MoneySaving for dog owners

Incl how to cut costs, adopt from a shelter & 'borrow' a dog

MoneySaving for dog owners

They say dogs are man's best friend, but getting one can be a huge commitment  for you and your wallet. This guide explains how to work out if a dog is right for you, and if it is, how to choose the right one which is also affordable. Plus we've tips to cut the cost of food, vet bills, pet insurance and more.

In this guide

This is the first incarnation of this guide. Leading animal welfare charity the PDSA (the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals) has kindly reviewed it to ensure it's safe and accurate. Please give us feedback, suggest improvements and share your tips in the MoneySaving for dog owners forum thread.

Most of the cute doggies pictured in this guide belong to the MSE team, or their friends and family. Thanks to all those who provided pics...

How to choose the right four-legged friend

If you've decided you're ready for a dog, you'll need to think about what type is right for you and your family. Choosing the right dog is about far more than just saving money  you'll need to consider what size dog you can handle, how much exercise and grooming it might need, and what age you should go for.

If you choose to adopt a dog from a rescue centre (see where to get your dog from below), the staff should be able to help you decide which dog is right for you. But it's worth spending some time thinking about the following questions before you visit...

Should I get a puppy or an adult dog?

Puppies are generally more in demand than fully grown dogs – which means they're more expensive. If you're buying from a breeder, the difference can be £100s – for example we've seen Kennel Club-registered Labrador retriever puppies advertised for £650-£1,200, while an adult dog of the same breed was advertised for £500.

Even if you get a puppy from a rescue centre, you'll notice the difference. For example, animal charity the Blue Cross charges £180 for adult dogs but £200 for puppies up to four months old. Dogs Trust charges £150 for adult dogs and £195 for puppies up to six months (which includes a £45 mandatory training school fee for new owners).

Even more important than the cost though is the suitability for your lifestyle. Puppies might be cute, but they grow up quicker than children and need almost as much attention. If you have a busy lifestyle and aren't able to be at home during the day, a fully grown dog may be a better option. What's more, there are lots of fully grown dogs in rescue centres waiting for a home while puppies are snapped up faster than you can say "walkies!"

If you do decide to get an adult dog from a rescue centre, you could choose an 'older' dog (generally defined as a dog over seven years old, though it depends on the breed). Charities say older dogs are often overlooked but make ideal pets for some people. They're likely to be calmer and less energetic than younger dogs, and are also more likely to be house-trained and know basic commands. See this Dogs Trust factsheet for more info.

What size and breed of dog should I get?

Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and you'll need to choose the right one for you – a Great Dane probably isn't the best choice if you live in a tiny flat with no garden, while a Chihuahua might struggle to keep up if you plan on taking it for long runs. Their appetites will likely vary too, which could mean a big difference in food costs over your pet's lifetime, while certain medical costs such as neutering also vary according to size.

Quick questions

  • Dogs fall into two categories – pedigrees and crossbreeds:

    • Pedigree dogs have parents of the same breed – and are usually more expensive. According to the RSPCA, a pedigree dog has parents of the same breed, and is registered with a recognised club or society that keeps a register of different dog breeds (the Kennel Club is the best known). You may also hear the word 'purebred', which means the dog has parents of the same breed but isn't registered.

      Pedigree puppies are usually bought from breeders (though there are some specific pedigree rehoming schemes run by rescue centres) and can be expensive – for example, we've seen Kennel-Club-registered pug puppies going for over £1,000. Pedigree dogs are generally more expensive than crossbreeds, because they've been specifically bred, and are in high demand with dog owners who want a pet with a certain appearance/temperament.

      There are a number of health issues and risks to consider if you choose a pedigree dog. Some have been bred to have certain physical features, which may cause them pain. For example, the RSPCA says pugs and French bulldogs, which have been bred to have short, flat faces, often have narrow nostrils and abnormal windpipes. Many of these dogs have breathing difficulties, struggle with exercise and may require specialist surgery to correct their airways – the PDSA says owners could rack up £1,000s in vet bills.

      Others can be prone to inherited disorders or diseases. The RSPCA recommends you find out what health or behavioural problems a dog might be prone to, as a result of its breed.

    • Crossbred dogs have parents of different breeds – and tend to be cheaper. Sometimes referred to as 'mongrels', crossbreed dogs are usually cheaper to buy than pedigree dogs, as they're more likely to be the result of an unplanned litter. It's worth noting 'designer' crossbreeds (such as labradoodles) are increasingly popular though, and can be as expensive as pedigree dogs.

      Crossbred dogs live longer on average and have fewer issues than purebred dogs. This means they're less likely to require expensive treatment at the vets, although of course this can't be guaranteed. 
  • There are 221 different breeds currently recognised by the Kennel Club. Its Breed Information Centre gives key information on each breed, including size, lifespan, how much exercise and grooming it needs, and what size home and garden would be best for it.

