People who adopted dogs in lockdown face unexpected expenses


As has been reported, many people adopted a pet during lockdown to help get through this terrible time. In some cases, shelters asked for help by way of adoptions or fostering because they anticipated an influx of animals with people losing jobs and housing because of Covid related closures. And folks really stepped up. We endearingly called those lucky animals Pandemic Pets. Hopefully we didn’t doom them with that moniker because now that people are returning to work, they don’t know what to do about their pets. The biggest factor is money. People who never owned a pet, specifically a dog, prior to lockdown are scrambling to figure out what to do with them now that they need to leave them to go back to the office. With the cost of daycare, general vet bills and food bills that grow exponentially with a growing dog, people are in over their heads financially.

Americans face a moment of reckoning with their pandemic pups — and the money they spend on them.

With the country thrust into uncertainty by the omicron variant of the coronavirus, the millions of Americans who welcomed pets into their homes since the first shutdowns in March 2020 are facing shocks to their household budgets and logistical challenges as they try to predict the course of the pandemic and make preparations to return to work and social activities in person.

More than 23 million American households — nearly 1 in 5 nationwide — adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Even President Biden adopted a new dog, Commander.

And many dog owners have spent the pandemic pampering those pooches. Americans spent $21.4 billion on nonmedical pet products through November, plus another $28.4 billion on dog food, according to market research firm Euromonitor International. Rover, a gig-economy platform that focuses on overnight boarding and dog-sitting, reported a record $157.1 million in revenue for the quarter ending Sept. 30.

Now some puppy parents are facing as much as thousands of dollars in additional costs as they prepare to return to life in person.

With many doggy day cares and boarding centers nationwide reporting months-long waiting lists — and newly adopted pets often lacking the socialization for boarding — pandemic pet owners are appealing to families, friends and businesses to ensure their dogs are living their best lives, or at least not spending the day alone. Veterinary practices report being slammed with appointment requests. Vet emergency rooms are warning of longer wait times.

Gig-economy dog-walking and boarding platforms Wag and Rover say they have received waves of new customers as different parts of the country emerge from social distancing. So far, Wag CEO Garrett Smallwood said, spending and memberships have followed red state/blue state lines, with Republican-leaning states more likely to open up faster. The newest customers are about 20 percent more active on Wag than customers pre-pandemic, Smallwood told The Washington Post.
“If you had your pet before the pandemic, you had a routine, you knew what you were doing,” Smallwood said. “Whereas, if you adopted your pup during the pandemic, you’re building this routine together now, and you’re learning about leaving your dog alone.”

[From The Washington Post]

For the record, a lot of headlines still scream that pandemic pets are being returned in droves. This is still not true. A percentage of shelter pets in general are surrendered each year, but the numbers for 2020 and 2021 are still far below those surrendered in 2019. Back to this crisis though, pet adoption is costly and a long-term commitment. And pet owners lives can be affected by the needs of a pet.

I know that rescue organizations can be overbearing in their interviews, to the point of bullying. But in some cases, they really are trying to make sure the applicant is prepared for what pet ownership entails. The DoVE Project adopts trauma dogs who have survived the Korean dog meat trade. When we interview a person, we have to warn them that this dog could have PTSD and all that comes with that. It may seem like we’re trying to talk the applicant out of the dog but the reason is exactly because of what this article is talking about. I just spent over $300 in vet bills after my dogs fought over a piece of food on the ground I didn’t even see. I paid $250 to have a trainer come to my house to introduce our dogs to our new kitten because of their strong prey instinct. The DoVE application and interview process has a whole section on vet bills that the applicant must acknowledge and sign off on so they can at least see the potential numbers because they are shocking. Any time a vet has to take your pet “in the back,” add a zero to your bill. I know shelters don’t always have the luxury of staff interviews. I wish they could do monthly workshops that people had to attend before they could adopt.

The article goes into detail about daycares and vet bills. There is much more emphasis on not leaving dogs alone these days. This wasn’t the way Gen X was raised, our dogs usually hung out alone as mom and dad went to work. Of course, we are also the generation of latchkey kids, but that’s another post. Daycare costs, and especially boarding costs if you travel, need to be considered. The one thing this article did not touch on that I wish it did is training. Pad your pet budget with training upfront and I promise you will save yourself cash in the end. The inexpensive packages at places like Petco and PetSmart are great for beginners and for socializing your dog. No matter how many dogs you have raised, you will learn something. Then find yourself a local reliable trainer. A good trainer that you engage at the first sign of trouble will assist with corrective behavior, which saves in the long run. In addition, not only can they help identify the dog’s needs (maybe they don’t need daycare, maybe they need the TV on or a dog monitor), but the peace of mind you get from not having to guess what’s going on is worth their fee.





