Struggling to keep up with pet costs? Here’s what the experts want you to know

Pets are an important and much-loved part of the family—but for some owners, the cost of their animals, along with other bills, is a real concern.

Research for dog care charity The Dogs Trust found that more than four-fifths (84%) of dog owners have seen costs related to their pets rise.

Sadly, the charity says its re-homing centers have seen a rise in the arrival of dogs with untreated health conditions. She believes this is because some owners are simply unable to afford the treatment.

“We know that dog owners have a hard time, and eight out of ten dog owners have seen the cost of caring for their canine companions increase,” says Paula Boyden, director of veterinary medicine at Dogs Trust.

“Many are looking at ways they can reduce the amount they spend on their dogs, but at Dogs Trust, we are concerned that some of the choices owners make could be harmful to their dog’s health, and ultimately end up costing owners more in the long run.”

Alarmingly, one in ten (10%) dog owners surveyed by the charity had delayed seeking treatment from non-routine procedures due to costs. A similar number (9%) were late or missed a routine.

The charity stresses that it does not place the blame on vets, who have themselves been affected by the rising costs.

Boyden says, “While skipping your dog’s annual vaccinations may save you some money in the short term, you put your dog at risk of serious illness and even death.

Delaying boosters may also result in the need to restart your dog’s vaccinations, which will cost more.

“We also recommend that you keep up with your dog’s flea and worming treatments. Fleas may seem like a minor problem to deal with, but a bad infestation can be very irritating to your dog.”

Delaying worming treatments is also a risk. Boyden says some types of worms pose a public health risk and can be transmitted to humans.

For food costs, about five (22%) of dog owners surveyed by Dogs Trust have switched their regular dog food to a cheaper version.

For those considering doing so, Boyden says it’s important to check if the food is a “complete” and designed to be used alone, or a “complement,” which should be given with other foods to provide all of their nutritional needs.

“It’s also important to check that the food is appropriate for your dog’s breed and your dog’s life stage,” she adds.

“We really recommend that dog owners speak to their vet surgery for advice before changing their dog’s food to make sure it is appropriate for their pets, and to introduce any new food gradually, as a change in diet can cause stomach upsets.”

Chief veterinarian Dave Tweedle, who works for the My Family Vets network of clinics, says it is estimated that it can cost up to £30,000 to keep a dog for life, and £24,000 for a kitten.

He says a large percentage of dogs and cats are overweight, which can lead to costly health problems, such as arthritis, breathing problems, heart disease and diabetes.

“Not only will measuring their food save you money in the short term, it will help your pet live longer and reduce vet bills in the future,” Tweedle says.

Being up to date on parasite prevention, vaccinations and having regular health exams can be covered as part of monthly healthcare plans, offered by many veterinarians, and may provide value for money, he says.

Meanwhile, the RSPCA website warns that exotic pets can be particularly expensive. The charity warns that lowering temperatures or light sources for exotic pets could lead to serious health problems for them – and potentially higher vet bills.

He suggests that for those struggling with costs, several reptiles can be moved into the same room to share heat sources—but make sure the animals don’t overheat.

Pet insurance is also a major consideration for owners. The Dogs Trust found that 41% of dog owners claimed that the cost of pet insurance had increased.

The charity suggests shopping around for cover and always reading the policy documents – as there will be differences in the level of coverage, what is covered and for how long.

According to the Confederation of British Insurers (ABI), insurers pay out a total of around £2.2m a day in pet claims.

ABI’s Jonathan Purvis says: “The UK pet insurance market remains competitive despite the underlying pressures facing insurers, with the rising cost of veterinary treatment, medication and labour.

“When it comes to our pets, there is no NHS for animals and any emergency treatment can be very expensive,” he adds. “If you are concerned about the cost of coverage, talk to your insurance company to see if there are any options for managing this. You can also benefit from shopping around, but always make sure you choose the policy that best suits your needs.”

As pets age, premiums may increase due to a higher risk of disease. Premiums may also vary by breed.

Graeme Trudgill of the British Insurance Brokers Association (Biba) says that with a new policy it’s important to check whether it will cover pre-existing or recurring conditions. Accident Only policies will cover accidental injury treatment only.

Trudgill adds, “Some coverage is always better than none—and remember, most pet insurance also includes liability that could cover you if your pet accidentally causes injury to someone through no fault of your own.”

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