You think you (and maybe your loved one) are ready to hear the pitter-patter of little feet. But as you start to consider the overwhelming investment of time and energy that goes into raising a child, you might start to think perhaps a different pitter-patter would suit your lifestyle better. Dogs are so much easier to take care of. Aren’t they? And a kid is awfully expensive, isn’t it? But is a canine companion really that much less expensive, once you break it down? Just because they get into trouble on four, fuzzy legs instead of two, chubby ones doesn’t always mean you’re getting off easier with a puppy instead of a baby.
- Initial investment
If you have the right insurance plan, you could be looking at a very reasonable fee for your bouncing bundle of joy. If not, you’re looking at about $2,000-$18,000. Parental leave, whether for mom or dad, should also be taken into consideration. If your job doesn’t provide this and you don’t have Aflac or a similar leave of absence insurance, go ahead and factor lost wages into your fees.
Dogs, on the other hand, come straight out of your pocket. If you find one on your doorstep (obviously this is a thankfully rare occurrence with children), then you get off scot-free. If you "need" a fancy, purebred puppy, you’re looking at anywhere from $200 for common dogs to $10,000 (and up) for a show dog. Rescue dogs are always a great option, though; for less than 100 bucks, a plethora of animal organizations will hand over a spayed or neutered puppy, complete with current vaccines. Some of them are even purebreds saved from puppy mills.
Once you bring it home, then what? Whether baby or dog, it’s got to sleep somewhere. For babies, it can be as simple as putting a crib next to your bed so you can keep an eye on Baby at night or as extravagant as redoing the spare room, stuffing it full of toys and clothes and other infant paraphernalia, and buying a beautiful crib for nap time. A crib alone is around $100-$800 (depending on the brand, material, and bells and whistles); sheet and bedding sets run $10-$20 and $30-$300, respectively. If you’re a thrifty shopper, secondhand stores are great places to find bargains.
Dogs can sleep on the floor with no qualms. In fact, some of them prefer it. Puppies, however, need a crate. Regardless of how bad the owner feels about leaving them in one, puppies learn much, much better behavior if they’re crate trained (and some of them actually enjoy it). A crate, depending on size, costs $20-$200 — no quilts or pillowcases necessary. A cushy dog bed can be tucked into a corner with no fuss, and runs from $10-$200.
Babies actually come out on top in this one — thank you, breastfeeding. It’s healthy for mom, it’s better for baby, and it's basically free. If you need to pump, $20 will buy the most basic pump on the market...but $200 will get a nice one, complete with carrying case, extra bottles, and all the accouterments necessary. If feed formula instead, you'll be spending about $35 a week, which adds up to a whopping $1,820 for the first year -- and that’s not including bottles. Eventually, baby food and real food will come into play, and you’ll just have to start adding Baby to the grocery list.
Puppies, on the other hand, are weaned at about six weeks (and should never be breastfed). They should have puppy food for the first 12 to 18 months, and then move on to an adult food. Maybe your grandpa fed his huntin’ dog Ole Roy and it lived to 15 years old, but it’s cheap for a reason. There’s more filler, which isn't as good for Fido. Don't waste your money on the most expensive brands, either--you’re mostly just paying for the labeling. For a good brand, you can get about 30 pounds for $30. The bigger the dog, the more food you’ll be buying, and puppies generally eat more than adult dogs. (Note: These calculations are for dry dog food, which is generally better for dogs, as it keeps their teeth cleaner than moist food, which will save you money on dental care down the road.)
- Medical care
Again, if you have health insurance, you’ll come out better; each health care plan is different, so the cost to add your new baby will vary widely, depending on your pre-existing plan. Affordable plans for low-income families are usually available through the government. For most of these plans, wellness check ups for baby and standard vaccines are considered “preventative care,” and most good plans cover preventative care outright. For those that don’t, county health clinics are affordable sources for getting the shots baby needs to keep measles, mumps, and rubella at bay.
Puppies aren’t so fortunate. Dog health insurance usually requires that you send in itemized receipts, which they might reimburse you for, but generally just add to the record books so they know when to help for the things they actually cover (which are few and far between) do crop up. Puppies should get checkups and vaccines at 6, 9, 12, and 16 weeks from a veterinarian. Responsible pet owners (who don’t plan to breed their grown up pup) also know the benefits of getting a dog spayed or neutered. Six months is usually a good age. Boy dogs run about $200, while girls are closer to $300. There are often low-cost clinics in big cities that provide lower cost doggy healthcare, too. Don't forget, a rescue dog, generally comes with the necessary vaccines for a nominal fee and is sterilized to boot. Don't skimp on their healthcare--it can save you thousands of dollars down the road.
Eventually, you’ll want both baby and puppy to start learning things. There are state and federal programs in place to provide children with an education -- even preschools. Granted, even free doesn’t mean free; still plan on spending about $25 on school supplies each semester. If you’re considering private school for the blossoming young mind in your household, you could be paying anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000 a year. Homeschool is also an option, but there are resources you’ll need for that, not to mention extensive amounts of time.