    You'll see that some breeds can take a bit more work, and need more space, than others. For example, if you're considering a border collie, you'll need to bear in mind it will need grooming more than once a week and needs more than two hours of exercise each day. It also needs to live in a house with a large garden - so a flat won't be big enough.

    A Jack Russell terrier, on the other hand, only needs grooming once a week and up to one hour of exercise a day. It's small enough to live in a flat and doesn't need a garden.

    Here's the key info on some common dog breeds (and if you're reading this on a mobile phone, swipe right to see the full table):

    Common dog breeds in the UK

      SIZE AVERAGE LIFESPAN
    EXERCISE NEEDED (PER DAY)
    LENGTH OF COAT
    GROOMING NEEDED SHEDS HAIR?
    MIN HOME SIZE
    MIN GARDEN SIZE
    Chihuahua (smooth coat)
    Small 12+ years
    Up to 30 mins
    Short Once a week
    Yes Flat None
    Yorkshire terrier
    Small 12+ years
    Up to 30 mins
    Long Every day No Flat None
    Jack Russell terrier
    Small 10+ years
    Up to 1 hour
    Short Once a week
    Yes Flat None
    Staffordshire bull terrier
    Small 12+ years
    Up to 1 hour
    Short Once a week
    Yes Small house
    Small/ medium
    Border collie
    Medium 12+ years
    More than 2 hours
    Medium More than once a week
    Yes Small house
    Large
    Springer spaniel
    Medium 10+ years
    More than 2 hours
    Medium More than once a week Yes Small house
    Large
    Poodle Medium 12+ years
    Up to 1 hour
    Medium Every day No Large house
    Small/ medium
    Labrador retriever
    Large 10+ years
    More than 2 hours
    Short Once a week Yes Large house
    Large
    Great Dane
    Large Under 10 years
    More than 2 hours
    Short Once a week Yes Large house
    Large

    Information taken from the Kennel Club, June 2019.

    If you haven't got a particular breed in mind, try the Kennel Club's Find A Breed tool to help you work out which type of dog best matches your lifestyle.

  • The term 'designer' is sometimes used for a type of dog that has become popular in recent years, particularly with celebrities. These are technically crossbreeds but they have purebred parents (of different breeds). For example, 'Labradoodles' are a mix of Labrador and poodle, and 'puggles' are a mix of pug and beagle.

    Like pedigrees, designer dogs can be pricey and are susceptible to health issues. The Kennel Club says that any responsible breeder should undertake health tests prior to breeding a litter – see more on health tests below.

  • Certain breeds of dog are banned in the UK by the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. It's against the law to sell, abandon, give away or breed from a banned dog. What's more, if you have a banned dog, the police or council dog warden can take it away, even if it isn't acting dangerously and no one's made a complaint.

    The four breeds banned in the UK are:

    • Pit bull terrier
    • Japanese Tosa
    • Dogo Argentino
    • Fila Brasileiro

    Bear in mind that whether your dog is a banned type depends on what it looks like, rather than its breed or name. So if your dog matches many of the characteristics of a pit bull terrier, it may be classed as a banned type.

    You can get an unlimited fine or be sent to prison for up to six months (or both) for having a banned dog. Your dog will also be put down. See Gov.uk for more info.

  • The Kennel Club groups breeds into seven categories, based on their original purpose (most types of dog were bred to have a working function). These are:

    • Gundog (eg, spaniel, pointer, retriever). These dogs were originally trained to help hunters retrieve animals that had been shot. The group is further divided into four categories: retrievers, spaniels, hunt/point/retrieve and pointers and setters.

    • Hound (eg, beagle, greyhound, whippet). These breeds were also originally used for hunting, some by scent and others by sight. Scent hounds include beagles and bloodhounds – sight hounds include whippets and greyhounds.

    • Pastoral (eg, collie, sheepdog, samoyed). These are herding dogs bred to work with cattle, sheep, reindeer and other animals. Usually has a weatherproof 'double coat' to protect it from severe weather conditions. 

    • Terrier (eg, bull terrier, Jack Russell, Irish terrier). Originally used for hunting vermin. They were bred to be extremely brave and tough, and to chase foxes, badgers, rats and otters above and below ground; the word terrier comes from the French for 'earth', 'terre'.

    • Toy (eg, Chihuahua, Pomeranian, pug). Toy breeds are small companion or lapdogs. Many were bred for this, although some have been placed into this category simply due to their size.

    • Utility (eg, poodle, Dalmatian, shih tzu). This group includes miscellaneous breeds that have been bred to perform a specific function, which isn't included in the sporting and working categories. Eg, bulldogs were bred to bait bulls, poodles to be water retrievers for duck hunters.

    • Working (eg, Great Dane, boxer, Dobermann). These have been bred to work, eg, as guard dogs or search and rescue dogs.

Where's the best place to get a new pooch?

