Lifestyle Personal Finance

Why We Adopted a Dog (Even Though It’s a Terrible FI Choice)

Mika the Shiba Inu on the couch
We made the decision to adopt Mika… after a looong decision-making process

In my previous post, I shared the drawn-out story of how we came to be the proud new parents of Mika the Shiba Inu.

In this post, I’ll detail our decision-making process as we considered our adoption of Mika. We’ll take a look at the downsides, the benefits, and the finances of owning a dog. 

The downsides of dog ownership

When considering our adoption of Mika, we first looked at the downsides. By discussing the downsides first, we were able to cut out the emotions and look at the situation objectively. 

Here are all the negatives of dog ownership that we could identify:

The expenses (oh, the expenses)

The cost of dog ownership can be significant. We needed to start with the expenses to see if keeping Mika was even within our budget. Mr. Money Mustache estimates the average cost of a dog to be $2,000 per year. Based on our estimates, he’s not far off.

The time cost

It takes time to care for a dog. They need to be walked, fed, played with, trained, and groomed. You’ll also need to allow extra time for cleaning, planning, vet visits, groomer visits, and shopping. That’s at least an hour of dog-related tasks per day.

The worries

When we dogsat, certain types of worries never crossed our minds: Are we providing enough mental stimulation? Is this the best choice of food? Does this behaviour need to be corrected or worked on? All we had to do was walk, feed, and play with our furry little house guests. With a dog of our own, these worries would become our responsibility.

The guilt

This is something every dog owner experiences when leaving their dog at home alone. Those sad brown eyes make even the most stoic of us crumble!

But that’s not the only guilt-inducing situation. There’s also the guilt of: not exercising them enough, not providing enough mental stimulation, not feeding them on time, etc. 

As with children, doggy guilt comes in many forms and is ever-present!

The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days

We all have days like this. Now imagine having to deal with dog diarrhea while you and your kids are sick, the washer has conked out, and your partner’s away on a work trip. Could you manage that, or would that push you over the edge? 

It’s an important consideration. While I know I could manage it now, if you’d asked me when my kids were little, my answer would’ve been NO WAY!

The inevitable sadness

The sad reality with dogs is that we’ll almost always outlive them. This was partly why M has always been so hesitant to get a dog. 

Additionally, now that we’re parents, we’ll have the extra sadness of seeing our kids upset if something happened to Mika. For most of us, the joy that a dog brings is worth it, but it still deserves some serious thought.

The strict schedule

It sounds terrible, but it’s true—dogs tie us down. Day-to-day, Mika’s walking/feeding schedule ties us to a 6–8 hour schedule. That means full-day outings are out of the question. When travelling, we’re also tied down unless we can take Mika with us or find someone to watch her.

The extra planning

Adding to the previous point, we now need to factor Mika into all our plans: Is the place we’re going dog-friendly? If we leave her at home, is that too long to be leaving her alone?

And when travelling, we need to consider: Can we take her with us? Will she need papers of some kind? If we leave her, are M’s uncle and aunt available? How and when will I make time to pack for her and drop her off to them?

The environmental cost

From their poop and the plastic bags they’re encased in, to the environmental cost of producing their food, and even their toys (which are often made of non-renewable materials) dogs leave a big footprint on the earth. Even with my best efforts, it’s not possible to make dogcare 100% sustainable.

The mess

Dogs are messy! They leave their fur everywhere (sometimes in your food) and track in dirt, leaves, and other lovely things. Having a dog is essentially like wearing your dirty shoes around 24/7. Ick.

They also slosh water out of their bowls, have accidents in the house, and (given the opportunity) chew on and leave the contents of a garbage bin all over your bedroom. 

If you’re taking in a dog, plan to drop your standard of cleanliness by a lot!

The destruction

If you end up with a dog like Mika who loves to chew on things, be prepared for destruction! 