Photo credit: Drew Hays, Ayla Verschueren, Bruno Emmanuelle Azsk and Clay Banks on Unsplash. Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

33 Responses to “People who adopted dogs in lockdown face unexpected expenses”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. WithTheAmerican says:

    Awww , I have an adopted dog who is like my kid. I get it. It’s expensive. But I hope people explore options before giving their pets back to a shelter.

  2. equality says:

    When I adopted my current dogs (pre-pandemic), we went through the PetSmart training. I could have done the basic training on my own but getting them out around other people and animals and having a professional dog behaviorist for advice makes the expense worth it. I have never understood people who don’t train their dogs.

    • Snazzy says:

      yes! Where I live you actually have to give the dog training, and you have to get a kind of “dog training certification”, before you can own a pet. That way people are prepared. I wish they did the same thing with prospective parents, to be honest …

      • Jamie says:

        Where do you live? I would love to live in a world like that.

      • Snazzy says:

        @Jamie – In Switzerland!! It’s also why you can barely find shelters here: everyone I know who has wanted to adopt animals instead of going to breeders have had to go to France or Germany, or sometimes all the way to Romania, to get them.

  3. Lauren Too says:

    I’ve always really wanted a dog, but my lifestyle is just not compatible with being a dog owner, I’m always moving around, plus my mother runs a cat shelter from our home (expenses out of her pockets), which is another reason I’ve never gotten around to adopting one. Animals, in general, are expensive, and new pet owners might not realize just how much, we recently took in an adult cat that had been run over by a car, we paid 850€ for surgery and another 350€ to 450€ for therapy and aftercare.

  4. ML says:

    This is an excellent article, Hecate. Thank you.

    • BothSidesNow says:

      It is. I read an article similar, or probably from the same source, that first time pet owners and owners that adopted because of the pandemic never realized the realization that comes into play with separation anxiety. My daughter has 3 dogs, which she was fortunate to have the luxury of me babysitting or she could run home for 30 minutes, due to proximity. Luckily, her fiancé now lives with her since they got back together. Plus programs like Wag, and the other one, have had an increase in triple digits for check ins, or all day babysitting. The cost of veterinary care is also a price shocker as well!!! Who knew a bee swallowing incident could cost into the thousands!!

      I just hope that it doesn’t lead to a mass of surrenders due to the fact that so many are returning to working outside of the home. A pet is a family member, especially for children.

  5. HoofRat says:

    Our rescue dog’s adoption was delayed while she weaned her (surprise!) puppies, so we didn’t receive her until just before everything locked down. We wanted to take her for training, but nothing was open. Even the vet wouldn’t see her unless there was an emergency. Fortunately, the rescue is an extremely responsible one, and she was well cared-for and socialized before she arrived. Even with all that, we were grateful for YouTube for training advice; I can easily see how people could become overwhelmed with a new pup.

    • Southern Fried says:

      Some trainers will come to your home and are reasonably priced.

    • WithTheAmerican says:

      That’s what we did pre pandemic. I found lots of good positive training videos on YouTube and worked with my very anxious pup for years – we are still working on some things and that’s okay because I’m still working on some things Re myself!

      We have fun and bond a lot during training. So while it’s great if people have access to an expert, it’s also possible to do a lot ourselves. And fun.

  6. Rapunzel says:

    Adopted two Kitties last year. Food, litter, toys, vet bills are all something you have to anticipate when you take on fur babies.

  7. Libellule says:

    I adopted a senior dog in November. It’s expensive but my life is so much better i would have paid double that amount

  8. Ariel says:

    I have two old dogs. One i have had for a decade, the other we got this summer- he had been rescued and fostered and was in terrible shape. Here’s the thing, my mom died in 2020, and i inherited a small sum of money- and that money is paying to help my little senior dog come through to have his golden years. He has eye medication, he has to be groomed (part shih tzu), all of that is expensive. And then there was the dental work, approx $2500 plus the $300 blood work beforehand. It is a lot. But because i understand going in what would be required financially, and i do have a bit put aside for senior dog maintenance, it is okay. But it is a lot.
    Walter is totally worth it though. He was bald from repeated skin irritation (no flea treatment for years), and after weekly baths with medicated shampoo, his hair is lush and curly. And he is really happy to lay on the bed all day.
    We do not do doggy day care- they are fine laying on the bed at home. The plus of having senior dogs- not so much energy that you need to take them to play every day.
    I feel like people don’t always realize that with young dogs, they are less likely to eat your house if they are tired and all played out. Long walks, dog park time or doggy daycare ($$$) have to be undertaken for most healthy, young dogs.

