Well, regular blog readers will remember that in my last blog I tentatively mentioned the beautiful spring-like weather that we were enjoying. I knew at the time it was a risky thing to bring up and, as predicted, I jinxed it! Sorry…! The temperatures have swiftly plummeted and today, as I write, the rain is pelting the windows and the wind is whistling all around. It’s a cold, blustery day that isn’t feeling remotely spring-like! I definitely spoke too soon.
This weather feels particularly unkind though because, as we’re all too aware, our energy bills have soared this week and most other prices seem to be going the same way. The cost of everything we do – from the daily commute to cooking a meal to watching TV is getting more and more expensive and many people, especially those on low incomes, are facing incredibly tough decisions about which essentials to spend their money on. Sadly, this squeeze on household budgets is beginning to affect pets, and animal shelters are seeing an increase in people surrendering, neglecting or abandoning their pets due to the cost of their ongoing care. An RSPCA survey reported that 95% of people listed the cost of care as the primary reason for neglect.
According to data from the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (pfma.org.uk), 3.2 million people bought pets in lockdown. Many will have gone into this with their eyes wide open, fully understanding what they were committing in terms of time, attention and finances. The long-term cost of owning a pet should never be overlooked or underestimated. Sadly, however, some new pet owners will have bought a pet as short-term fix to address loneliness or boredom with less thought or consideration for how their new furry friend will fit into their lives longer term, post-Covid. Shelters and rescue centres had already seen a rise in animals being surrendered or abandoned as lives get back to normal and people are no longer working at home of furloughed, finding they don’t have the time to care for their newly acquired pets. Unfortunately, the sudden and dramatic increase in the cost of living has added another layer of problems; the financial commitment of caring for a pet is becoming a challenge for many.
Surrendering a pet should really should be an absolute last resort. While few will take this decision lightly, some people unfortunately see pets as an ‘easy come, easy go’ commodity – when in fact, whatever size, shape or species, a pet is part of the family; they’re your responsibility for life. I appreciate that there are some dire situations in which giving up a pet really is unavoidable and I have huge sympathies for people who have to reach this heart-wrenching decision. If, for circumstances beyond your control, it is in your pet’s best interest to surrender them, then you should make sure this is done as kindly and safely as possible. Take your pet to a registered, reputable charity or shelter and explain the situation so that the animal can be cared for and safely rehomed. Do not attempt to rehome the pet yourself via social media posts or online adverts, and certainly don’t just abandon your pet.
However … there are a lot of things that you can do before it reaches this last resort. While there are many necessary and unavoidable costs associated with pet care, there are others that aren’t strictly essential and those that can be reduced.
Pet care is a huge, multi-million pound industry and, as pet owners, we’re often being told we need this, that and the other for our pets. The truth is, much of what they need comes for free – love, attention, exercise and water! Of course, there are other unavoidable expenses such as food, veterinary care, preventative treatments (such as flea and worming treatments) and grooming (for some) … more on that later. But in truth, that’s about it. That’s all they really need; all the rest really is just ‘fluff’. Yes, scratching posts can stop your cat from scratching the furniture, but they can also use a tree trunk. Your dog may love lounging in a luxury dog bed, but they’d also be perfectly happy on some old blankets or a duvet. Pet toys can be an expensive but Fido will be content to play with some of your old socks knotted together, and Kitty will happily chase a piece of string tied to a stick! There are always cheaper (or free) alternatives to expensive, shop-bought toys and the great thing about animals is they really don’t judge! They’re not into designer labels; they just want attention and affection.
Paying for someone to walk or pet-sit for your furry friend can be a huge regular cost and you may think it’s unavoidable if you’re out at work all day, but there are cheaper options that won’t compromise your pet’s health or happiness. Borrowmydoggy.com is a website created to help pet owners to ‘share’ their pets with other local people who would like a pet but can’t commit to having one of their own. You can find a local ‘match’, chat online, meet up with them to make sure you all get on (your furry friend included, obviously!), and then arrange for them to ‘borrow’ your dog whether that’s for regular walks or occasional holiday care. You could also arrange this informally with friends, family or neighbours on your street – if you work opposite days, perhaps they could look after your pet while you work and vice versa? Again, for your safety and that of your pet please do be careful that you know or get to know and trust the person you’re making this arrangement with and don’t arrange anything online or via social media with people you haven’t met.
