Every week, a lovely woman named Rosie over at Eco Gites of Lenault in Normandy hosts a pet-focused linkup called Animal Tales and for months I haven’t been able to participate due to my lack of pet posts. Today I’m changing that…
I’m obsessed with dogs. I fully admit that! Having a dog is something that completes me, and as an adult, I’ve only owned a dog in France. On the surface, having a dog in France is very similar to what you’d experience in the USA. There are all different breeds, you can get your dog from a shelter, rescue, breeder, or pet store (;-() just like the USA and veterinarians are widely available. Also, the French love their dogs as much as Americans do.
But let’s talk differences between having a dog in France versus the USA.
Differences with having a dog in France vs. the USA
As with everything I write here, the points below are my opinion based on my experience of seeing 8 or so vets (including ER visits outside of regular hours) and specialists over the past couple of years.
Veterinary care in France
Veterinary care is cheaper overall
One of my favorite things about having a dog in France is the cost of care. I think just about every single aspect of vet care — from surgery, to meds, to lab work, to wellness visits and vaccines — is cheaper in France. Like human healthcare, pet care costs are extremely reasonable and I never hesitate about bringing my dog in if something seems out of the ordinary. Even emergency vet visits on Sunday will not leave you broke. I find affordable pet care to be the case across the board regardless of specialty. Compared to the USA veterinary costs, France is a steal! (but it evens out when you realize how much your gas costs, taxes, etc.)
Vets often examine your dog in front of you
In the US, I remember taking my dog to the vet with my family and then having the vet take him to “the back” to clean his ears, give him vaccines, and any other procedure he was getting. In France, veterinary care seems more transparent and the veterinarian will often take care of the pet right in front of the owner, sometimes asking the owner to assist if a vet tech isn’t available.
I think this helps alleviate your pet’s (and owner’s) anxiety since the animal will stay put on the table with you instead of being whisked away to some place unknown. You get to see everything firsthand. The vet has administered vaccines, clipped nails, cleaned ears, emptied anal glands, taken blood and done full exams all in my presence. I like seeing what’s happening.
Medicines aren’t available at the vet (aside from flea and worm treatments)
I remember getting medicine for my dog in the US and most of the time the vet’s office would prepare the little bottle of pills right there in the office and have it available when you came in to pay and pick up your dog. It had the dog’s name and address and instructions printed right on it. The cost was often a shock too. In France, the vet will give you your dog’s prescription and you can go to the regular pharmacist to get the box of pills (at a reasonable cost). Exceptions would be flea and tick meds which you can buy from your vet’s office and a short supply of antibiotics. We’ve been given those in a little paper envelope.
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Dogs are welcome
As long as your dog is on the smaller side and well-behaved (doesn’t bark or act like a fool), you can walk into places without people batting an eye. Any type of store that sells or handles food is a no-no (grocery store, for example) although my neighborhood bakery doesn’t care if I grab a baguette with my dog. I’ve taken Dagny to the post office, restaurants (both inside and outside seating), pharmacy, tabac, realtor, H&M, Sephora and more. Most small businesses don’t really care if your dog is by your side and I really like that aspect of having a dog in France!
Doggy daycare/home boarding isn’t popular
Something that struck me as a major difference between having a dog in France versus the US is the lack of daycare and boarding options in France. I don’t know how French people manage without having the mainstream option of private pet boarding or daycare. Some people take their pets on vacation with them and there are kennels where your dog will stay in a cage or small space while you’re away, but sites like DogVacay don’t really exist. Aside from a few services in major cities and a handful of people offering pet services here and there, dog walkers, daycare and in-home pet care haven’t become a cultural phenomenon. So do French people just leave their dogs home all day? Leave them out in the yard? I haven’t really figured that out yet.
Dogs seem to wander more
I’m not saying everyone lets their dogs wander around off-leash but in general it seems people are more blasé in France about random dogs just walking around — some probably have owners and others are stray. I saw this firsthand in Corsica and it made me nervous and sad for the stray dogs. Every couple of months when Dagny and I are out on a walk, we’ll encounter a lost dog that usually has a collar and is clearly someone’s pet except I’m the only one to ever stop and try to help it.
This is the complete opposite of what would happen in my suburban NJ hometown. Back home, if someone was driving and saw a dog all alone walking on the sidewalk, they’d go out of their way to stop and try to help it. In France? People just mind their own business and I guess have better things to worry about. Is this true of every French person? Of course not. And I get not all people are dog people, but I find it strange that I’m often the only one to care about getting a loose dog to safety. If 10 minutes out of my day would help a dog to not get hit by a car, why wouldn’t I stop to help? I get it’s a different culture but as the more evolved species, I feel we have a right to help other living beings if we’re able to.
Picking up after your dog isn’t commonplace
France is known for its dog poop problem especially in larger cities and this is one stereotype that rings true. But on the flip side, I see pet waste bag dispensers more and more in French parks and fellow dog owners with waste bag dispensers on their pup’s leash, so people are working to make a difference. We’re not quite there yet because even after a day in France, you’ll see there’s no shortage of dog poo in parks and on the street. Gross.
Smaller selection of specialty pet food brands and products
Forget finding specialty products. Sure, you can find a niche brand here and there but the selection is nowhere near what it is in the US. Take Dagny’s raw food diet as an example. In the US, we have Primal, Nature’s Variety, Stella & Chewy’s and more that provide commercial raw diets that you can easily feed your pet. None of this exists in France. Finding specialty grain-free treats, or venison treats, or organic treats, or some other specialty thing? Hard. And if you do find what you want, is it a reasonable price? Probably not. The pet industry is much smaller in France!
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No proof of rabies vaccine required for your municipality
Something I found kind of weird when I moved here is that you don’t need to register your dog with your town’s health department and show proof of a rabies vaccination. Back in NJ, each year we had to produce proof of our dog’s rabies vaccine and pay a small fee to register him with the town. With France being pretty tax heavy (like a TV tax, come on!) I thought for sure I’d have to pay a fee to the city to have a dog. But nope. Even from a statistics perspective, knowing how many pets live in a certain area might be useful info for the town to have, but it seems like none of that is recorded in France.