As the holidays approach, many Americans may be thinking about getting a dog. Perhaps you or your kids have always wanted a yellow labrador. Or maybe a floppy-eared mixed breed at a local shelter has won over your family.

Dog ownership has lots of benefits. Some 80 percent of dog owners say they get happiness and emotional support from their pets, according to a 2017 survey by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), an industry group. And a recent study published in Scientific Reports found that owning a dog is linked to better health.

But it’s important to make sure you can afford to care for your dog. Nearly one out of three dog owners cited costs of canine care as a drawback, the APPA survey found.

Medical costs are typically the biggest challenge. If your dog is diagnosed with cancer, cyberknife surgery might require paying $11,000. A leg fracture from a badly timed jump could cost you more than $5,000.

“Some dog breeds tend to be healthier than others,” says Betsy Brevitz, DVM, a veterinarian and author of The Complete Healthy Dog Handbook.” “If you are in love with a certain type of dog," she adds, "be aware if it is likely to be more high maintenance.” 

Still, there are no guarantees that a healthy dog breed will live up to its billing. After all, any dog might eat something it shouldn’t. “It’s a bit of lottery—you never know what you will face,” says Rob Jackson, CEO of Healthy Paws, a pet health insurance company.

These five tips can help you hold down your expenses.

1. Make Sure Your Dog Fits Your Budget
Your first step is to assess the potential costs for maintaining a dog. In 2016 the average dog owner spent $307 a year on food and treats; $322 on boarding in a kennel; $200 to $300 on grooming, toys, and other supplies; and $257 on routine vet visits, the APPA found. But prices can vary widely depending on where you live.

You'll also want to factor in the type of dog you buy. “For any giant dog breed—over 70 to 80 pounds—you’ll likely spend more in a month in food than for any other family member,” Brevitz says.

Costs for medical procedures, boarding, and grooming will also be higher for larger dogs. So check the prices in your area and make sure your cash flow will cover routine expenditures.

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2. Focus on Lower-Cost and Smaller Breeds
Mixed-breed dogs typically have fewer health problems compared with purebreds. “With mixed breeds, you’re not concentrating genetic problems, such as hip dysplasia and allergies,” Brevitz says.

Among purebred dogs, some types typically have more health problems than others. Take French bulldogs and pugs, which are especially popular today. "Because they're bred for their pushed-in faces, they tend to have respiratory problems, among other issues," says Shawn Brown, director of product at Embrace Pet Insurance.

Large dogs, such as Great Danes or Bernese Mountain Dogs, often incur joint tears because of the stress on their limbs. By contrast, small breeds, such as Shih Tzus and Yorkshire terriers, tend to have fewer joint and limb problems, Brevitz says.

Crossbreeds, such as goldendoodles and puggles, are increasingly popular, but their potential health costs are difficult to assess. Many of these hybrids don’t have a long breeding history, which means you could end up with the worst genetic traits of both breeds.

You'll also want to check closely that the dog's temperament will suit your family. Some breeds are known to be more aggressive, especially if they're not trained properly, and they may not be covered by your homeowners insurance policy.

If you're focusing on a purebred dog, you can start your research at the website of the American Kennel Club, which also provides links to breeders.

But before finalizing a purchase or adoption, ask whether you can first introduce the dog to different social situations to see how it behaves. And ask the breeder or shelter whether there's a policy of taking back a dog that doesn't work out. Many will do so within a limited time period.

3. Adopt Through a Shelter
“Overall, adopting a dog through an animal shelter is one of the most cost-effective options,” says Inga Fricke, director of pet-retention programs at the Humane Society of the United States.

By going to a shelter, you’ll pay far less than for a purebred, which might cost a few hundred dollars to several thousand for a show-quality dog. By contrast, fees at shelters and rescue facilities may range from $50 to several hundred dollars. But many offer free adoption at a special events.  

You're also likely to get a break on many medical costs. Most shelter dogs have already been spayed or neutered, received their vaccinations, and have an identifying microchip. You may also get a free exam at a local vet and coupons or discounts for pet food or services.

“When you add it all up, those free services from the shelter might cost you $1,000 or more if you paid for them separately," Fricke says. To find an animal shelter near you, go to

4. Consider Pet Health Insurance
To avoid having your dog’s illness or injury put a dent in your finances, you may want to look into buying pet health insurance. It may be an optional benefit offered by your employer. Among the larger pet insurance providers are Embrace, Healthy Paws, Nationwide, and Trupanion.

The typical premium costs about $30 to $40 per month, but your cost will vary depending on the amount of the deductible and co-payments you choose as well as where you live, your dog’s breed, and its age.

For example, a 1-year-old medium-sized mixed breed dog in St. Louis would cost about $31 per month to insure, according to a sample quote from Healthy Paws, which assumes a $250 deductible and an 80 percent reimbursement rate. By contrast, coverage for an 1-year-old basset hound, also a medium-sized dog, would cost $45 per month.

You can get the lowest rates if you buy a policy when your dog is a puppy, because premium costs rise if your pet has a pre-existing condition, just as with human health insurance. You can compare quotes, as well as download sample policies, by going to the insurer websites.

As with buying any insurance, you can’t be sure that you’ll get more back in reimbursements than you'll pay in premiums. But if it would be difficult to say no to an expensive treatment for your pet, the coverage may be worth it, Brevitz says. Otherwise, plan to stash away cash in an rainy-day fund for an emergency. 

5. Keep Your Dog Healthy
You can do a lot to hold down dog-care costs by keeping your pet in good shape. That includes providing regular exercise and avoiding overfeeding, because obese animals are more likely to have leg and back problems. And check your dog regularly for ticks.

Dog-proof your house as much as you can to limit the chance that your pet will get into the garbage or toxic substances. If you purchase a toy, make sure it's size-appropriate: Don’t give a large dog a small toy that can be swallowed.

If you’re traveling by car, secure your dog in a crate or with a dog seat belt. That way, both you and your dog will stay safe.