Another way you can save some money as a pet owner is to check how much you’re feeding your furry friend. Now, I’m not for a moment suggesting that you scrimp on their food but obesity is a real problem for pets in the UK and most of this is caused by overfeeding. By weighing or measuring their portions in line with the advised quantities for their age/weight/breed you can prevent weight problems and make their food go further – helping their waist and your wallet! If you’re finding that pet food is unaffordable, The Blue Cross have set up a pet food bank that may be able to help.
Veterinary costs are another large expense for pet owners and the best way to avoid this is to do all you can to keep your pet fit and healthy. Understandably, accidents and illness are often unavoidable but, in the same way that humans can do a lot to improve and maintain their health and fitness through diet, exercise and a healthy lifestyle, we can also do the same for our pets. Don’t get me wrong, we love to see you and your animals … but it’s also a good sign when we don’t see you for a while, too! Regular exercise, a healthy diet that suits them and avoiding foods that could upset their tummy will go a long way towards helping your furry friend to stay healthy.
Having said that … there are also a number of things that you shouldn’t scrimp on when it comes to paying for your pet, and veterinary treatment is also on that list. If problems do arise, please don’t put off going to see the vet as getting treatment sooner rather than later is better for your pet and can reduce the long-term costs (both financially, and in terms of your pet’s health). Don’t ever attempt DIY veterinary treatment (there’s a reason why it takes so long to study to be a vet – you can’t just watch a YouTube video!) and don’t give animals human medicines. If you are struggling financially, always be upfront with your vet about your financial situation as there may be ways they can help – from alternative treatment methods to possible financial support via charities like the PDSA for those meeting certain criteria. Having insurance for your pet is a regular cost but it is often a manageable monthly fee which then provides peace of mind in case of illness or emergencies, helping you to avoid sudden large bills.
Preventative treatment is another area you shouldn’t cut back on, as regular investment in flea, tick and worming treatments as well as annual vaccinations is much better for your pet and will be cheaper in the long-run than treating an infestation or illness that could have been prevented. Our Gold Plan allows you to spread the cost of these routine treatments with a monthly fee that gives you peace of mind that everything’s covered, and that your pet is regularly being seen by a vet so any issues can be picked up and treated before they become a problem.
Neutering is another cost that shouldn’t be skipped – but this is a one-off. Again, it’s a short term investment that can help you to avoid longer term costs – caring for a cat and kittens or a dog with pups is much more expensive than caring for just one pet! Cats Protection and Dogs Trust can offer some means tested support for those on low incomes and certain benefits to help with the cost of spaying and neutering pets if needed.
And, the final necessary cost that only really applies to certain dogs, is grooming. While cats look after themselves and some breeds of dog (especially short-haired breeds like Beagles, Dobermans, Boxers, Vizslas, Greyhounds etc.) will be fine with a brush and the occasional bath at home, other breeds do need regular professional grooming – namely long-haired breeds or those which don’t moult, such as poodles or poodle crosses. It’s not just pampering as it will help to keep their skin and coat healthy and skipping this can lead to matted fur, painful feet and skin problems. If you’re struggling to meet the cost of regular appointments, again be up front and honest with your dog’s groomer about this. They may be able to reduce the frequency of appointments or just do a full groom every other visit, with a quick check and maintenance appointment in between.
Whatever hardships you’re facing or sacrifices you’re having to make, please don’t feel you’re alone. There is help and support out there to keep you and your pet happy, healthy and together.
If you’re in a financial position to be able to help support pets and their owners at this difficult time, or animals who’ve sadly been surrendered or abandoned, please consider making a charitable donation to any one of the following, or to a local charity or animal rescue centre.