Counting the cost of pets

Pet ownership soared during the pandemic, as families stuck at home searched for companion animals to share their lives1. But as the cost-of-living crisis begins to shrink our disposable income, more people are abandoning the pets that they can no longer afford to feed and care for, because of rising bills.2

According to animal charity the RSPCA, both the rising cost of living and the need for many people to return to working in an office post pandemic are prompting a rise in pet abandonments.

Pet ownership can cause a lot of pleasure, but it can be an expensive business, whether this is due to unexpected vet bills, the cost of dog walking services or simply the rise in food prices. However, there are ways to ensure you can afford your pet, whether you are just considering acquiring one or are the owner of an existing animal. Here are some things you can do.

Research the costs first

Pets can be cheap to acquire – especially if you adopt – but the cost adds up over a lifetime. According to the PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) the average dog costs up to £30,000 over a lifetime.
Large dog breeds are the most expensive, the charity says, while smaller dogs can cost up to £25,000 over their lifetime, with medium-sized dog breeds somewhere in the middle.3

Cats come out slightly cheaper, according to the charity, which puts the cost of cat care at at least £12,000 over a lifetime, but warns that this could rise to £24,000 if a cat lives for a long time.4

Even smaller animals might cost more than you may expect. Rabbits cost an estimated £6,500 - £9,000 for a pair over a lifetime5, although the PDSA warns that this could rise as high as £30,000.

You will need to be happy that you can bear these costs before you take on a pet. The cost of pet ownership tends to rise as a pet gets older and has more health needs, so it may be helpful to make contingency plans for this.

Check problem breeds

Some breeds of animal are more prone to health problems than others, which can bump up the cost. Pet insurer Many Pets6 says that English Bulldogs are the most expensive breed of dog to keep partly because they rack up health bills. French bulldogs also have genetic traits that make them expensive.

As well as putting you at risk of expensive bills, you are likely to pay higher insurance premiums for these dogs, so bear this in mind when you are choosing.

Insurance premiums for pedigree cats are also likely to be higher than for domestic shorthairs, or ‘moggies’, while some have specific health issues that may make them even more expensive.

Be sure with insurance

The RSPCA has pleaded with owners to take out pet insurance to prevent even more people from dumping animals they cannot afford. When you take out insurance though, watch out for exclusions and excess premiums.

Some types of cover will only cover pets that do not have pre-existing conditions, and unless it is ‘lifetime cover’, you will not be able to continue claiming for a condition several times after you have made a claim. This means that if your pet becomes unwell and requires more than one treatment for the same thing over its life, you may not be able to continue to claim.

Lifetime cover is more expensive.

Also watch out for exclusions related to certain breeds – for example if a policy will not let you claim for hip problems in a dog where the breed often faces this issue. This could also leave you out of pocket.

Few policies cover your cat or dog for dental work, so ensure you budget for this outside of the policy.

Keep your pet healthy

You cannot guard against every eventuality for your pet, but ensuring you care well for an animal can help to keep costs down. This includes ensuring good nutrition and dental care, including cleaning, to avoid big bills later.

Check with your vet about what vaccinations your pet will need as well to prevent expensive illness.

Flea and worm treatment, as well as neutering will prevent problems further down the line.

Share the care

Want to enjoy a pet, but don’t have the time or the funds? Try sites such as BorrowMyDoggy7 to take other people’s dogs out for a walk or gain a companion for your own furry friend. This can save money and create community too.

1st September 2022

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