There are a few different routes you can go down to buy or adopt a dog, and they vary wildly in price. We've seen pedigree Labrador puppies advertised for up to £1,200, and pug puppies up to £1,400. At the other end of the scale, the Dogs Trust charges £150 when you adopt a dog from one of its rehoming centres, and some local rescue centres may charge even less.

You can sometimes also take on a dog for free – for example, if you came to an agreement with someone whose pooch has had an unexpected litter of puppies, or needs to rehome their dog because of ill health, allergies or they're moving. However, be very wary of online adverts offering puppies for free, as this could be because the puppy has health issues, which could land you with high vet bills. Always check a breeder is responsible before committing to taking on a puppy.

Here are the main ways to buy a dog:

Rescue centres. These are animal shelters run by charities or councils, which take in unwanted or abandoned animals and rehome them where possible. Most charge a fee, typically between £100 and £200, which covers the cost of the dog's care during its stay at the centre. For more info, see adopting a rescue dog below. 

Responsible breeders. People who intentionally mate dogs to sell puppies are called breeders. There are plenty of responsible breeders who put the dogs' welfare first, but you need to watch out for dodgy ones who are just out to make profit. Prices vary depending on breed, but we've seen pedigree puppies advertised for anything from £300 to £2,000. For more info, see buying from a breeder below. 

Pet shops. It's currently legal to sell puppies in UK pet shops, but the Government plans to ban this from April 2020, and even now, animal charities don't advise you buy your dog in this way. There's a risk the puppies come from 'puppy farms' and they can have health and behavioural issues as a result (see our warning about puppy farms below). The PDSA also adds that shops aren't good environments for puppies, as they wouldn't be as well socialised as those living in a family home.

How to adopt a rescue dog

There are many rescue centres around the country which rehome unwanted and abandoned dogs. And unless you're absolutely set on getting a very specific or rare kind of pedigree puppy, there's a good chance you'll find the right dog for you in a rescue centre if you're patient. Dogs need rehoming for all sorts of reasons, so rescue centres care for puppies and pedigree dogs as well as crossbreeds. 

  • Before visiting a shelter or committing to rescue a dog, it's worth checking whether the centre is a member of the Association of Dogs' and Cats' Homes (click 'show more' on its website to see the list of full members). Alternatively you can simply visit the shelter to check the conditions are of a high standard. The PDSA says you should look for a rehoming centre which:

    • Keeps the pets in a good standard of living. For example, animals should be clean, dry, safe, offered a comfy bed, healthy (or under a vet's care if not), offered toys and games, fed predictably, generally want to interact with staff, walked daily and given training to keep their minds active. Staff should be kind, knowledgeable, train and supervise volunteers appropriately and ideally have certifications in animal care.

    • Checks the homes of prospective adopters.

    • Includes neutering as part of their adoption process.

    • Does health and temperament testing prior to rehoming.

Which major charities run rescue centres?

We've listed some of the bigger charities below with centres around the country, but there are likely to be smaller shelters in your area which are also worth checking out. To find them, search online for 'dog rescue centres' or 'dog shelters' in your area – although the PDSA recommends ensuring you're adopting from a reputable shelter (as, in theory, anyone could set one up, including puppy farmers).

RSPCA

The RSPCA currently has 59 animal rehoming centres across England and Wales, and rehomes all sorts of animals, including dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, horses and reptiles.

Each centre sets its own adoption fee, but the RSPCA says this ranges from about £135 for adult dogs to £200 for puppies under six months old. All dogs are neutered, vaccinated and microchipped before being rehomed. You'll also get six weeks of 'free' pet insurance.

The 59 centres include 17 regional centres run by the main RSPCA, and 42 run by local RSPCA 'branches' – separately registered charities run by volunteers. Find your nearest RSPCA centre.

Dogs Trust

The Dogs Trust is a dog welfare charity with 20 centres across the UK.

It charges an adoption fee of £150 (£140 in Ballymena) for adult dogs, and £195 for puppies aged up to six months. All dogs are neutered, microchipped, vaccinated and have a complete health check before they're rehomed. You'll also get a collar, lead and four weeks' 'free' pet insurance.

Once you've adopted a dog, Dogs Trust says you'll be able to access advice from the centre team for the rest of the dog's life. Find your nearest Dogs Trust centre.

Blue Cross

Blue Cross has 12 dog rehoming centres across England and Wales. Many also care for all sorts of other animals, including cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas.

There's an adoption fee of £180 for adult dogs, and £200 for puppies up to four months old. All dogs are vaccinated, microchipped, wormed and neutered before being rehomed. Find your nearest Blue Cross rehoming centre.

Kennel Club Breed Rescue

The Kennel Club is an organisation that promotes dog health, welfare and training across the UK. It runs the UK's largest registration database for pedigree and crossbreed dogs (it also runs Crufts each year, the world's largest dog event).

