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shelter pets

Why are Rescue Pets So Expensive to Adopt?

According to findings by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 6.5 million animals go into shelters annually. Only 3 million get adopted.

Rescue shelters cover the costs of caring for the remaining 3.5 million animals while ensuring they are healthy and safe before hopefully getting adopted. This and other factors all add up to making pet adoption prices relatively high.

About Shelter Pets

Cat in shelter

Rescue or shelter pets often result from undesirable conditions such as cruel owners, severe illness, starvation, and homelessness. 

Some rescue animals are barely alive when picked by pet shelter staff and therefore require much care to get nursed back to health. 

Unfortunately, not all rescue animals make it out alive. 

There are different types of shelters, and all have different operating policies, although the bottom line is to provide safe and comfortable living conditions for the rescued animals. 

Shelter pets come into the shelter in four major ways:

  • Lost from the current owner.
  • Stray animals, possibly from a homeless litter.
  • Rescued from cruel conditions such as forced animal breeding and animal fight clubs.
  • Returned or surrendered by the current owner for several reasons, such as relocation, allergies, other sicknesses, inability to take care of the pet anymore, etc.

Once the rescued animal is under the shelter’s care, there are five possible outcomes for it:

  • Returned to owner if it was accidentally lost.
  • Fostered by a temporary caregiver.
  • Adopted to a forever home.
  • Lives in the shelter until its natural death.
  • Euthanasia.

The Current Price of Pet Adoption

Naturally, public animal shelters have lower pet adoption prices since they get some funding from the government.

Private animal rescue shelters are significantly more costly as they rarely get any extra financial help other than from their own resources. 

Adoption prices vary depending on the following factors:

  • Animal age– Younger animals are more expensive than older ones as they have more demands.
  • Animal Breed and Demand– Some animal breeds such as Chihuahuas have a higher demand due to their size and ‘more desirable’ appearance. Rottweilers, Pitbulls, and black cats often face rejection due to misinformation and misconceptions.
  • Pet Care Costs– Some shelter animals require intensive training, therapy, and other medical care before being viable for adoption. These costs determine the eventual adoption costs of said pets.

How Much Does It Cost to Adopt a Dog?

Dogs are definitely the most popular pets that get adopted around the world. However, the adoption costs are not standard for all dogs. Factors such as age, breed, health conditions, and the period of stay in the rescue shelter all determine how much it would cost to adopt a dog.

Puppies are the most expensive, and their adoption fees range between $300 and $600. Young dogs require training, medical care, and special feeding to grow.

Older dogs, whose adoption costs range between $150 and $250, already have training and vaccinations done and may only require food, shelter, and vet check-ups in the future.

How Much Does it Cost to Adopt a Cat?


Cats are cheaper to adopt than dogs because they do not require as much training and care as dogs do. 

Kittens can cost between $100-$250, while adopting older cats could be between $20 and $175.

How Much Does It Cost to Adopt Other Animals?

Some people prefer having other pets other than cats and dogs. These could be snakes, rabbits, birds, rodents, and other reptiles.

Animals aside from dogs and pets are cheaper to adopt because they are fewer, may require less care, and are often smaller. The average adoption cost for other pets ranges from $10-$200.

The Most Expensive Places to Adopt a Pet

Private rescue shelters are definitely the most costly places to adopt a pet. This is mainly because private shelters cover all the animal rescue costs from their pockets, which then reflects onto the adoption fees. 

Geographically speaking, San Francisco is the most expensive city to adopt a dog, with an average annual cost of $4900. This could be because of the high costs of veterinary services, pet food, and other pet care services and products.

Cheapest Place to Adopt a Pet

The cheapest place to adopt a pet would be from a public shelter. Thanks to the government subsidies that public rescue shelters get, adoption costs are much more affordable than private animal shelters. 

Regarding geographical location, Orlando, Florida, is the cheapest city to adopt and keep a pet, with an average annual cost of $2900.

Why are Pet Adoption Fees So High?

