Is there anything better than coming back home from a trip – whether it was a five-minute pop to the shop or a long day at work – to be greeted by the wagging tale, toothy grin and exciting yelps of your dog? Or how about long Sunday morning strolls with your best friend in tow, stick in mouth? It doesn’t get any better. And that’s why it’s very easy to overlook the true cost of owning a dog. Vet bills, insurance, food, toys and, of course, treats (so many treats!) add up, taking the cost of owning a dog to unexpected amounts.
The cost of owning a dog in the UK
According to People’s Dispensary Sick Animals, a veterinary charity, the average cost of owning a dog in the UK is between £16,000 and £31,000 depending on the size and appetite of the dog.
These costs include everything from the obvious (food, toys and treats) to the less obvious (flea treatments, worming, grooming), making the cost of owning a dog a lot higher than most people expect.
In fact, a YouGov survey in 2011 found that 90% of people thought owning a dog would cost around £10,000 over the course of its lifetime. In many cases, the actual figure is over three-times that amount.
Which is a lot of money.
However, don’t be put off. (Just think of that wagging tail, if you’re panicking having read those figures.)
There are lots of ways to ensure that you keep the cost of owning a dog right down – here are a few of our top tips:
Buy non-branded food
By switching your Pedigree for your supermarket’s own brand, you could save as much as £100 a year, according to The Telegraph.
As they say, the ingredients are usually very similar and for a fraction of the price:
To compare the ingredients, Sainsbury’s’ dog food contains: Meat and animal derivatives (minimum 37pc including 4pc chicken, 4pc lamb), vegetables (minimum 4pc), derivatives of vegetable origin, cereals, minerals, various sugars.
Pedigree dog food contains: Meat and animal Derivatives (42pc, including 4pc Chicken), cereals, derivatives of vegetable origin (0.7pc dried sugar beet pulp), oils and fats (0.5pc sunflower oil), minerals.
(If you don’t fancy switching to a cheaper brand, consider buying your dog food in bulk and saving money that way. This is particularly good if your pooch is a fussy eater.)
Decide whether to insure your pet or to save
This might sound like a funny one, but hear us out.
Some people think that pet insurance is a waste of money and would rather keep a rainy-day fund for when their pet is ill. That way, if their dog is never ill, they’ve saved a lot of money. (Bear in mind though, dogs always get ill. They’ll eat stuff they shouldn’t, drink stuff they shouldn’t and just generally pick things up, so you’re going to have to dip into that fund at some point.)
Other people like the peace of mind that having their dog insured gives them – they’re covered for anything that might happen to their dog (after the excess) if they’ve got a decent policy. (Of course, cover varies from policy to policy.)
However, it’s important to make a commitment and stick to it. If you’re going to insure your dog, insure them when they’re young and healthy – it’ll keep your premiums low and make sure that they’re always covered. (If you insure when they’re older, any pre-existing conditions may not fall under the cover.)
The Money Advice Service has some good general advice on insuring your pets:
Buy insurance when your pet is young and healthy. If you wait until they are older or have a health problem, you may find it difficult to get the cover you need or have to pay more for it.
Make sure you get the right policy from the start. If you choose a policy that only pays vet bills for one year, other providers may not agree to cover conditions you’ve claimed for from your first provider.
Choose a policy that pays out throughout your pet’s lifetime. Vet bills are the main reason people buy pet insurance and, while lifetime cover is not the cheapest option, it covers conditions that require treatment year after year.
If you’re going to save and not insure your dog, make sure you stick to it. Make sure you don’t dip into the fund for other reasons – you never know when you might need it.
Most importantly, don’t insure your dog and then switch to saving – or vice versa. You’ll end up wasting the initial money you invested; either all the money you invested in the insurance will be lost for no return or your dog’s minor ailments that built up when you were saving won’t be covered by the insurance and you’ll have to pay for those out of pocket. (Meaning you’ll have to save and pay for insurance.)
(For more info on whether to insure your pet or not, check out our guide: Ask Bamboo: Is pet insurance worth it?)
Don’t rush to the vet (unless it’s an emergency)
If you had a sneeze or a minor stomach ache, would you rush to A&E or book an emergency appointment? (Probably not.) In order to save money, apply the same logic to your dog. If they’re not themselves for a few days, wait it out (unless you’re really concerned). Like humans, dogs have days when they’re a bit under the weather but patch themselves up again quickly – you could save yourself a huge bill (or excess amount) by just waiting a few days.
Research carried out by More Than (reported by The Guardian) suggests that emergency vet appointments add up to £118 million across the UK every year. (That’s taking into account vet bills, travel costs and lost annual leave.) Ouch.
Head to the charity shops
How many blankets has your dog chewed through? How about teddies, soft toys or balls? And what about those towels ruined by that Sunday morning mix of sand and mud?
In your local pet store, you’ll find all of those things for a hefty price tag. But in your local charity shop, you’ll be able to pick them up for next to nothing. They’re still the same – just without the fancy branding.
Plus, you’ll be doing something good for charity, too. Win, win.
If you’ve not taken out pet insurance and are looking for a way of paying for pet bills – or for how to keep the cost of pet ownership down – we’ve got you covered. Check out our article on ways to cover vet costs.