If you have your heart set on a certain breed but also want to offer a home to a rescue dog, the Kennel Club has a network of breed rescue organisations which rehome pedigree dogs.

Use the breed rescue directory on its website to find contact details for organisations that care for different breeds. There's no guarantee that a dog of the breed you want will be available, but it's worth getting in touch to ask, as well as checking for your chosen breed in your local rescue shelter.

Council kennels

You may be able to adopt a stray dog from your local council. The law says that dogs kept in council-run kennels can be rehomed if they haven't been claimed by their owners within seven days (five in Northern Ireland).

Each council operates differently: some rehome the dogs themselves, others work with dog rehoming charities. Visit your council's website to see if it offers a dog rehoming service. They usually charge a fee to cover the cost of caring for the dog while it's been in the kennel.

For example, Swansea Council says it charges £95 to rehome a stray dog. Hull City Council also rehomes stray dogs from its kennels, and asks for a £110 donation for adopting a dog.

Is it safe to adopt a rescue dog?

A common worry about adopting a rescue dog is that your new pet might have behavioural issues, possibly as a result of being badly treated in the past. However, the PDSA says reputable centres will have 'temperament-tested' the dogs and be aware of any issues (meaning there should be no surprises once you've taken your dog home). This is one reason to make sure you adopt from a responsible rescue centre.

It's also worth noting not all dogs in rescue centres have been badly treated or abandoned. There will be many that come from loving homes, and have only been given up as a result of ill health or a change in circumstance, such as their owner moving abroad.

The level of training each dog has received can vary, but staff at the rescue centre should be happy to discuss your individual needs and which dog is most suited to you and your family, especially if you have children.

How to buy from a breeder

Buying a pedigree puppy from a breeder is rarely MoneySaving and there's lots to watch out for if you decide to go down this route. But if you're after a specific breed and don't mind spending more, you may choose to go this way.

You can find adverts for puppies in lots of places, from online classified sites to adverts in shop windows. But not all of them are legitimate, so you need to watch out for scams and ensure the breeder is responsible.

Avoid puppy farms. The Kennel Club says these are places where dogs are bred for profit with little regard for the welfare of puppies or parents. Puppies are often removed from their mothers too early and are likely to have health and temperament problems.
 

Warning signs include not being allowed to see the puppy with its mother (which suggests it may have been born elsewhere), a breeder selling multiple breeds at once, offering to meet you anywhere other than their home (eg, a service station) or pushing you to make a decision right away.

A good place to start is the Kennel Club's Find a Puppy section, where breeders can list puppies for sale. Only Kennel Club-registered puppies can be listed, and breeders who advertise on it are expected to adhere to the organisation's code of ethics. For additional reassurance that all health tests have been done, the PDSA recommends choosing a member of the Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme.

You can also find puppies advertised for sale on online classified sites such as Gumtree and Preloved*, as well as pet-specific classified sites such as Pets4Homes. But charities such as Dogs Trust warn against buying pets from there. Remember, anyone can advertise on these sites, so it's vital to make sure you're buying a genuine pedigree dog from a responsible breeder. 

New laws came into force in 2018 to ensure puppies aren't removed from their mothers before they're at least eight weeks old, and a good breeder won't let a puppy go till then anyway – some prefer to wait 12 weeks. They should also want to meet and interview you to ensure the puppy is going to a good home. 

Make sure you see the puppy in its breeding environment and ask to look at the kennelling conditions if they weren't raised within the breeder's home. If you suspect the conditions aren't right, don't buy from that breeder.

Sign a 'puppy contract'

A number of organisations and animal welfare charities (including Blue Cross, the British Veterinary Association, Dogs Trust, the Kennel Club, the PDSA and the RSPCA) have come together to create The Puppy Contract, which you can download for free and sign with your breeder.

It's designed to encourage responsible breeding (and buying) of puppies, and ensure you have all the information you need to make an informed decision, eg, details of the puppy's parents, medical history and life so far. It's a legal document, so if your puppy ends up needing vet care due to undisclosed medical issues, you can use it to reclaim the costs from the breeder.

  • Dogs Trust suggests you ask the following 13 questions to ensure you're getting your puppy from a responsible breeder:
     
    1. Can I see the puppies with their mum?
    2. How old are the puppies?
    3. Are the puppies weaned?
    4. How old is the mum?
    5. How many litters has the mum had?
    6. Have the puppies been wormed?
    7. Have the puppies had any vaccinations? If so, when is the next dose due?
    8. Does the puppy look healthy – clean eyes, ears and bottom?
    9. What should I feed my puppy? Do you have a diet sheet to take away?
    10. What sort of socialisation or experiences has the puppy had so far?
    11. Can I return the puppy if there are any health problems?
    12. Is the puppy Kennel Club-registered?
    13. When can I take the puppy home?

    See the Dogs Trust website for more advice on buying from a breeder.

