt.  Do your homework, and once you know you can afford it, then you can start to figure out a fun way to surprise someone with a new family member!