Because of the climate surrounding COVID-19, the world is craving social nourishment and peace of mind. Remote work, countless hours at home, and the fact that animal shelters and rescue centers are at full capacity are all circumstances that prompt the question: "Should I buy, adopt, or foster a dog?" Dr. Evan Shaw, a Brisbane, Australia-based veterinarian observed that he's seen “...a huge increase in fostering and adoption inquiries over the past 8-12 weeks.” 

Before diving into the waters of pet ownership, it’s beneficial for potential owners to understand associated costs, whether ownership is temporary or permanent. We put our heads together to determine the true costs for new owners upon buying, adopting and fostering dogs within 50 major cities across the U.S. 

Our Methodology

To estimate the total annual cost of dog ownership in each city, we analyzed several factors associated with buying, adopting and fostering dogs including:

Vet bills within the first year of ownership differ widely between buying versus adopting or fostering, primarily because initial vet bills typically include the cost of spaying/neutering, vaccinations and flea/tick prevention. With adopting or fostering a dog, these expenses are typically already taken care of by the shelter or rescue center, so new owners need only worry about the cost of routine exams. 

“Most reputable rescues will pay for all preventative medical expenses, surgeries and monthly food if you foster a dog," says Lorraine Price, Adoption Coordinator at the Southeast German Shepherd Rescue. "Some dogs can cost upwards of $2,000, while our adoption fee is only $250.” 

Some rescues cover routine care items, too. "We cover medical care items such as heartworm treatments," says Shelby Lassiter at Paws for Life. "If foster dogs need medications to treat conditions, we pay for that, too." 

To estimate average adoption fees, purchase prices and the average cost of a dog walker, we calculated mean prices from several zip codes per city using data from the American Kennel Club, the ASPCA and To estimate average annual food costs, we averaged dog food prices among three different price ranges: cheap, mid-range, and premium, for six, 28 lb. bags per year.

The cost factors are listed below with their respective source data:

  1. Average purchase price

Source: DogBreedsList.Info & American Kennel Club (AKC)

  1. Average adoption fee

Source: ASPCA

  1. Average annual vet bill (within the first year of owning)

Source: Banfield Pet Hospital

  1. Average annual licensing fee

Source: Individual .gov city websites

  1. Average annual food costs

Source: Amazon

  1. Average annual cost of startup supplies

Source: American Kennel Club (AKC)

  1. Average annual cost of toys and treats

Source: American Kennel Club (AKC)

  1. Average annual cost of a dog walker

Source: Rover

US map outlining cities where you’ll save the most buying vs. adopting

The top three cities where you’ll save the most adopting versus buying are all located in California: Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose. In Los Angeles, the average purchase price of a dog from a breeder or pet store hovers around $1,966, while the average adoption fee is $450. Annual cost savings are also high in cities like Las Vegas and New York City, with $1,684 and $1,673 annual savings respectively.

US map outlining cities with largest cost savings for fostering vs. buying

Fostering a dog is quite cost efficient. Factors like medical care, start-up supplies and food are all covered by the shelter or rescue center and therefore, the foster parent needs only to cover necessary “extras” such as supplemental supplies, toys, treats and dog-walking fees. The cities with the highest annual cost savings for fostering versus buying a dog are Boston ($1,540), Los Angeles and San Diego (tied at $1,509), and New York City ($1,472).

List of US cities where it is most expensive to adopt a dog

While average adoption fees in cities like Los Angeles, Boston and Denver can range from $400 to $450, dog adoption is a relatively frugal endeavor in cities like Orlando, FL, Memphis, TN and Raleigh, NC—all with average adoption fees under $160. In fact, for $160, you can own a designer dress, a fancy kitchen appliance or a furry friend; the choice is yours!

List of US cities where it is least expensive to adopt a dog

The Cost of Buying A Dog in 50 Cities Around the U.S. 

Want to see how your city stacks up when it comes to dog ownership costs? We’ve compiled our data for 50 major cities in the United States into the interactive table below. Just click on the heading of each column to sort by that category.


For more resources and updates during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit: The Humane Society.

For a list of U.S. rescue centers, see the American Kennel Club’s rescue network.

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