  • Responsible breeders should ensure the puppies' parents have been screened for any inherited problems known to be prevalent in that breed. Make sure you ask the breeder if they have done this before you buy from them.

    There are DNA tests that can be done to detect certain diseases in purebred dogs, but these are only available for some conditions in some breeds. There are also a number of clinical veterinary screening schemes that dog breeders can use to increase the probability of producing healthy puppies.

    You should also take your puppy to a vet within 48 hours of bringing it home, and go back to the breeder if any health issues are found (remember, a good breeder will take the puppy back if there are any issues).

    • DNA tests. These screen for particular conditions or diseases known to be a problem in a breed. Results show whether a dog is affected by the condition or a carrier (may pass it on to puppies). This is very useful information for breeders, and breeding advice varies depending on the disease/condition.

    • Hip scores. A hip score is a measure of evidence of abnormal development in a dog's hips (called 'hip dysplasia'). Scores for each hip are added together to get an overall score for a dog. Scores range from 0 to 106, and the lower, the better. The advice to breeders is ideally to breed only from dogs that score below the breed average.

    • Elbow grade. Similar to a hip score, an elbow grade is a measure of any evidence of abnormal development in a dog's elbows (called 'elbow dysplasia'). Both elbows are graded (between 0 and 3), but only the highest grade is used as an overall elbow grade for the dog. The lower the grade, the better, and the advice to breeders is ideally to breed only from dogs with an elbow grade of 0 or 1.

    • Eye screening. There is a set list of eye conditions that are known to be inherited in certain breeds and that are certified under a scheme run by the British Veterinary Association, Kennel Club and International Sheep Dog Society. A dog is certified as unaffected or affected for each condition known to be inherited in the breed.

    For more information on health tests for pedigree dogs, see the Kennel Club.

  • The Kennel Club is an organisation dedicated to dogs' wellbeing. It registers over 250,000 pedigree dogs every year, as well as crossbreeds. Registration provides a record of a puppy's birth as well as a number of benefits for dog owners. The Kennel Club says one such benefit is that you know the dog will display the characteristics of the breed you want, in looks and behaviour.

    Consider looking for a breeder who is part of the Kennel Club's Assured Breeder Scheme, which promotes good breeding practice and aims to work with breeders and buyers to force irresponsible breeders out of business. However, Kennel Club registration alone doesn't guarantee that a breeder is responsible. 

Beware of dog buying scams. Action Fraud says it received over 5,000 reports of fake pet ads between 2012 and 2018, and victims reported losing over £3 million in total. A common scam is fraudsters posting adverts online for non-existent puppies, using photos stolen from other websites. They make excuses for you not to view the puppy, and once you've paid, they disappear and no puppy materialises.


ALWAYS make sure you see the puppy before any money changes hands (as well as checking you're buying from a responsible breeder). Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. See 30+ Ways To Stop Scams for more tips.

How to save on dog costs (and avoid ending up with your financial tail between your legs)

From vet bills and vaccinations to boarding your dog in kennels when you go away, there are all kinds of expenses to consider when it comes to owning a dog. Here are some ways to cut the cost – with input from dog-loving Forumites on the Pets & Pet Care forum board.

Dog food – expensive, but easy to make savings

This is likely to be one of your biggest ongoing costs when you own a dog. But just as with human food, it's an area where you can save if you're a savvy shopper:

  • If you're buying dog food from a supermarket, look out for offers and stock up when it's cheapest. You could also look into buying in bulk online or from pet superstores. For example, a quick search on Google Shopping found a 14kg bag of Bakers Complete dry dog food for £13.99 online from one pet store, compared with £18 for a 12kg bag at Tesco.

    See our Supermarket Shopping guide for tips and check out our Supermarket Coupons page for occasional discounts and freebies. 

  • Some dog owners in the forum say their local pet store will beat online prices for people buying in bulk.

  • Forumites report getting scraps from their butchers and fishmongers for free, or for a very cheap price.

  • There's a growing trend for feeding dogs an all-raw diet (eg, raw meat, fish and veg), instead of specially formulated dog food. Some owners say this can work out cheaper, but it's important to ensure your pooch is getting all the nutrients it needs and isn't at risk of infections. The RSPCA recommends speaking to your vet before you go down this route.

ALWAYS ensure you don't feed dogs anything that could harm them. This includes chocolate, garlic, onion, raisins, avocado and cooked bones. See this Dogs Trust factsheet for other foods to avoid.

Dog walkers – compare prices and ask for reviews

Hiring a dog walker can be handy if you can't be at home to walk your dog during the day (and can afford to pay someone else to do it). Walkers typically charge £5-£10 a walk, though it can cost more if you request a solo walk (rather than your dog being taken as part of a group).

Here are some ways to save on costs, and to make sure you're entrusting your dog to a responsible walker:

  • You'll likely find adverts for dog walkers posted locally  check your vet surgery noticeboard, and newsagents etc too. But it's also worth trying dedicated websites.