Mika has chewed and destroyed more items in our house than I can count! Her favourites are LEGO and anything else that’s plastic and bite-sized. Recently she’s turned her attention to clothing, and did this to a pair of M’s jeans:

Our Shiba Inu chewed my husband's jeans
Because jeans are just so yummy

As much as we try to Mika-proof our house, she still manages to find something to destroy just about every day. Sigh. 

But I guess we don’t have it that bad. Other doggy parents tell me that their dogs chew on their shoes, furniture, and even their expensive Crate and Barrel rug!!! 

The stress

All the issues above add up to an extra layer of stress in our lives. The crazy thing about that is: it’s completely optional! Is it wise to willingly choose to add more stress to our lives? 🤔

And… there’s more

When I first binged on Mr. Money Mustache’s blog in 2014, I read his article, Great News! Dog Ownership is Optional! and fully agreed with everything he said. (I still do.) 

It may not be pleasant for dog lovers (me included) to face these hard truths—but they do need to be considered.

The benefits of dog ownership

After reading the list above, it’s probably hard to understand why anyone would choose to adopt a dog! But if you’re a dog person, you get it. Dogs are wonderful, and there many meaningful reasons to adopt one:

More quality time outside

It's more fun getting outside with a dog

Now that our boys are in their tweens and teens, we’re in a new phase of life. They’re more stubborn and choosy about the activities they want to do, and it’s harder to motivate them to get out of the house.

Adding a dog gives all of us a renewed drive to get out and do things. (It’s like having a curious toddler again—you’re excited to expose them to new things and watch their reaction.)

Previously, it’d take a lot of convincing for the boys to take a stroll with us ‘just because’. But with Mika, they’re more than happy to go. Everything just seems more fun with a dog!

For me, this was the biggest reason why I wanted to keep Mika. She motivates us to get outside and have more quality time together. 

More exercise

It’s unavoidable—if you have a dog, you’ll need to take them out for walks. Even if it’s pouring rain or freezing outside, they still gotta go! 

Having a dog ensures that we get out for two to three walks every day. (And we live in a hilly neighbourhood, so our walks are always somewhat strenuous!)

Neighbourly friendships

We take Mika out three times a day for at least 20 minutes per walk—that’s an hour per day. With all this time spent wandering around our neighbourhood, we’ve had lots of opportunities to bump into our neighbours. 

It’s been nice getting to know people we normally only smiled at and said a quick hello to. 

New connections with old friends

For me, this is a big one. As our kids have grown, and I’m at my kids’ schools less often, it’s become harder and harder to get together with my mom friends. 

Luckily, most of them have dogs—and now we have a new reason to see each other! Not only do we make plans to walk together, but we’re texting and calling each other more as we exchange doggy info and check-in about our dogs.

M has also enjoyed chatting with work friends about their dogs and swapping info and advice.

More time for solitude and healing

This is something I appreciated when I was an angsty, grumpy teen. Whatever my mood when I started walking with our dog June, it would always be a little lighter and brighter by the time we got back home.

As a teenager, getting outside into the fresh air (often in the darkness of night) was so healing for me. It helped me pause my worries and connect with the world in a way I couldn’t during the rest of my day.  

When I started art school in my twenties, these quiet walks also gave me time to ponder my latest project. If I was stuck for ideas, a walk with June would clear my mind and allow the solutions to magically appear.

M and I have seen the same wonderful benefits when we walk Mika now. I hope that my kids will one day use their walks with her as time to reflect and quiet their busy minds.

A unique bond

Having grown up with dogs, I know how special that bond with your very own dog can be. I figured we were getting most of that experience by dogsitting a select group of our favourite dogs. 

But it really is so different when that dog is yours. It’s a deeper, more meaningful connection that only grows with time. I’m happy that we can give our kids this unique and precious experience.

Life experiences for the kids

Having a dog teaches kids so much, and it’s not just about how to care for a dog. There’s also the less-tangible things, like having another living being rely on you. Or that all living things will eventually pass on… and even when that happens, you’ll be okay and find happiness again.

