How Much Does it Cost to Adopt a Dog?

Three years ago my husband and I made one of the best decisions of our lives when we brought our dog Kyra into our family. We had known for a long time that we wanted a dog, we had done the work to make sure we were prepared for the responsibility and the costs, and the last step was to figure out where we would get our new family member.

My husband and I meeting our dog, Kyra, for the first time at the rescue.

We checked out a few different pet stores and shelters and called a couple of breeders, but none of them felt quite right. We finally found an organization called SAINTS Rescue, a small local non-profit that arranges foster homes and adoptions for puppies and homeless dogs. On our first visit to SAINTS we fell head over heels in love with Kyra, and a few weeks later we brought her to her forever home.

We couldn’t be happier that we chose to adopt. Not only is Kyra the perfect dog for our family, but we feel great about doing our part to combat the homeless pet crisis. Adopting comes with some costs, but we were thrilled that our adoption dollars went to support a great charity.

Why Should You Adopt a Dog

There are countless reasons why adopting is a great choice when adding a dog to your family. Not only are you providing a home for a dog in need, but rescuing a dog can be extremely rewarding for you.

We are facing a homeless pet crisis – more than 6 million cats and dogs end up in shelters every year!

We are in the midst of a homeless pet crisis. Every year, more than 6 million cats and dogs enter shelters in the US alone, and less than half of them are adopted out. As a dog lover you can help to combat this crisis is by adopting from a shelter instead of supporting puppy mills.

There are many benefits to adopting a shelter dog instead of purchasing a pure-bred puppy from a breeder. Adoption does come with some costs, but it’s typically a lower-cost option for getting a new puppy. Shelter puppies are generally healthier and have received better vet care during their first weeks.

Adopting a shelter dog and saving their life is incredibly rewarding. 

There are also benefits to adopting a mutt instead of a pure-bred dog, like a lower chance of genetic diseases, and even lower rates of dog-napping! Adopting an older dog can be extra rewarding – and you get to skip the difficult puppy stage.

In light of the homeless pet crisis, adopting just makes sense. With so many dogs waiting for their forever home there’s no need to support puppy mills. By adopting a shelter dog and saving a life you’ll feel great about your decision, and likely save money in the process.

The Dog Adoption Process

Now that you’ve decided that adoption is the right choice for you, it’s important to take some time to educate yourself and plan your experience. Knowing what to expect from the adoption process will help you feel confident about your decision, and help keep your budget in check.

There are many great shelters to choose from when looking to adopt a puppy. 

Finding a Shelter

Your first step is to find a shelter to work with. There are likely many options near you, from larger organizations like the SPCA to smaller local shelters, or even private adoptions.

More established organizations typically have a more rigorous adoption process, but provide a higher quality of consistent care. Local shelters and private adoptions can be great as well, but you’ll need to do a bit more work on your end to ensure you understand what’s included, what’s not, and what sort of care your puppy has received before coming home with you.

It’s important to do your research when looking for a shelter dog. 

Before you agree to adopt a dog from any organization, big or small, you should do some basic research:

  • Visit the shelter or home to see for yourself how the puppies are cared for and how healthy they are. Get to know the people or organization you’re adopting from so you can feel confident that your puppy has been given the best care. Most shelters would be delighted to have you volunteer some time to help out while getting to know them.
  • Ask questions. Find out all you can about your potential future dog and his life so far. Get proof of vaccines and vet care to start your dog’s medical file and give your vet a baseline. This is especially important with smaller organizations and private adoptions.
  • Check for reviews online, ask for references and talk to friends and family for referrals. Most people are happy to share their experiences and can help you narrow down your options by tipping you off to some organizations to look into (and some to avoid!).
  • If you have other pets in your home, do your best to arrange an introductory visit before you bring your new puppy home to make sure they are a good fit with the rest of your family.

Not sure where to start in finding a shelter? The ASPCA has a database of their adoption centres across the country, as well as links to local shelters. PetFinder searches multiple adoption websites in your area to show you a complete list of dogs available for adoption near you.

On a local level, sites like Craigslist and Facebook are a great way to find local dogs for adoption. Just be sure to do your research and choose a reputable organization or family that you are comfortable with.

The Adoption Application

Once you’ve found an organization or family that you’re comfortable with and you’ve found the perfect dog for your family, the real work of the adoption process starts.

Take your time and be honest when completing our adoption application.

Most organizations, even small ones, will expect you to complete an application before approving you to adopt a dog. This application can be pretty intense, especially with larger organizations. If possible, look for an organization that uses a “conversation-based” application process that base their decision on a discussion with you, rather than a black-and-white checklist.

The purpose of the application is to get to know you and your family and ensure that you’ll provide a safe and happy forever home for your new dog. It will ask about your lifestyle and work, your house and neighbourhood, and your experience with dogs, as well as your reasons for adopting now.

Think through how you’ll handle any potential issues, and work with the shelter to find the right dog for you.