    Tailster, for example, matches you with a dog walker and provides live photo updates and GPS-tracked walks (so you know exactly how much exercise your pooch has had). And Pawshake is a more general pet-sitting site which can help you find someone for doggy daycare, dog-walking and boarding.

    It's worth comparing prices at this stage. Cost may not be your primary consideration – your dog's welfare while it's in someone else's care is obviously paramount. But you'll be able to get a feel for what's typical in your area and what represents a good deal.

  • When it comes to trusting someone with your precious pooch, it's about more than just the price. Getting reviews from other owners can help ensure you find a responsible dog walker.

    It's also worth asking for recommendations from neighbours and on local Facebook groups. They may well know a dog walker who's suitable  and those dependent on word-of-mouth recommendations are likely to be reliable and trustworthy.

  • Forumites say you should always meet a dog walker before you commit to hiring them (and most good dog walkers will suggest this anyway). See how they interact with your dog, and trust your instincts when making your decision. You could also consider going for a 'test walk' to see how well they get on with your pup.

  • Professional dog walkers need public-liability insurance, in case someone else is injured while they're taking care of a dog, or property is damaged. So make sure they're covered before you commit.

Planned vet bills – budget ahead and know what to expect

The cost of vet bills can vary hugely depending on the size of your dog and any health issues it may have, now and in future.

It's not always easy to predict how much you'll spend on vet bills over your dog's lifetime, but there are certain costs which every dog owner will need to consider:

  • Vaccinations help dogs remain free of infectious diseases, and prevent them passing these on. This isn't a cost you can avoid – you'll end up paying a lot more if your dog gets sick. But Forumites say it's worth calling around vet practices to compare prices.

    Puppies need to be vaccinated by a vet when they're old enough, and most dogs require yearly 'boosters' after that. Rescue dogs will usually be vaccinated already – this is one reason why centres charge an adoption fee. But you should always check what further vaccinations your pet might need. 

    The RSPCA says your dog needs to be protected from four main diseases:

    • Canine parvovirus
    • Canine distemper
    • Leptospirosis
    • Canine hepatitis

    However, you should speak to your vet about any other vaccinations your dog might need, eg, kennel cough if they're going to be staying in kennels while you're away. See the RSPCA's vaccination advice for more information.

  • A microchip is an electronic identification device which is implanted just under your dog's skin. Each chip has a unique number, which can be detected using a microchip scanner. Microchipping gives your dog the best chance of being returned if it gets lost or stolen.

    It usually costs £15-£20 at a vet's practice, but some charities will microchip your dog for free (though please donate if you can). For example, the Dogs Trust holds events across the UK offering free health checks, microchipping and other advice. See Gov.uk for a list of places which offer free microchipping.

    You can be fined up to £500 if your dog isn't microchipped. All dogs have to be microchipped since the law changed in April 2016. Owners who fail to comply with the new law risk a fine of up to £500, though they'll first be given 21 days to get their dog microchipped and avoid having to pay it.

  • This is the surgical removal of reproductive organs in male and female dogs. It can improve the overall behaviour and health of your dog, and the cost of neutering will far outweigh the cost of an unplanned litter of puppies. See the Dogs Trust website for more advice on the benefits of neutering.

    The exact price will depend on the size and sex of your dog. If you receive certain benefits, you may be able to have your dog neutered for just £35 by the Dogs Trust – see more on low-cost neutering below.

While some of the costs outlined above are one-offs, even if your dog isn't sick, bear in mind you'll still need to take it to the vet regularly for check-ups and booster vaccinations – usually once a year.

Typically check-ups can cost about £35, though the cost of an annual check-up is included with a vaccination appointment, so check if your vet offers this. Again, it's worth comparing prices with a few vet practices.

Dental bills – keep them down by keeping your dog's teeth healthy

You should check your dog's teeth regularly for plaque or infection. Treatment for gum and tooth disease can cost from £200-£300, so to avoid getting hit with a hefty dental bill (which may not be covered by pet insurance) make sure you look after those gnashers on a daily basis.

You can brush your dog's teeth (yes, really) every day using a special dog toothpaste. But providing lots of opportunities for your dog to chew, especially after meals, can also keep its teeth healthy. You can buy special chews for this, though the PDSA says not all chews are proven to work and they can be high calorie, so speak to your vet for recommendations rather than relying on marketing claims. 

Grooming – daily care can cut costs

Some types of dog have fur that needs professional grooming. But to minimise the cost, make sure you give your dog the daily care it needs.

Brush its coat regularly – doing this at least once a day will prevent you from having to fork out for grooming too often. And make sure you walk your dog on hard surfaces. Walking on pavements or concrete paths at least once a day will help keep their nails short. 

You can also learn to cut your dog's nails at home. Simply ask a vet, nurse or groomer to show you how. 