Unconditional love

It doesn't look like it here, but Mika loves getting cuddles!

All of us enjoy and benefit from the unconditional love of a dog. No matter what life throws at us, dogs are always there to cuddle with and tell our worries to. 

I think this is especially helpful for children, who often feel so small and helpless. When it seems like your friends, parents and teachers are all being so mean, it’s such a precious gift to have a dog to go to.

The finances

So we’ve weighed all the pros and cons of dog ownership, and determined that we can afford Mika. But I’m a personal finance blogger, so I can’t just leave it at that! 

It’s time to go deeper with the numbers… 

Working out our own estimate

According to Mr. Money Mustache, owning a dog costs an estimated $2,000 per year. While I trust MMM, I think it’s important to work out an estimate based on our actual expenses. 

Doing so will get us as close to an accurate number as possible and allow us to:

  • Save and plan for Mika’s expenses. 
  • Look for areas where we can save.
  • Determine if our path to FI will be affected.

I’ll detail the potential expenses below by breaking them into two sections: ongoing and unknown.

Ongoing expenses

These expenses are relatively predictable and generally known to us:

Food: $640/year

irRAWsistable-chicken-patties

Mika loves her irRAWsistable chicken patties! (Image credit: irRAWsistable Pet Foods Inc.)

Mika’s been on a raw diet all her life, so we’re opting to keep her on it. She’s done well on raw and has realized many health benefits from this diet. 

Unfortunately, all this goodness isn’t cheap! Mika’s raw food costs 2 to 2.5x more than high-end kibble (e.g. Acana or Orijen).

Dogsitting: $350/year

We take a three to four-week trip every year and go on several shorter trips throughout the year. Thankfully, M’s uncle and aunt are happy to watch Mika, so that’ll take care of most of her dogsitting needs. 

On the odd occasion that we all go away at the same time, we’ve budgeted for one week of dogsitting per year.

Medical: $750/year

This is my estimate for Mika’s basic annual medical costs, amortized over her lifetime. It includes things like: check-ups, vaccinations, and minor injuries and illnesses. 

Note: this line item doesn’t include medical treatment for serious injuries or major illnesses. In the sections to follow (Self-insurance vs. pet insurance and Our plan) I detail how we’ll cover these expenses.

Medications: $300/year

Mika will need medication for flea, heartworm, and parasite control (around $15/month). She may also need the odd prescription for minor illnesses (I estimate this will cost about $100/year). 

License: $41/year

In our municipality, dogs must be licensed. Since Mika is spayed, her licensing fee is reduced to $41 instead of $84.

Other: $190/year

Mika also needs nail trims*, treats and chews, and replacement gear. While these items aren’t huge expenses, they do add up.

*Pet nail trimming is something I’ve always done myself. But Shibas hate nail trims and are very dramatic about it! After many failed attempts to get Mika used to nail trimming, we gave up. For only $10 per trim, we’ll let the groomers be the bad guys!

Mika’s annual expenses

ExpenseDescriptionTotal annual cost
Raw food$80 x 8 cases/year$640
Dogsitting$50 x 7 nights/year$350
Ongoing medical
(amortized over Mika's lifespan)
$75/checkup
$75/vaccination
$300/minor injury
$300/minor illness
$750
Medications$180 flea, worm treatments
$120 meds for illnesses
$300
License$41/year$41
Nail trims$10 x 12 trims/year$120
Treats and chews$15 x 2 bags
$3 x 5 chews
$45
Replacement gear$25/leash/harness/jacket$25

Based on the above estimates, Mika’s total annual expenses come to $2,271. If she lives to be 15, that’s 13 more years, for a total of $29,523

Wow, that’s a lot, and it doesn’t even cover everything! We also need to be prepared for the big unknowns…

Unknown expenses

One of the scariest parts of dog ownership is the unknown expenses. These expenses tend to be big and unexpected and could lead to difficult choices if we’re not prepared. 

