If the perfect pooches parading through Madison Square Garden don't tug at your heartstrings, the sad-eyed shelter dogs in the commercials during the 135th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show broadcasts Monday and Tuesday surely will.
Before you toss aside the remote and rush out to buy a dog, take some time to consider your total costs.
Even if you're not the type to spend $100 on sterling silver ID tags or $45 on a "pawdicure," there are unavoidable expenses. Go beyond the basics, and it's easy to start running up the credit card balance. "It's very dependent upon the kind of pet owner you are, and the kind of pet you have," said Betsy Banks Saul, founder of Petfinder.com, an online directory of pets awaiting adoption.
There are several ways to control your expenses, such as choosing lower cost food, skipping a professional groomer, and making toys and treats at home. Also keep in mind that larger dogs will eat more, and require higher doses of medication when they're sick.
Certain breeds can also be prone to specific health problems that can drive up vet expenses. All breeds can get hip dysplasia, a painful arthritic condition, for example, but it's most often seen among larger dogs like German Shepherds and Great Danes. "If you want to keep costs down, think small," Saul said.
Although the ultimate decision about getting a dog is an emotional one, there are both up-front costs and ongoing expenses to consider:
Obtaining the dog
A dog from a shelter or rescue group will usually cost between $100 and $250. This amount typically includes a checkup, spay or neutering and a microchip implant to ID your pet.
Buying a purebred from a breeder will usually run between $1,000 and $2,000, with prices depending on the dog's breed, lineage, popularity and other factors.
Animal advocates advise against buying dogs at pet stores. That's because it's harder to determine if they come from puppy mills, where dogs are more prone to health problems. A reputable seller will be willing to answer questions about a dog's origin. If questions are discouraged or you're given vague answers, go elsewhere.
Equipping the dog
A training crate is usually recommended, at least until the dog is housebroken. Crates range from about $50 to $150, depending on size and features.
You'll also see incredible price variations for necessities like bowls and leashes. Stainless steel bowls, for example, can be found for as little as $2.99 and will last for years. But there are endless opportunities to spend more. A Martha Stewart 3-piece set, complete with a base, bowl and snap-on lid, starts on PetSmart.com at $11.99. Or you can blow $255 on a "Wescott Dining Table" raised dog feeder at www.callingalldogs.com .
The same wide range applies to almost every type of product. In general, expect to spend $35 to $50 for a basic set of bowls, a simple leash and collar, a brush and a few toys at your local pet emporium.
Caring for the dog
The baseline costs for dog care come down to food and occasional vet appointments.
The choices for dog food run the gamut. At a supermarket, a 15 lb. bag of dry kibble will generally cost about $16.99. The same size bag of Wellness, a popular natural brand, costs $26.97 on Petco.com. That may be enough to feed a small dog for up to a month, but will likely cover two weeks or less for a big, active breed. Wet, or canned, food is generally more expensive than dry.
Consumer Reports has warned that there are no standards for "organic" or other descriptive words when it comes to pet food. A higher price may mean better ingredients or quality control, but doesn't guarantee better nutrition.
For vet care, expect to take a healthy dog for a checkup and vaccines at least once a year. Puppies will need an extra visit or two for vaccination boosters.
Vets often offer a discount to a new pet owner for an initial visit. Typically, an office visit is about $150 to $200, including basic shots and a heartworm check, but prices vary geographically. Monthly heartworm and flea and tick treatments will be tacked on — starting at around $18 per month and rising with the dog's weight. "It's hard to leave the vet for less than $300," said Saul, of Petfinder.com.
Add in a major illness or accident, and you can easily spend thousands. If you're unlikely to have $1,000 or so available in case of a pet health emergency, you should consider pet insurance. For about $30 per month, you can get $7,500 of coverage. A good place to start looking is www.petinsurancereview.com , which offers quotes from the insurers that provide coverage in your state.
If you travel frequently, boarding or pet sitting costs may have to be added. These are among the most variable expenses for pet owners and depend largely on where you live and the type of care you choose.
Other costs that may come into play include training and grooming. Although short-haired breeds like Labrador retrievers and beagles are easier to care for at home, poodles and Pomeranians will more likely require professional grooming.