Do you want a pet? Be sure to check the cost first

6 min | 20 May 2022

Janice Warman

Even now that the pandemic rush to buy pets is over, people are still wanting cats and dogs. But they need to be aware of the possible expenses.

As the Covid–19 pandemic gathered momentum in 2020, it had an unexpected side-effect: a rush of people buying dogs and cats. Suddenly everyone who was stuck at home wanted a pet – 3.2 million households bought them since the pandemic started.

Freedom Day

Sadly, the effect was short–lived, and there was a rush to drop dogs and cats off for adoption from July 2021, when Freedom Day saw people beginning to go back to offices. The Dogs Trust (Opens in new window), the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, reported a 39% increase in phone calls to hand over dogs from July to December 2021.

Despite the rush to return pets before returning to work, cats and dogs still remain popular – there are around 12 million dogs and 12 million cats in the UK. But if you are thinking of adding a pet to your family, it would be best to consider the costs first. The vet charity People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA (Opens in new window)) says dogs can live on average around 14 years, and the lifetime cost varies from at least £4,600 up to £25,000 for a small dog and from at least £5,700 up to £30,800 for a large dog.

Costs can be surprising

For most owners, the cost of owning a cat will be at least £12,000 and could be as much as £24,000 over their lifetime, says the PDSA, with ongoing monthly costs at around £70. If you are planning to get a dog or a cat, consider adopting from a rescue organisation. If you're planning to buy a pedigree puppy or kitten, do your research, as some breeds have health problems. You can use breed organisations to find a reputable breeder. There is detailed advice from www.gov.uk (Opens in new window). The PDSA have a useful quiz (Opens in new window) to help you choose the best pet.

Avoid puppy farms

Don’t be drawn into the minefield of online ads. Please don’t buy a puppy from a motorway service station, a popular sales point for unlicensed puppy farms, where dogs are repeatedly bred and kept in very poor conditions. They are now illegal in the UK, but some still exist. The RSPCA (Opens in new window) has tips on how to spot an unlicensed puppy farm by checking the adverts carefully. Be wary – visit the litter in situ and meet the mother with her puppies.

Reputable breeders, in contrast, will likely want to know a lot about you. The owner of a gorgeous golden Labrador told me he was closely cross-questioned by her breeder about his work, lifestyle, and ability to give the puppy training and time. She told him that if she didn’t think the potential owner was right, she would not sell them a puppy.

Good breeders are likely to have your puppy or kitten microchipped, breed–registered, and ensure they have the first vaccinations and wormers before you pick them up. Many have waiting lists.

I’m a fan of rescue dogs because I have one. After our beloved Labrador died at 12 of a heart condition, we were heartbroken, and couldn’t face the idea of another dog for a year or so. But then it occurred to me that we could give a rescue dog a home.

Gus’s adorable face popped up on the website of a nearby animal welfare charity. The moment I met him, he jumped onto my lap, and I thought he could be the one. My daughter came with me on my second visit and fell in love. My husband was less certain but was a quick convert once he arrived.

Insure your pet

Gus was a little highly strung and nervous, and he hated men (husband excepted!) He had clearly had a tough time in his previous home. But he settled in quickly and five years on, we can’t imagine life without his sweet, happy presence.

Once you have your dog or your puppy, it's highly advisable to insure them. Vets fees can be very high, and there is no knowing what might happen, from disease to accident. Costs vary, so do some comparison shopping first.

It's just as important to insure cats. I learned my lesson years ago. We had two dogs and three cats, and the total insurance costs were high. But no sooner had I cancelled the cat's policies than the cat next door attacked one of ours, almost eviscerating her. She survived (after a lot of stitches and a long recuperation), but the vet's fees came to over £800. Luckily, our equally shocked neighbour offered to pay the bill for us, but you can’t always count on kindness.

One person we spoke to said, "I was so lucky that I took out insurance soon after we got our pup as she needed serious care in her first few months, which would've cost us around £6K due to her having to stay a few days in a specialist hospital.

Some people take the approach of putting money aside monthly instead of paying for insurance but it would've taken us 8 years of saving up £60 per month vs the £30 we pay now monthly that covered the whole bill.

The worst thing is when animals need to be put down because the owners can't pay the hospital bills."

Pet health plans can spread the cost

To help spread routine costs, you could consider a pet health plan offered by many veterinary practices, which can provide vaccinations, flea and worm treatments and regular check-ups for a set monthly fee. They can also text to remind you to de-flea (monthly), worm (quarterly) and vaccinate (annually).

What is harder to put a price on is the mental health benefit of having a dog or a cat. There is research showing that simply stroking a pet for 15 minutes can lower your blood pressure as they provide companionship, reduce anxiety and boost self-confidence.

Their needs matter

But their needs are just as important. If you can take them to a puppy socialisation class and then a training class, the benefits will be twofold: it will be great for them and good for your relationship. Dogs thrive on mental stimuli as well as walks. You need to be sure you have the time to provide both. If you are heading back to the office, consider hiring a dog walker to help avoid separation anxiety. Cats are great company and don’t generally need walking, although some do – our Burmese cats walked miles through the woods with us, even in the snow.

Owning a cat or a dog, providing you do the sums first, is likely to be beneficial for you and for them. Our little Gus went a step further. While walking him, my husband noticed he was getting sharp chest pains, which turned out to be symptoms of angina. The resulting insertion of a couple of stents opened up a blocked artery and probably saved his life. So the rescue pup rescued him in return: now that’s a win-win!

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