Breed-related health concerns

Let's hope this little cutie stays healthy!

To get a better idea of the medical issues your dog may face, you should always research typical health concerns for your specific breed of dog. 

For Mika, I did some internet research and reached out to members of the Vancouver Shiba Inu Facebook group. From what group members told me, it seems most Shibas are quite healthy. 

If we continue to feed Mika high-quality food, exercise her regularly, and keep her away from dangers, she’ll likely only ever need basic medical care. 

However, there’s no guarantee that she’ll always be healthy. Shibas are known to develop allergies and eye and ligament issues. 

Additionally, accidents and other serious illnesses can occur at any time. We still need to plan for major health concerns down the road. 

Estimated costs

To get an idea of how much these big medical issues might cost us, we asked other dog owners and used this page on the Trupanion site.1 Here’s my best estimate for each expense:

  • Serious injury: $2,000+ per incident
  • Chronic condition: $1,000+/year in treatment and medication
  • Major illness: $5,000+ for a course of treatment

Okay, now that we have a rough idea of the numbers, we need to decide how we’ll pay for these expenses. That means it’s time for the big debate: self-insurance or pet insurance?

Self-insurance vs. pet insurance

Like any good Mustachian, I consider most types of insurance to be a tax on people who are bad at math.

I only buy insurance for things that we can’t afford to replace (car, home and life). Still—a lot of dog owners swear by pet insurance, so I decided to look into it.

The downsides of pet insurance

  • Pet insurance isn’t cheap. Plans with decent coverage start at $30 per month. That’s close to $400 per year!
  • Even a very high deductible (e.g. $1,000) doesn’t do much to lower the premiums.
  • No pet insurance offers 100% coverage (the range is 70–90%). That means you’ll be out of pocket for the deductible PLUS 10–30% of the cost of the treatment.
  • With some companies, the more you claim, the more your future premiums will be.
  • Rejected claims, endless correspondence, and delayed payments are common.
  • If you want pet insurance, you should get it as soon as possible. If your dog develops a pre-existing condition before your coverage starts (or during the waiting period) you’ll be denied coverage for that condition.

There are definitely a lot of downsides to pet insurance. But that doesn’t mean it’s always a bad idea. There are a few situations where pet insurance might be worth its high price:

When pet insurance might make sense

  1. You know you won’t have a lumpsum of cash to pay for an accident or illness.
  2. Your dog develops a chronic condition that requires long-term care and medication.
  3. Your dog is frequently injured or ill, and you have a plan where the premiums and deductibles are low enough to make it worthwhile. (And premiums don’t increase as you make more claims.)

My take

I might come across as a Debbie Downer, but here’s my not-so-positive take on the above scenarios:

  • #1 is avoidable with good financial planning (or not getting a dog in the first place). 
  • #2 is unknown. This means you’re essentially gambling on the chance that your dog will develop a chronic condition. (And we all know that gambling is another tax on people who are bad at math!) I think the chances of your dog not developing a chronic condition are lower than them actually developing one.
  • #3 is a trickier situation and requires some detailed math. However, most dogs don’t get injured or sick that often, so #3 is more than likely not typical. Additionally, minor injuries and illnesses aren’t usually expensive enough to justify paying the deductible plus 10–30% of the treatment cost.

When it comes to money decisions, I’m a shrewd analyzer—as you should also be. Carefully consider if pet insurance is truly the best financial decision for your family. 

Conclusion: self-insurance vs. pet insurance

Based on my informal research, chronic conditions and major accidents aren’t as common as insurance companies would have us believe. 

(My anecdotal experience proves this: none of our family dogs had major accidents or illnesses when we were growing up. And all the dogs we currently know have rarely needed more than one or two major treatments in their lifetimes.)

Given all this, and the knowledge that insurance companies exist to make money, I’d prefer to self-insure. We’ll save up money every month to (hopefully never) use towards these big expenses.

Worst-case scenario—if Mika develops a chronic illness or suffers a serious injury and it exhausts our cash reserves, we have our emergency plan to fall back on.

