Perhaps due to an increase in time spent at home, or the desire for company, it is claimed (by Direct Line) that 5.7 million new pets were bought between the beginning of lockdown in March and the start of September. 

This trend has worried veterinary professionals, who are left hoping new owners have thought through the long-term finance and time commitments of pet-ownership. The current economic uncertainty makes it even more vital to check affordability before taking the plunge. Research by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) found 98% of pet owners underestimated the lifetime costs. The PDSA themselves are seeing this strain, with an 83% increase in enquiries for its charitable services. 

What are the costs that need to be considered?

Purchase of the pet 

The cost of purchasing the pet itself is small compared to the cumulative costs over a lifetime. If you have the cash to splash then go ahead, but remember if you can only just manage those lifetime costs, it may be wise to get a more affordable pet or rescue to start with. 

You can get a dog or cat from a rescue centre for just £50-200, but the average amount paid for a dog since the beginning of lockdown is £801, a big increase, with some owners forking out thousands for popular breeds such as pugs. Pugs can suffer health-wise too, seeing much higher veterinary lifetime costs. Cats and other small pets are less costly, although purebred cats can cost around £1000.

Lifetime costs

Dogs generally live around 12-15 years, costing £21,000-33,000, varying depending on size and breed of dog. Cats can cost around £17,000 over a 15+ year lifetime.

Rabbits cost around £90 per month per pair, and having a friend is as essential as food for these creatures (see our blog on this subject: Do Rabbits need friends?). They can live up to 9 years. Guinea pig starting costs are around £400 (per pair). They live an average of 4 years, costing around £70 per month. Fish, if housed properly, can initially cost as high as £1000 for the tank and equipment, but ongoing costs are low so on average in a lifetime they cost around £2000. 

Getting started

The cost of feeding your cat or dog varies hugely. As a minimum, a cat or small dog would eat £200 of food per year, more if you choose expensive food or they need a special diet. Large breed dogs will often need double the amount of money spent on food than small breeds due to their size alone. This may be a consideration in the size of dog you decide to get. 

Cat litter and trays are another essential for indoor cats. The cost of toys, coats, beds, blankets, leads, baskets, and treats all mount in cost over the years to hundreds of pounds. 

Prevention costs

All dogs must be microchipped by law, and although not a legal requirement in cats, it’s recommended. Microchipping and neutering are one-off costs but vaccines, worming and flea treatment will be needed regularly for the pet’s whole life. 

Vetster option 01 (Blog)

Healthcare

While costs so far are quite predictable to budget for, vet fees can vary hugely depending on your pet’s needs. If you’ve covered your preventative bases, you may be lucky and have a smooth ride, but all pets will need medical assistance at some point, and some will need more than others. 

In the UK, we’re lucky to have a National Health Service, shielding us from the costs of healthcare. If pets become sick or injured, veterinary costs can be a shock. Insurance can literally be lifesaving in these situations.

The best way to budget for these costs is with pet insurance. Vet consultations cost an average of £30-£35, and much more out of hours. Surgery carries an average price tag of around £1,500. A French bulldog with a fractured leg for example, would cost around £7000 to fix. Complicated treatments could set you back as much as £30,000. It’s awful for everyone when cost is influential in choosing your pet’s treatment options, especially if it ends in euthanasia. This is avoidable by having insurance. 

The average annual insurance premium last year according to the ABI (association of British Insurers) was £271, and the value of the average pay-out was £822. There is huge cost variation depending on the type of insurance, the species and breed of your pet. The true value lies in the small print. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. To understand more about insurance check out what is the best insurance cover for my dog?

Professional grooming 

This can set you back around £30 a month depending on the breed. For some breeds regular grooming is essential for good health and welfare. Factor this into the breed type you choose. Some wire-haired breeds need ‘stripping’ rather than grooming which can also set you back. 

Walking and sitting

You may work from home now, but for how long? Dogs require company and regular walks ranging from 30 minutes to several hours depending on the breed. Dog sitters, or doggy day-care may be the answer, but costs could mount. These costs will vary but should be considered if you may not be around, or if your circumstances change. If you are planning to go abroad the average price of a two-week kennel stay is around £250, slightly less for a cat. Taking your pet with you on holiday abroad requires, at minimum, a passport, and can end up much more expensive.

Here we have scratched the surface of some of the cost considerations of owning a pet. It may be time to sit down with a pen and paper and research the costing for your unique circumstances before entering into this hefty commitment. If you decide you can afford the time, energy and money that comes with a pet, go for it. What they give you in return is priceless. Sadly, however, they are not.

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