How Much Is That Doggy in the Window? The Cost and Commitment of Pet Ownership

Why, when we talk about the price of things, do we automatically sound really old?!? “Ay, I remember the days when a penny sweet was actually a penny!” There’s always a touch of nostalgia in reminiscing about the good old days when you could have a good night out with a tenner in your pocket (while nowadays it’ll not go much further than a couple of fancy coffees), but there’s a serious reason why I’ve got money on my mind…

Anyone who’s recently bought, or looked to buy, a puppy will have noticed that the cost has skyrocketed (and, more worryingly, with it so has the number of unscrupulous breeders, but that’s another matter…). This has been driven by a massive increase in demand as lockdown saw more and more people decide to take on a pet. Some chose to buy an animal for company, while for others a furry friend seemed like an appealing option while lifestyles accommodated (with more time at home and daily walks being our only pastime for a number of months).

A fair proportion of these people may have been considering a pet for quite some time and lockdown just gave them a nudge … however, others bought pets on a ‘whim’ with no real consideration of the commitment involved or what would happen when their lives returned to normal. And, over a year on, this ‘return to normal’ is beginning to cause some buyers’ remorse which, as we animal lovers all know, can’t be applied when you’ve taken on a pet. You can’t dig out the receipt and march up to customer services saying “Can I please return this? I’ve changed my mind.” When you commit a pet you’re pledging your time, attention and money to its care, for as long as they need you.

Unfortunately, this long-term commitment hasn’t quite registered with some of the new lockdown pet owners and, as the novelty begins to wear off and reality kicks in, sadly animals are being handed over to rescue centres in droves (or, worse still, dumped or abandoned). Organisations like the RSPCA are warning of a serious animal welfare crisis. Already back in March the Scottish SPCA’s shelters reported having reached capacity and the situation continues to worsen as more people are returning to workplaces, going on holiday, having days out, and generally spending their time and money on other things. Poor Fido and Kitty who were a useful source of entertainment during the long, boring days of lockdown, are no longer a consideration. As my furry brood snuggle up on the sofa or ask me for a fuss, it genuinely breaks my heart to think of some poor pets, who rely solely on their owners for food, shelter, care and attention, being cast aside – a fad that’s had its day.

I’m sure no-one buys an animal with the intention of giving it away, but it’s easy in the excitement of all the cute, fluffy newness to overlook the reality of exactly what you’re taking on. When you’re cuddling a teensy little fluff ball that’s licking your face, the cost of feeding it when it’s older, having vaccinations or regular grooming is unlikely to be at the forefront of your mind. Likewise, on that exciting first walk that’s just 5 minutes long, when everyone’s stopping you to coo over your gorgeous fur baby, you’re probably not thinking about the hour-long treks on a rainy winter’s morning when you need to burn off some of your energetic dog’s boundless energy. I don’t want to be a kill-joy, but these are the things people should really be considering. Having a pet is amazing and I personally wouldn’t change it for the world, but it’s so important that new pet owners understand exactly what they’re committing to and that they get the right pet to suit their lifestyle and the level of time, money, training and affection they’re prepared to invest. It is a legal requirement (under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (England and Wales) and Animal Health and

Welfare (Scotland) 2006) that you meet the 5 welfare needs of all domestic animals. These are usually interpreted as five ‘freedoms’, as outlined by the Blue Cross, who explain that owners should always make sure their pet:

– Has a comfy environment to live in that is suitable for their species

– Gets enough of the right food for their species

– Has enough space and opportunities to move around as much as they need to

– Lives with or away from other pets of their own species if they need to

– Is unlikely to hurt themselves, get sick or suffer

Failure to meet these basic welfare needs could result in prosecution.

Obviously specific needs vary greatly from pet to pet – and even amongst different breeds of the same species. It’s so important to do your research thoroughly before making a decision on buying a pet. Read about how to care for the animal you’re interested in and speak to other owners to find out their experiences. Find out whether they’ll fit well into your family. Think about practicalities, considering everything from day-to-day care to who’ll look after your pet when you go on holiday. The ongoing cost of pet care is also an important consideration. While pet ownership certainly isn’t just for the wealthy, there is a level of financial commitment and you need to be aware of and prepared for this. For example, the PDSA estimate the cost of keeping a dog (meeting their basic welfare needs) to be around £50 per month for small breeds and £80 per month for large breeds. Over the life span of a dog, this is could work out between £7,000 and £12,000 – and that’s just for the basics. Accident, illness, dog walkers and kennelling could add a significant amount to this figure.

None of this is intended to put you off! I truly believe pets are one of life’s true joys. However, it’s so, so important that anyone taking on a pet is in it for the long term. They add an extra dimension to your family and bring you so much happiness … but in return, they need to be able to rely on you for all their needs: ‘In sickness and in health, until death do us part.’

Here’s to a happily ever after!