    Also, last thing, i find that animal rescuers are doing an amazing thing- but sometimes the people who are best with animals, are lacking in people skills. Which does not help the rigorous interview process. They can be abrupt and rude and off-putting.

    • H says:

      @Ariel, you are an angel. Most people don’t even look at senior dogs. I’m currently fostering two Shih Tzus who’s owner had to go into a nursing home because she had Alzheimer’s. They are 11 and 9 and while they’re in fairly good shape, they do have a few medical issues. But because they are bonded, the rescue I volunteer for is making sure they are adopted together.

      I’ve had them since November, and if they’re here another 6 months that’s fine with me. Senior dogs are the BEST. Yes, you might incur some medical costs but they are so low-key and chill… I wouldn’t own another puppy if you paid me. Much love to you and Walter.

  9. Bettyrose says:

    My pandemic dog has practically attended private school for the training he needed. But we live in the Bay Area where cash has long since been replaced by gold and diamonds as currency. Wasn’t our first dog and we knew the risks going in. Well, we thought this time around we could do the training ourselves but the little guy did have signs of PTSD and it was quite a challenge. Worth it though. Snuggling with both pooches right now. ❤️

  10. fluffybunny says:

    I once spent over 5k on 2 root canals and a crown for my dog so I know they are expensive but why are all of these people suddenly realizing animals cost money? I have 2 rescues and one of them has food allergies. Everything she eats is super expensive. My husband ordered food the other day and was complaining because the price went up $20 a bag.

    • Agirlandherdog says:

      I work with a rescue doing home visits for potential adopters, which means I get to see their application. On the application, the rescue asks how much you expect expenses to be for your pet per year. I continue to be shocked whenever someone says $500 or less… that won’t even cover food and basic standard of care like flea/tick control and heartworm medication. People truly do have no idea how expensive animals are, and worse don’t do the research before they adopt (or buy) a pet. I think when we adopted, I put $5,000 on the application, and that was a conservative estimate, which included no extraordinary expenses.

  11. Stephanie says:

    My 10 year old toy poodle has major medicated separation anxiety so before I became a stay at home people mom we would send him to daycare while we were at work. In Manhattan it was nearly $900 a month to do so. Proper training and socialization are so key, but so is teaching your pup it’s ok to be alone (crated or not) for periods of time or it will create separation issues. People have done their pets and their wallets a disservice by not doing some alone time training during the pandemic.

    • cassandra says:

      Oof. And I thought my $500 a month on doggy daycare was expensive.

      It’s worth it though, he loves it so much and he’s so good with other dogs because of going there.

  12. Jessica says:

    I adopted a dog in November 2020, so not right at the start of lockdown, but still “early” (lol sob) in the pandemic. Surprise heart worms treatment cost $800, reactive rover training was $250, and after the required exercise restriction from the heart worm treatment, it’s like he never had the training! Food is $50/bag, I’ve spent hundreds on toys and bones. But I love him so much and he’s definitely helped me get through the past year!

  13. tealily says:

    First time dog owners, please don’t feel like your dog needs a babysitter! I think that if a dog has been home with you all day through work-from-home, sending them off to doggy daycare will probably stress them out a bit. If your dog isn’t destroying things while you’re at work, just let them stay home. Some dogs need more stimulation, but for most dogs, leaving a Kong with some peanut butter in it is probably enough. You can crate train them if you’re very worried about it.

    I think the bigger problem is that a lot of young dogs that were adopted over the pandemic have not been socialized around people and other dogs. That’s going to be a trickier thing to overcome.

    • Same says:

      Agreed. I can’t even fathom spending hundreds monthly on … dog daycare .

      • North of Boston says:

        It depends on the dog, and the living situation.

        Sometimes hanging at home is fine and sometimes it isn’t and kicks up all kinds of dysfunctional behavior, symptoms the dog is stressed, unhappy.

  14. Katherine says:

    This needs to be talked about more – people (me included) have no idea what they are getting into with pets. With kids, people tend to at least have some general idea that it’s going to be costly and take a lot of time (that said, from what I hear most still aren’t as prepared as they should be and don’t really realize what a commitment it is, so the children thing also needs to be talked about way, way more). With pets, it always feels like it’s much less difficult and expensive and pure joy. And it’s totally not true. I’ve almost adopted a dog right before the pandemic and I’m so glad I (kind of accidentally) read up about dog ownership and all the things you need to do, train them, spend time with them, educate them, socialize them with pets and people, and give enough physical activity, all the vet expenses, etc. I quickly realized this was definitely not something I could handle even if I really, really, really wanted a dog.