Accessories and toys – lots of ways to save

Like kids, dogs don't need fancy toys or clothes to have fun. They'll be happy with a few simple toys and to spend time with you. Many doggy accessories are marketed to encourage owners to spend unnecessarily (ask yourself  does your dog really need a designer bandana, or its own mini-sofa?).

Here are a few ways to save:

  • You can buy stuffed toys from charity shops and jumble sales, but make sure to remove any eyes, noses or buttons that could be swallowed. Most pound stores sell cheap chew toys and tennis balls (so you can stock up if your dog loves playing fetch).

  • There's no need to fork out on a posh bed for your pooch. Your dog will be just as comfy sleeping on a duvet folded up on the floor. If you don't have an old one, it can still work out cheaper to buy a basic supermarket duvet and cover than a dog bed. Forumites also recommend using old cot mattresses and army surplus blankets.

  • By law, your dog needs to wear a collar in public displaying your name and address (it also needs to be microchipped). You'll need a lead too, so you can take your pooch for a walk safely. Dogs don't care how they look, so check out supermarkets and discount shops for cheaper options.

    Many owners attach an engraved identity tag to their dog's collar. However, the PDSA suggests a cheaper option can be to write on the collar using a permanent marker (or even embroider your details). Another option is an ID barrel – these attach to the collar and hold a small piece of paper, which you can write your details on. This makes it easy (and cheap) to change if you move home.

  • You need to get the right equipment to keep your dog safe when on the road, as well as avoiding any distractions for the driver. Speak to your vet, or staff at your local pet store, to make sure you get the right equipment for the size of your dog (and your car), but make sure you compare prices online before you buy. You may also want to buy car-seat covers, to protect from dog hair and muddy paws.

  • The basics include a special dog brush/comb, dog shampoo, nail clippers and towels (you can save by using old towels, though make sure you know which are which – you don't want to accidentally offer guests a 'dog towel'). Keeping your dog well groomed will save you money in the long run, as you won't have to fork out on taking your pooch to a posh pet salon.

  • You need to clean up after your dog in public places  this means keeping a stash of 'poo bags' on you at all times (small plastic bags, similar to nappy sacks, which you use to transfer dog mess into a special bin).

    Some councils give them out free at vet surgeries, council offices and libraries. But if yours doesn't, try looking in discount stores such as Poundland, Home Bargains or Aldi. Forumites also recommend using nappy sacks or sandwich bags, which can work out cheaper.

Going away? See if someone you know will dog-sit for free

If you're going on holiday, or away overnight, you'll need to arrange for someone to look after, feed and walk your dog. Boarding kennels or professional pet-sitters are an obvious option but can be pricey: you'll often pay £12-£16 a night depending on the area and size of your dog.

It's worth trying to club together with other dog owners in your area – if they're willing, you may be able to agree to dog-sit for each other for free.

Alternatively, turn to friends or family. If you live in a nice area, some MoneySavers suggest offering your friends or family a free 'holiday' in your home. The idea is they get to stay somewhere new for free, and you get someone to take care of your dog. Or you can arrange for them to 'borrow' your dog while you're away, and have it stay in their home. This can work particularly well if they're wondering whether to get a dog of their own.

For more tips on saving money on doggy essentials, take a look at the Pets & Pet Care forum board.

Should I get pet insurance?

There's no NHS for pets, so if your dog gets sick you could be hit with a hefty vet's bill. You'll need to consider if it's worth paying for pet insurance (an alternative is to set up a fund in a savings account for emergencies). 

Without cover or savings you may be faced with a difficult choice between finding the medical fees or putting down a much-loved pet (though also see our tips below for what to do if you're struggling with the cost of a dog).

The aim of pet insurance is to cover the cost of unforeseen illness and injury – the average claim has hit a whopping £757 according to the industry body the Association of British Insurers. Here's how you can save on the cost:

It's also well worth making sure you get the right insurance for you and your pet, as some basic policies have a time limit for treatment per condition of a year, and a maximum payout. If your dog has a reoccuring or chronic condition, you may be better off with a more comprehensive policy.

See our Cheap Pet Insurance guide for the full lowdown if you decide to go down that route, including what to watch out for if your pup has a pre-existing condition.

How to cut the cost of taking your dog abroad

If you're planning to take your dog overseas, you must abide by the laws of the country you're travelling to, as well as ensure you follow the UK's rules for bringing your dog back. You can face fines, and even have your dog put down, if you don't obey the rules.

Laws vary depending on the country you're travelling to, so check with your vet before you go. Most EU countries will have similar requirements to the UK (see what do I need to travel back to the UK? below) – though this could change with Brexit, and the Government has warned if there's a no-deal Brexit, you may need to plan four months ahead to take your pet abroad.

Quick questions
  • To return to the UK your dog must be microchipped, vaccinated against rabies and have a pet passport. It will usually need a tapeworm treatment too. If you don't follow these rules, your dog may be put in quarantine for up to four months, and you'll be responsible for any fees.