Our plan

After all that analysis, we can now make a clear plan for Mika’s care:

Ongoing expenses

  • We’re in a unique situation in that M’s uncle and aunt will share Mika’s costs with us.
  • They’ll transfer a set amount to us every month and we’ll put in an equal amount. 
  • Anything leftover for the month will be rolled over to the next month.
  • My estimates for Mika’s ongoing expenses are amortized over her lifetime, so we’ll very likely end up with excess funds in the early years. 
Kuma and Mika the Shiba Inus
Kuma (on the left) is 12 and hasn't had any major health issues. Let's hope Mika will be as lucky!

Unknown expenses

  • The excess funds should build to a point where they can cover a major incident in later years.
  • Whatever isn’t covered, we’ll discuss with M’s uncle and aunt (and we can always fall back on our emergency plan).
  • Since we’ll be splitting the bill, the cost will likely still be well within their and our budgets.

Dogsitting

  • M’s uncle and aunt will watch Mika anytime we go away.
  • If our travels overlap, we’ll work together to find alternatives:
    • Mika goes to another family member.
    • Use the credits that Mika still has at the doggy daycare she used to go to.
    • Find someone on Rover.
    • Send her to a boarding facility. 

All-day outings

  • If the boys and l will be out of the house all day, M can take her to work with him. (His workplace is very dog-friendly.)
  • If the four of us will be out of the house all day, M’s uncle and aunt can usually watch her. If not, other family members and friends have offered to watch her. (But we can usually find a way to take Mika with us.)

Managing the money

  • We’ll keep the cash for Mika’s care in our high-interest savings account.
  • To track the money, there’s no need to open another bank account. I can just set up a new category in YNAB:
    • Mika’s expenses and payments (from us and M’s uncle and aunt) will all be categorized under a ‘Mika’ category in our budget. 
    • Even if the expenses and payments are from different accounts, they’ll all be listed under this category. 
    • I’ll be able to see all the transactions in one place and track how much of a balance we have—just like a bank account. (This is just one of the reasons why I love YNAB!)
  • If we find we’re overspending every month, M’s uncle and aunt asked us to let them know and they’ll be happy to contribute more.
  • If there are funds leftover at the end of Mika’s life, we’ll split them with M’s uncle and aunt.

Our FI plan

  • Mika’s care will cost around $30,000 for her lifetime.2
  • Our cost will be half of this since M’s uncle and aunt will cover the other half.
  • $15,000 over 13 years has little to no effect on our FI plan.

And that’s it—we’re ready!

Having this detailed plan in place allows us to rest easy. We’ve thought about the worst-case scenarios and have backups ready if challenges come our way. 

I urge all pet owners to make detailed plans like this (just like you should make a plan for your personal finances). This will prepare you so you can make rational decisions in the midst of stressful, emotional situations.

Summary: should you adopt a dog?

We went through a 4-step process to decide if dog ownership was right for us:

  1. Identify all the downsides: Are there any dealbreakers? If not, move on to the next step.
  2. Identify the benefits: Are the benefits worth it and do they outweigh the downsides? If so, move on to the next step.
  3. Crunch the numbers: Can you comfortably afford the cost of a dog? If so, move on to the next step.
  4. Make a plan: How will you manage the finances for your dog’s expenses? What’s the plan for covering major accidents and illnesses? Work these details out before the bad stuff happens!

While there are many downsides to owning a dog, we found that the benefits far outweigh them (for us—it’s a very personal decision). 

We also looked at how much Mika’s care would cost and determined that we can comfortably afford it. We also have backup plans in place should emergencies arise.

All of that gave us full confidence in our decision to adopt Mika—yay!

I’d love your feedback!

Does the cost of caring for a dog make you want to run for the hills? Do you use and love pet insurance, or do you prefer to self-insure? Any helpful suggestions to save money on dog care? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts—please leave a comment below!