Considering all the factors and resources that go into rescuing and caring for shelter animals, you will see that pet adoption fees are not exaggerated. Here are some of the reasons why pet adoption fees seem costly:

Medical Pet Care

Dog medical

Most rescue animals come from traumatizing conditions such as cruel homes, starvation, homelessness, injuries from previous owners or other uncouth people, and diseases due to deplorable living conditions. 

When shelters rescue these animals, they begin treatment immediately. Treatment could be anything from simple deworming and defleaing to getting x-rays, caring for broken bones, and even doing surgeries on the animals. 

As mentioned, most shelters cover these out-of-pocket costs, and the high adoption fees help refund the shelters.

Shelters also keep all animal medical records up to date until the day of adoption, including all necessary vaccinations, spaying and neutering, and any additional medication for chronically ill animals.

Running the Organization

For animal rescue shelters to keep operating, they require funds to cover expenses such as salaries, rents, transportation costs, and facilitation resources. 

Since most shelters do not have outside funding, they require the income they get from adoption fees which helps them keep things running. 

Some rescue shelters conduct animal fostering, where animals stay with temporary caregivers before they get permanent families to reduce rental expenses.

Animal Training Costs

dog training

Some animals come into rescue shelters as puppies and therefore require behavioral and home training before being released to their new families.

Some behavior and obedience training schools cost $300-$600 per week for individual animals. With just ten dogs, this is $6000 per week for the rescue shelter.

By spreading the costs to all the shelter animals’ adoption fees, the shelter can acquire some money to offer the best training for its pets.

General Animal Food, Shelter, and Care

Animals in rescue shelters require daily food, shelter, and care. All these things require money. Some animals are lucky enough to only stay a few weeks or months before adoption.

However, some can stay for years without ever finding forever families. For this latter group of rescue animals, pet shelters require a constant flow of money to provide decent and comfortable living conditions. High adoption fees are one way of getting said money.

A Form of Assurance

Rescue dog

It is not uncommon for people to buy or otherwise acquire pets only to mistreat them. In a way, high adoption fees help rescue shelters deter potentially dangerous people from getting the animals.

A person with ill motives will most likely not want to pay much money for an animal they plan to hurt.

The argument is that anyone paying $500+ for an animal would most likely take good care of it in the future.

Is It Cheaper to Adopt a Pet Than to Buy One?

Pet adoption is much cheaper than buying a pet because pet shelters often cover all the initial pet care costs, such as vaccination, neutering, microchipping, and training.

When you buy a pet, the price might be lower than the adoption fees, but all the care costs will fall on you and will be way higher than any adoption costs.

Can You Adopt a Pet for Free?

You cannot adopt a pet from a rescue shelter for free. However, you can adopt one from a friend or neighbor with a new litter of kittens or puppies.

You could also have the transfer of ownership from a friend who can no longer care for their pet for various reasons. Another way to adopt a pet for free is when they rescue a stray directly from the street.

Pros and Cons of Adopting a Pet

Adopting a pet is often a lifelong commitment that requires full devotion and attention. It is not always an easy choice and could sometimes have a few disadvantages. Here are a few pros and cons of adopting a pet:


  • Cheaper than buying a pet.
  • Helps fight against pet breeding mills.
  • Helps rescue an animal’s life.
  • Offers support rescue shelters that continuously help disadvantaged animals.
  • Helps with animal population control.
  • It can improve your mental and physical well-being.


  • Adoption processes can be long and tiring.
  • Adoption fees can be costly.
  • Some adopted animals can find it hard to adapt and settle in new homes.
  • Some adopted animals require lifelong special care, which can be costly.

Read Also: Why are Petland Puppies So Expensive? (Are there Alternatives?)

So is Pet Adoption Worth It?

While adoption costs can be indeed costly, the good that pet adoption does greatly outweighs the financial burden imposed.

There is never a price tag on life, human or otherwise. Therefore, pet adoption is absolutely worth it, and if you can, find your way to your local rescue shelter. You never know what miracle awaits you.