Dog Adoption Fees Explained

How Much Does it Cost to Adopt a Dog?

By Jackie Kelly

A common question among dog adopters is, "Why are adoption fees so high? Shouldn’t adopting a dog be free, or at least super cheap?"

But it’s always important to remember: You get what you pay for.

When you purchase a dog from a breeder, you may be paying anywhere from $500 to over $1,500 for your new puppy, but that’s usually all you're getting for that cost. That’s not the case for shelter adoptions.

“The great thing about adoption is that the shelters do a lot of the work up front,” says Gail Buchwald, senior vice president at ASPCA Adoption Center. “Everything from vaccinations and medical treatment to behavior assessments and spay and neuter services are already taken care of. We also send animals home with collars, leashes, engraved tags, carriers, and many more of the basics an owner needs to get their dog settled at a new home.”

Fees are often adjusted based on the age of the dog, but here is a breakdown of what a good shelter has already put into your dog before you adopt.

Spay, Neuter, and Other Medical Services

“In a private practice setting, dog spays and neuters can range from $200 to $800,” says Dr. Kate Gollon, shelter and community veterinarian for the Animal Rescue League of Boston. That price varies depending on the size of the dog, sex, age, and geographic location, but Gollon says it can often be more than the total cost—between $200 and $450—of all adoption fees, which makes adopting a noticeably less expensive option.

Gollon says all dogs (as well as cats and rabbits) are spayed or neutered before they’re adopted. Among the other medical services covered by the overall cost of adoption, Gollon says, are a full veterinary exam, vaccines (including ones that cover distemper, parvo, rabies and kennel cough, assuming the dog is old enough), heartworm test, intestinal dewormer, and flea and tick treatment.

Some dogs, but not all, may also receive blood work, X-rays, and/or dental work, depending on their condition when they arrive at the shelter.


Not all shelters microchip dogs before they’re adopted, but good ones do. Although a lot of pet owners insist that their adopted dog will never get lost, shelters see it happen all the time—whether it be because of a natural disaster or an unfortunate accident.

Buchwald says it will cost you approximately $40 plus an exam visit fee if you microchip through a veterinary clinic. If you adopt from a shelter that makes microchipping mandatory, it’s built into the adoption cost and ultimately sets the shelter back about $20.

Food, Shelter, and Comfort

The cost to feed a dog for a month in an animal shelter can vary greatly based on the resources of the shelter, but a general ballpark estimate is approximately $40 to $60. This does not include special diets for dogs who need weight loss food or dog food for other specific health needs. Then there are toys, treats, bedding, and other necessities that the shelter provides.

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