  • Pet passports list the different treatments your dog has had. You can only get a pet passport from certain vets – if yours doesn't issue them, ask it for the nearest that does or contact the Animal and Plant Health Agency.

    The cost varies depending on the vet, but is usually between £100 and £200. Check different vets' fees to make sure you get the best price. You need a pet passport if your dog will be travelling:

    • To the UK from an EU country, or another country the UK accepts pet passports from (see the full list on Gov.uk).

    • From the UK to a country outside the EU, or to a country the UK doesn't accept a pet passport from, and then returning to the UK – you can't do this after your pet's rabies vaccination has expired.

How to care for your dog if you are struggling with costs

Circumstances change, so even though you should ensure you can afford the ongoing costs of a dog before committing to owning one, there are charities that can help with vet care etc if you find yourself struggling financially after you've got your dog. And, although this is a last resort for most people, there are also charities that will rehome your dog if you're unable to afford the costs.

RSPCA: Low-cost vet care and free neutering

The RSPCA helps with low-cost vet care for people in need of financial support. Eligibility criteria may vary slightly, as each RSPCA branch is registered as a separate charity. For example, at its Greater Manchester Branch you'll need proof that you're on one of the eligible benefits, as well as proof of address (to ensure you live in the branch's catchment area) and valid ID.

Clinics run by the charity generally have a heavily subsidised consultation fee and the cost of any drugs and treatment is subsidised further. You may also be able to get free neutering. Check with your local RSPCA to see if you're eligible for low-cost vet care.

Blue Cross: Free veterinary services

Blue Cross says its veterinary services are available to pets whose owners are on certain means-tested benefits. You also need to live in a catchment area – check the Blue Cross website to see if it covers where you live.

    • Pension credit (not the standard state pension)
    • Housing benefit
    • Income support
    • Working tax credit (not child tax credit)
    • Council tax benefit (not 25% single person discount)
    • Income-based jobseeker's allowance
    • Income-based employment support
    • Support allowance universal credit

PDSA: Low-cost or free vet services

To qualify for PDSA financial support you'll need to be receiving eligible benefits and live in a catchment area of a PDSA pet hospital or clinic. Fill in the PDSA eligibility form to check if you qualify.

  • To qualify for PDSA's low-cost vet services, you need to receive one or more of the following benefits:

    • Child tax and working tax credits
    • Universal credit (without housing element)
    • Pension credit
    • Income support
    • Jobseeker's allowance
    • Employment and support allowance (formerly incapacity benefit)
    • Disability living allowance/personal independence payment
    • State-retired pensioners in council tax bands A-D are also eligible (state-retired pensioners in Northern Ireland need to call the PDSA helpline on 0800 731 2502 for more details)

    To qualify for free vet services, you need to receive one or more of the following benefits:

    • Housing benefit (means-tested help with your rent)
    • Council tax support/reduction scheme (means-tested help with your council tax)
    • Universal credit with a housing element

    PDSA's free vet service is only available for one pet per person. But if you have more than one, you can register additional pets for its low-cost service.

Dogs Trust: Low-cost neutering

Dogs Trust offers neutering for £50 (normally £100-£300) to people living in certain areas, who are receiving means-tested benefits and own dogs of certain breeds.

  • The service is available if you receive any of these means-tested benefits:

    • Income support
    • Jobseeker's allowance
    • Employment and support allowance
    • Child tax credit
    • Working tax credit
    • Housing benefit
    • Council tax reduction/support
    • Universal credit
    • Pension credit
    • Tenant of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive
    • Akita
    • American bulldog
    • Border collie
    • German shepherd
    • Greyhound
    • Husky
    • Jack Russell terrier
    • Lurcher
    • Malamute
    • Mastiff
    • Rottweiler
    • Samoyed
    • Staffordshire bull terrier

    Crossbreeds are also eligible if one of the breeds is identifiable as one of these.

  • North of England: BB, BD, BL, CA, CH, CW, DH, DL, DN, FY, HD, HG, HU, HX, L, LA, LS,  M, NE, OL, PR, S, SK, SR, ST7, ST8, TD, TS, WA, WF, WN, YO

    Wales: CF, CH5, CH6, CH7, CH8, HR (Hay-on-Wye), LD, LL, NP, SA, SY

    Northern Ireland: BT

How to rehome your dog

It's not an easy decision to make, but if you really can't afford to care for your dog, or your circumstances have changed significantly, there are charities that can help you rehome your pet.

Blue CrossDogs Trust and the RSPCA all recommend getting in touch with your local rehoming centre to check if it has space available. It's free to hand over your dog, but donations are welcome.

These centres strongly recommend you bring your dog in directly – never, ever abandon a dog in the hope it will be found and taken in, even outside a rehoming centre. Not only is this stressful for the dog and dangerous (as it could escape), it also means the adoption process will take longer as the centre has no history or medical records.

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