Marty Becker's Advice to Understanding 'Your Dog'

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How much does it cost to keep a dog? Trade groups that track these things put the start up cost after adopting a dog (which doesn't account for the cost of purchase or adoption) at an average of about $1,000, with annual upkeep of about $700 a year. Bear in mind two things: first, that costs are often higher in urban areas and on both coasts, and less expensive in rural areas and in the Midwest and South; and second, that "average" includes people who frankly are barely spending enough on their dogs to keep from being hauled in by humane officers and charged with neglect.

If you opt for a high-quality diet (recommended), a solid preventive- care regimen from your veterinarian (also recommended) including parasite control (protecting your dog and your human family, too), along with some fun purchases that can also make your life easier and keep your home cleaner (fun? easy? you bet!), you can easily double those guesstimates—and still be hit with some big expenses that can be financially and emotionally devastating.

Is a dog worth it? That's a question only you can answer, but if you think you want to have a dog in your life, do be prepared to spend some money on your pet. A high-quality diet and good preventive care may seem like one area where you can scrimp, but it's really not. Taking good care of your dog every day is a good long-term strategy, not only for avoiding budget shock down the road but also for keeping your pet happier, healthier, and longer- lived.

Taking good care of your dog is a good investment, and it's a responsibility you owe to your dog. Cut the budget in other places if you must—your pet doesn't need a biker jacket or an expensive collar, and no dog was ever hurt by an owner who buys in bulk—but make sure you can cover the basics.

Calamity Coverage: The Time Is Now, For You, Your Pet—and Your Vet

As a veterinarian, I've seen too many pet owners faced with the worst choice of all: choosing euthanasia over treatment for no reason other than expense. There's even a term for it— economic euthanasia.

I don't want this to happen to you or any other pet lover, which is why I'm a firm advocate for pet health insurance. With so many good companies and such variety of choices available now, I've simply never been a bigger believer.

Truth to tell, I don't think there's a veterinarian alive who hasn't given away care, reduced the cost or offered payment options, but you can go only so far with that. After all, a veterinary hospital costs money to run, and as with all businesses those expenses go up all the time. Trust me when I say: if you were in it for the money rather than the emotional rewards, veterinary medicine would be a very poor choice of profession.

I'm not complaining. I'm just explaining why you need to think about what you'd do if you were facing a really big veterinary bill. Because you might need to, and your veterinarian can help only so much and no more. And even if you can come up with the money— on credit, for many people— is paying off that charge or loan a good plan for you down the road?

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