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8 Comments

  • Reply
    Ana
    October 7, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    You make some excellent points on dog care. And, yes, doggy guilt is real! I’ve never opted for medical insurance but I’ve been fortunate to have healthy pets. I appreciate your breakdown on the pros and cons of the insurance. I wasn’t sure if I was missing something. If pets develop health issues and get on medications, it really can add up.

    Mika is a great investment! 🙂

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      October 7, 2019 at 11:48 pm

      Thanks for the comment Ana, and good to know you’ve also opted to forgo pet insurance. It’s not an easy decision, but taking a hard look at the math and facts makes it a bit easier to decide.

  • Reply
    Joe
    October 10, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    Mika is super cute. I think you made the right choice. Life isn’t all about money.
    Luckily, my wife and kid like cats. They’re so much easier to take care of. 🙂

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      October 10, 2019 at 8:07 pm

      You’re absolutely right Joe—life isn’t all about money. We’ve also cat-sat in the past and I agree: cats are definitely easier to take care of! I’d love to see some photos of your cat. You should post them on Instagram!

  • Reply
    Abigail @ipickuppennies
    October 10, 2019 at 7:58 pm

    Haha, you’ve been making a lot of so-called terrible FI decisions lately (what with the car and now dog) — but in both cases I think you made the right call. Mika looks like an absolute sweetheart and the companionship of an animal is hard to overestimate. I know my cat keeps me (relatively) sane since I’m home alone so much.

    It’s great that you have a plan in place to save for future expenses. I should probably start doing that for my cat. She just cost me $200 in x-rays yesterday because they thought she had bladder stones (she didn’t, argh). But they did find another potential problem, so it’s good that the things were taken, I guess. Problem: They may need to take even more in a week or two if the issue doesn’t die down on its own. So that’d be $400 in the span of just two weeks.

    Luckily, she’s been otherwise healthy, so she just costs me $33/month for a Banfield pet plan. It’s not the same as insurance. It covers her vaccinations, free office visits and a yearly cleaning. I did the math and found that the vaccinations and cleaning come out to about $30 less than the cost of the plan and I can take her in for free if I’m concerned about something. So it’s worthwhile. So long as I don’t let them convince me to do unnecessary tests.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      October 10, 2019 at 8:11 pm

      We’re not exactly model FI-seekers are we? Ha ha. Thanks anyway for your support! Pets are wonderful, and that’s why we keep ending up with them… even when we try not to take new ones in!

      Yikes about the x-rays for your cat. I hope everything will be okay. The Banfield Pet Plan sounds interesting! That might actually be worth it since you know you can use it and how often you’ll use it. Great tip—I’ll look into it for Mika!

  • Reply
    Sam
    October 15, 2019 at 10:28 pm

    Chrissy, reading this post made me smile and nod my head in agreement so often. It is such a useful article and should be mandatory reading for anyone thinking about getting a dog. As you know we look after trainee assistance dogs some times. I love it when they come and we get to know them, but particularly at this time of year the house gets dirty and I spend a lot of time washing old towels which we use to put out on the floor and rub them down after a walk. I vacuum up never-ending amounts of dog hair, even after they’ve gone! It’s great that they get us out in the fresh air, but our mornings are taken up with this and other chores are often on hold. We fortunately don’t have the expense of food or vet bills as that is taken care of by the charity who owns the dogs. In summary, I love it when they come, but it’s also nice to get back to normal when they go and have a break before we welcome the next one.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      October 15, 2019 at 11:15 pm

      I always suggest to my friends that they should dogsit before getting a dog of their own… but does anyone ever listen to me? Nope! Maybe I’ll have to reveal my blog to them just so they can read this article. 🤔

      I’ve always loved that you look after those darling assistance dogs. What an amazing way to give back while also getting just enough doggy time! Had Mika not fallen into our laps, and we ran out of friends’ dogs to watch, I very well would have tried that. Perhaps one day!

      Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s a good dose of reality for perspective dog owners.

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