Puppy training can also be done at home, and for the low, low fee of a $3 bag of treats. Some dogs are more stubborn (and some owners not stubborn enough), and so obedience school may turn out to be a must. For group lessons, $50-$125 per session is about average, while private lessons cost closer to $50-$100 an hour. But that can save considerably on destroyed furniture, carpets, and dog bite doctor visits.
Neither baby nor dog is going to get away without at least some personal hygiene costs. A nice baby tub to stick in the sink makes bath time much easier for human little ones, and can be purchased for around $15. Shampoo, soap, and lotion made gentle for baby cost less than $5 a bottle, and while they have fancy towels for kids, the standard terry cloth that’s been in your closet all along will do just fine.
Dogs do just fine with the water hose or in the bath tub, and a bottle of dog shampoo doesn’t have to cost more than $5 either. Some canine companions require a little more than just a tri-yearly scrub down though, especially those with long hair; luckily a brush is less than $5 as well (although some of the nicer ones are closer to $40--and worth it for certain breeds). If you aren’t willing to personally put in the time, a trip to the groomer — which usually includes a wash, nail trim, hair cut, and ear cleaning — is only about $50.
- Potty training
Potty training, the archenemy of toddlers and three-month-old puppies the world over. Proper bathroom habits kick in eventually, but until they do, something has to be done about, well, it. As a new parent, you have the option of using disposable diapers or cloth diapers. After an initial investment in a cloth diaper hoard, cloth diapering costs about $150 a year for maintenance (soap and utilities). You can even use them for multiple babies, and they double as burp cloths for some brave souls willing to drape a used diaper over their shoulder. Disposable diapers, on the other hand, run somewhere in the neighborhood of $800-$2,000 for the first two years, depending on brand, size, and frequency of diaper changing.
Dogs can and should potty outside. Some people like to train their puppies on potty pads, which is popular, but gross as well as extremely confusing for the dog (“What do you mean I can’t pee in here anymore? I peed in this exact corner yesterday, and you didn’t mind!”). But, for potty pad fans, you can get a four hundred count box for $60, which will last about 3-4 months, if you use 3-4 pads per day, and by which time Fido should be quite capable of alerting you when he needs to see a man about a horse.
- Daily gear
Everyone needs accessories, and neither dogs nor babies are the exception to this rule. While there are about a million things you may think your baby — or fur baby — has to have, let’s stick to the basics here. A sling: $30. A stroller: $30 for a very standard, very serviceable means of transportation, all the way up to $500 if you plan on taking baby on cross-country races attached to the back of your bike; a carseat: $50-$150 for the first years, $20-$150 for the years when they can sit up on their own. There are also “travel systems” on the market, that combine infant car seats and nice strollers for $200. And last but not least, some sort of play pen or swing for baby to be contained in while you’re running around picking up all the toys he’s throwing out of it: $30-$200.
Dogs need a collar or harness (sometimes both), maybe a choke chain, a leash for sure, and the rest is just trimmings. Depending on the look you and Puppy are going for (leather studs, rhinestones and sparkles, a standard red cloth, etc), you can get a regular old collar, a retractable leash, and a nice harness for less than $30. Or go all out, and easily sink more than $100 into Fuzzy’s afternoon walk get up.
Everyone hopes it isn’t going to happen, but the chance is always there. Baby sticks a raisin up her nose, the dog eats an entire chicken off the counter bones and all. Or illness strikes, and by Saturday evening, either one has been throwing up all over the house, and is now so dehydrated, you’re frightened. So off to the emergency room. Again, healthcare kicks in for babies, but deductibles add up, especially for emergency care. A visit to the ER could be anywhere from a $50 copay to more than $3,000 out of pocket, depending on the severity of the injury or sickness.
Emergency vets are wildly more expensive than standard, office hour veterinarians, but in an emergency, you don't have much of a choice. Just to have the vet take a peek is usually somewhere in the neighborhood of $80, generally followed by radiographs ($200) and/or full panel blood work ($300), not to mention medication (since pharmacies don’t always stock the canine version of prescriptions) or treatment (be it surgery, a splint, or a three day stay for constant monitoring and IV fluids), which can go over $1,500 faster than you’d think possible.
Childcare costs vary largely on your individual needs and locale. Daycare runs somewhere between $5,000 and $2,5000 a year, depending on the center. Government programs are in place for this sort of thing as well. Sporadic sitters, for nights out or a weekend away, can often be found for about $30 a night if you know a responsible teenager or for free in grandparents.
Dogs can handle themselves alone for quite a long time, even at a young age. Until their bladders are big enough to make it through the day, though, some sort of provision should be made for a potty break every four hours or so. If you’re going to be away overnight or for a few days, pet sitters usually charge about $20 a day to bring the pet into their home (although duration, size, and behavior weigh in on this) or about $10 a day to stop by to feed or let the dog outside for a few minutes (largely dependent on mileage and the desired extensiveness of time spent with the dog during each visit). Kennels are also an option you don’t get for kids; $15-$20 a night is about standard for boarding; sometimes this includes food, but any daily medications come with an additional charge. And, again, nicer facilities lead to higher prices, but sometimes it’s worth it.