  15. Mimi says:

    I became a first time dog owner during summer 2020 and I was definitely not prepared for what it entailed. People tried to warn me but I would not listen and they were all right on target about how much of a commitment it is, but I have fallen madly in love with this little creature and she’s become the thing I hold most dear, next to my child. She has taken over my life and household and I can hardly bear to be apart from her (we both have separation anxiety!). When I first got her, I had a personal trainer come to my house to help me figure out how to work with her. That helped but it wasn’t cheap. My dog does have socialization issues, like other pandemic dogs, and doesn’t understand how to interact with other dogs properly (she either becomes standoffish or she wants them to chase her; there’s no in between). I don’t want to be around anyone I don’t have to, so I am not sure how to overcome that at this point. Getting another dog has been recommended but that would be too much for me.

    For the uninformed, like myself, I would almost compare owning a dog to suddenly becoming physically and financially responsible for an elderly parent. If you feel you are ready to assume that sort of burden, then your eyes are wide open and I feel you will be able to appreciate all the joys and highs of being a pet owner. I am so lucky to earn a good living and to be working from home indefinitely (at this point) due to the pandemic. I have a dog-sitter ($25/day) that I use every now and then but I do worry what would happen if I were called back in to work or when my teen goes off to college and I don’t have anyone to help with her care. Of course, I also worry what would happen to her if something happened to me. To be honest, I don’t know if I would do it again knowing what I know now but my dog is here and part of the family so there’s no turning back–I have to find a way to make it work.

  16. Aang says:

    I’ve got a senior dog with leukemia, a senior cat with ibs, and three younger cats. The vet bills are $$$ for the seniors and one of the younger ones has PTSD from an accident and needs anxiety meds and a behaviorist to help her out. It is a mortgage payment equivalent in vet bills every month. When my dog goes I won’t be getting another for a very long time, if ever. I love her to pieces but a dog is a huge commitment and my lifestyle is changing as my kids grow up. I’m really lucky that my brother will stay at my house to pet sit when I travel or I’d never be able to go anywhere.

  17. Same says:

    Growing up our dogs lived in the backyard in a dog house , they went to the vet occasionally for shots . My parents would have never considered thousands of dollars for dental care , grooming fees or a dog sitter when they went to work . They also wouldn’t have had the disposable income . I never felt like any of our pets were Mistreated.

    Just interesting to see how time changes .

    • BothSidesNow says:

      I know, isn’t it interesting! Though we had a cattle dog, of some certain breed, and he was treated like a king! He got all of the steak bones, slept inside and only went out certain times of the day. But my parents had a large covered back porch and two dog houses, since we kept my dads dog as well sometimes. But he was treated like a king! He was so loved. He went out one night and never came back. I was heart broken for a year, at least.

  18. Jay says:

    DINK couple here who adopted our furbaby during the pandemic. I’ve wanted a dog for over 15 years and finally committed, and it’s been a lot of unexpected work and expense. Today alone we woke at 4am to him vomiting on our bedroom floor and later shelled out 60 dollars for his grooming and to get his glands expressed.

    We underestimated everything to do with this pup including the pure love and joy he would bring us but I do wish we had of sat down and done some more research to know exactly what we were signing up for.

  19. C-No says:

    I adopted a pandemic cat in August 2020 and already had/have an older cat. TBH I got him because the old one is getting older and I wanted to overlap my cats so when she goes I’m not bereft of cats. Guess which one has chronic health issues? Not the old girl. I tell him he wasn’t supposed to be the problem child, while I buy him expensive prescription food and spend thousands of dollars on vet bills. Fortunately I don’t have to and am not going to go back to the office, but on the occasions I’ve been out all day they’ve been fine, they just sleep all day (because they are cats, not dogs).

  20. Dara says:

    I’ve been looking for a fur baby to adopt for awhile now, but I can’t quite ever cross the finish line. It’s such a huge commitment, in time, money and emotions. I have met so many dogs that get “turned in” because their people weren’t prepared. My heart breaks. I know if I do adopt a dog, it will be til death do us part – even if it turns out the pooch is a hot mess and wants to kill every animal it sees.

    In the meantime, I’ve become the default dogsitter for every friend and neighbor that needs it. It’s gotten to the point where I almost don’t need one of my own, I’ll have three different pups in my care in the next month and can’t wait. All the fun, none of the expense.