Take your time answering all of the questions, be honest, and be detailed, especially about how you will handle any potential issues. If you don’t have a fenced-in yard, for example, don’t shy away from this fact – be upfront about it, and also highlight how you will take daily walks and won’t let your dog outside alone to deal with it.

Good organizations will work with you to help you find the right pet for your lifestyle, so don’t be discouraged if the process seems overwhelming, or even if you get rejected! Keep trying until you find the right organization and dog for you and your family.

The Adoption Process

The length of the adoption process can vary widely depending on where you adopt from.

Large shelters can be more efficient, but they will have a rigorous application process and it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to get approved. Smaller organizations could take even longer, since they rely on volunteers who have to work around other commitments. Wherever you adopt from, it’s not likely that you’ll be able to bring your new dog home right away.

The type of dog you’re adopting can also factor into the length of the adoption process. If you’re adopting a puppy you may need to wait until they reach rehoming age (usually around 8 weeks old) or have completed certain vet visits. Even if you’re adopting an older dog, you may need to wait a few days to take them home, especially if there are any immediate health issues that need to be stabilized.

The adoption process can take a few weeks. 

Preparing For Adoption

While you’re waiting for your application to be approved or your dog to be ready to come home, there’s lots you can do to pass the time and get ready for your new family member.

Make sure you have all the things you need for your new dog – food, toys, dog bed, leash and collar to start. You can start looking for a vet if you don’t already have one and make a meet-and-greet appointment for after your dog comes home. You can enroll your dog in obedience classes in advance so you have something to look forward to together.

While it can take some time to go through the adoption process, it’s worth the wait to save the life of a homeless dog.

Costs of Adopting a Dog

Although adopting can be a more cost-effective way to get a new dog, it still comes with some costs. These costs can vary widely depending on your location, the organization you work with, and the dog you choose.

Adopting a dog comes with costs, but is so worth it. 

The adopt fee helps to cover the shelter’s costs in caring for the animals until they find their forever homes, so you know that your adoption dollars are being put to good use.

Adoption Fees

Although adoption fees will vary, in general you can expect to pay between $115 and $660 to adopt a dog from a shelter. Your location and the dog’s breed and age will factor into the total fee.

What’s Included

Before you adopt, take the time to understand exactly what’s included in the adoption fee, and what’s not.

When adopting through a shelter, the shelter’s adoption fee typically includes comprehensive vet care, including early exams, vaccines, flea and heartworm treatment, and any special care for any health issues.

Many shelter pets come spayed or neutered, or will you offer the option to bring the pet back to the shelter to be fixed when they are older, usually for free or at a steep discount.

It’s common these days for shelter pets to come microchipped and licensed, as well. The adoption fee will also include administrative fees and taxes.

Shelter adoption fees cover early vet care. 

Some shelters will provide a few basic essentials for your new dog – some of the food they’ve been eating, a collar and leash and maybe a carrier.

What’s NOT Included

Although many of the above costs are usually included in the adoption fees, that’s not always the case, especially with smaller organizations or private adoptions. It’s important to read the fine print, ask questions, and be sure you understand exactly what’s covered, and make a plan for how you’ll cover anything that’s not.

Post-Adoption Costs

No matter what’s included in your adoption fee, there are other costs that you’ll have to be prepared for after you bring your new dog home.

It costs upwards of $1,000 a year to keep your dog healthy and happy, and the first year costs can be even higher with all the new equipment, training and pet insurance costs.

Even if your new dog comes vaccinated and fixed, you’ll need to establish a relationship with your own vet, and the initial “meet-and-greet” appointment can cost up to $100. You may need to take care of the spaying or neutering on your own, and this can be pricey.

How to Save on Adopting a Dog

Adoption always comes with some costs, but there are some ways to save on the adoption process.

There are ways to save on adoption fees.

Many shelters will occasionally have “clear the shelter” events – special days when adoption fees are reduced or even waived altogether to help relieve crowding at the shelter.

Looking online on sites like GetYourPet or even Craigslist and Facebook is a great way to find people looking to adopt out pets privately. Sadly, sometimes people are unable to continue caring for their dogs, or their dog unexpectedly has puppies – adopting these dogs privately keeps them out of the shelter, and can be much less expensive than adopting from a shelter. Keep in mind, though, that private adoptions don’t usually include any of the vet care or extras covered by the shelter adoption fee.

Older dogs and mutts are typically less expensive to adopt than puppies or more desirable breeds. Finally, you can consider volunteering with local shelters and animal organizations as a form of bartering to cover the cost of your adoption fee.

Although adoption is a great low-cost option, there are still ways to save on the adoption fee if you get creative and do some research.

Adopt A Dog, Save a Life


Adopt a dog, save a life.

Adoption is an incredibly rewarding way to add a new dog to your family. Adoption is a much better alternative to puppy mills and breeders, and you’ll be doing your part to alleviate the homeless pet crisis while saving money at the same time.

Adopting can be a rigorous process, especially when dealing with a large organization. Be prepared to provide detailed information, be honest about your space and your ability to care for your new dog, and be patient – good things take time, and adding a new dog to your life is worth the wait!