Here’s a tip to save thousands in veterinary fees: It starts before you even bring the dog home.

Pet owners are commonly concerned about the high cost of veterinary care. There are many reasons for those costs, but I am not here to justify any of them. What I will do is point out some things you can do, when making a decision regarding what animal to take home as a pet, that could save you a great deal of money in the long run. Of course no recommendations can imply any guarantee. When dealing with biological systems just about anything is possible. But here are just a few recommendations that can help reduce the risk of serious health and behavioral issues and their associated costs:

Pet selection is often based on emotion, but this really needs to be balanced with a healthy dose of rational thought.

If you are considering getting a pet:

ALWAYS do your research before you select a breed or type of pet. Start by talking to your veterinarian (if you do not have one yet, get one before you get a pet!). Remember, we do not sell animals so have no vested interest in what you choose. Our job is to help keep your choice alive and happy for many, many years and while we earn our living in part by treating the ill, none of us like to see a sick or suffering pet. We would all be very happy if your pet lived its whole life needing nothing but regular preventative care.

Certainly you can talk to breeders and read books or websites about breeds, but those sources tend to focus on the positive aspects of a breed and rarely give you a real sense of any of the negative health or behavioural concerns that you need to be aware of. This database lists many of the known breed-related health concerns in dogs – // You definitely should review this to know what you might be getting into. If you are considering a cat, have a look at this – // money at the vet

Selecting the right dog can help you save:

Consider your lifestyle, your activity level, your living environment and how various types of dogs might fit into that. For example, if you are an active hiker, you need a dog that can keep up to you (sound in limb and wind). Consider what your pet will need in the way of exercise and intellectual stimulation and ask if you will be able to provide this. Do you have the physical space and the time to keep an active, intelligent dog stimulated and happy?

NEVER base your breed selection on any movie, TV show, novel or YouTube clip. These tend to present completely distorted representations of the typical behaviour for that breed. A prime example is how the TV show “Frasier” implied that the Jack Russell Terrier is a good apartment dog for someone with limited mobility. Nothing could be further from the truth.

These high-energy bundles of joy need lots of exercise and work and would be most unhappy living as Eddie did.

Avoid any extreme breeds or individuals. By that I mean, avoid extremely large dogs, extremely small dogs, dogs with excess skin, dogs with no muzzle, dogs with very short legs and/or very long bodies. (For more about this, visit // and // Dogs with “extreme” features are inclined to have more expensive health issues than dogs of moderate design. And for the very large dogs, you will be paying a lot more for food and any medications.

I would caution against getting a pet from “Champion” show stock as they are often highly inbred increasing the risk of genetic diseases. The show world tends to reward breeding for extreme features and ever-changing fashion trends that often have nothing to do with health and fitness; sometimes, it’s quite the opposite. An interesting read is A Matter of Breeding by Michael Brandow (2015).

In the same vein, going to a “reputable breeder” may or may not be a good idea. Upon what is their reputation based? If it is for producing dogs or cats that win in the conformation show ring, run away. If their reputation is based on producing healthy, emotionally well-balanced animals with exemplary longevity, give them a look. However, in general I favour the “adopt, don’t shop” approach.

‘Purebred’ mutts, designer breeds….are still muttssave money at the vet adopt

The maltipoo, puggle, chorkie, labradoodle… are not “designer breeds”. They are mutts. I am all for mutts, prefer them actually, but there is no need to spend hundreds of dollars for a “pure-bred” mutt. While cross-breeding can result in healthier animals (diluting the breed-related genetic disorders of each of the parents) by combining the best of the two parental breeds, some individuals in those litters will combine the worst of each parental breed.

The best odds of having a dog with no genetically-based health concerns is to get one of no discernible breed – one with so many breeds in the mix that you can only guess at the family background. Pounds and shelters are full of great mutts looking for homes and they are usually already house-trained, vaccinated, spayed/neutered, saving you even more money while giving a home to an animal in need. Again, adopt, don’t shop.

If you can do these things it will increase your chances of having a healthy, “low maintenance” pet that is well suited to the environment you will be providing for it. And as a side-benefit, that could save you a lot of money.


About the Author

Fraser Hale, DVM, FAVD, DAVDC graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College in 1984 and spent six years in general practice before committing himself fully to the world of dental and oral surgery for pets, becoming a diplomate of the American Veterinary Dental College in 1997. Dr. Hale is a sought-after speaker and writer on oral health issues and is a consultant on Family, running and fly-fishing are among his non-veterinary passions.