When people go to adopt an animal from a shelter or rescue group, they’re often surprised by the adoption fees, which can range from $50 to a few hundred dollars, depending on the organization. You’re adopting a homeless animal, so shouldn’t that be free?

While you may find the occasional rescue that regularly adopts out animals at a much lower cost — or even for free — keep in mind that you get what you pay for.

Even though you may be handing over a few large bills to take home your new pet, you’re likely saving money. Shelters and rescue groups typically cover initial veterinary costs, which may be high for an animal in poor health. They also pay for the animals’ food, transportation and other expenses.

Below, take a look at what these adoption fees typically include, but keep in mind that fees and services vary among shelters and rescue groups.

Veterinary wellness exam

As any pet parent knows, trips to the vet aren’t cheap, but when you adopt a cat, dog or other animal from most rescue groups, your pet has already been checked out by a veterinarian.

Vaccinations

Dogs will typically receive vaccinations for rabies, distemper, parvo and kennel cough, while cats get rabies and feline leukemia shots. If your pet has been in a shelter for several months, they likely also received boosters to keep them healthy.

Treatments and preventives

When you adopt a shelter animal, your new pet has probably been treated for fleas, ticks, ear mites and possibly even heartworms, the that last one can be extremely pricey to treat. Animals also receive monthly flea, tick and heartworm preventive treatments to keep them healthy.

Spaying and neutering

Having a new pet fixed at a veterinarian can often run you a couple hundred dollars, but virtually all shelters and rescue organizations include this procedure in their adoption fees. In addition to the spaying or neutering, animals are provided with pain medication and checkups to ensure they’re healing properly.

Microchips

While not all rescues microchip their animals, it’s becoming increasingly common as it’s an excellent way to return lost pets to their homes.

Identification tags

These tags often include microchip information, as well as proof that the animal has received a rabies vaccination.

Food

Adoption fees may cover part of the expense of feeding your pet while he or she was in the shelter, which may include a special diet for animals with food allergies or digestive issues. Some rescues may even provide a bag of food so you can slowly adjust your dog to a new diet.

Other expenses

Depending on the rescue organization and your pet, adoption fees may also include a variety of other costs, including the following:

  • Other medical care, such as antibiotics, X-rays and other treatments
  • Transportation costs if your pet was transferred from another shelter or region
  • Bedding, toys, treats and other extras that improve an animal’s quality of life at the shelter

Also, keep in mind that while your newly adopted pet may have had a clean bill of health, shelters must offset the cost of more expensive cases, such as animals that have been badly injured or have heartworms.

Most importantly, the adoption fees you pay enable the shelter to continue to operate. Many animal-rescue organizations are nonprofits that don’t receive state or federal funding, and they depend on donations and adoption fees.

By providing an animal with a forever home, you’re making space for another cat or dog in need, and paying that adoption fee helps the rescue care for other homeless pets.