The number of dogs and cats being abandoned by their owners is at a record high according to figures from the RSPCA. Summer is a peak time, with pets being dumped at a rate of one every hour - due to owners wanting to go on holiday.
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With a squeeze on household incomes, even dedicated pet owners can find it hard to cover the costs. If you're thinking about getting a pet, read on to find out how much it's likely to cost, plus ways to save money and where to get help if you're in financial difficulty.
1. Make sure you can afford it
If you're thinking of getting a pet, make sure you can afford it first.
"Before you bring a pet into your home, you need to consider the costs of insurance, veterinary bills, and necessary treatments such as worming and vaccinations, as well as the cost of any equipment you might need, such as bedding or scratch posts, plus food and incidental costs, such as kennelling if you are considering going on holiday, etc," says Tarryn Peinke, Dog Rehoming Team Leader at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.
Keep in mind that costs can escalate as pets get older, with many animals needing extra medical care in later life. According to research by Sainsbury's Pet Insurance, the average cost of owning a dog is £1,183 a year. Over an animal's lifetime, that adds up to around £16,900 for a dog. The average cat costs its owners £17,200 over its lifetime.
2. Buy food in bulk
If you have the space to store it, buy pet food in bulk. As a general rule, the bigger the bag, the less it will cost you per kilo. Check out sites like Groupon for deals, as even with the shipping costs, it can be cheaper than the supermarket.
For example, shop at Tesco, and a 28-pack of Pedigree Dentastix for large dogs will set you back £6.50 (which works out at 23p each). Currently, Groupon is offering 224-sticks Pedigree Dentastix for large dogs for £35.99 (16p each). If you're flexible about which supermarket to shop at, try using a price comparison site like Mysupermarket - and then compare the best deals by choosing different supermarkets from the options on the left.
The Dogs Trust advises adding your food scraps to bulk out dog food and make it more interesting for your pet. Almost anything - apart from grapes, raisins, onions, corncobs and fruit pits, spicy foods or anything too fatty or processed - can be used. Check with your vet if you're unsure. Meat and cooked vegetables work best. Ask your butcher for large beef bones (with some meat attached), or if you have a local abattoir they may be able to supply cheap meat and offal which can be mixed with pasta/rice and vegetables for a relatively cheap diet.
There is a dog obesity epidemic in the UK – and if your pet is overweight, vet's bills can be even higher. If your pet is carrying too much weight, cutting down their portions and treats will improve their health and save you money.
3. Vet bills and microchipping
Unexpected vet bills can be eye-watering - but there is help available. For example, the PDSA (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals), offers help to pet owners on means-tested housing benefit or Council Tax support depending on your postal area. Call the eligibility helpline 0800 731 2502 to find out more.
The Dogs Trust (0845 606 3036) can offer help to those who are homeless or in housing crisis, and The Blue Cross charity offers veterinary grants to those who are financially eligible and in the right catchment area (in parts of the country where they don't have hospitals or clinics). To be considered, you need to provide proof that you are receiving an eligible benefit and your vet needs to apply to confirm that your pet has an eligible health condition. The RSPCA (0300 1234555) may also offer financial assistance if you can't pay for a vet bill.
Battersea Dogs & Cats Home offers free microchipping for dogs at events throughout the year. "Having your dog microchipped means that he or she can be identified immediately by an animal rescue or by a dog warden if the dog strays. All dogs and cats rehomed from Battersea are neutered and microchipped," says Tarryn. Other charities also offer free microchipping.
4. Neutering or spaying
If you're struggling to pay for your pet, the last thing you want are more mouths to feed. Getting a male cat neutered can cost £30-£60 and £40-£80 for females. If you need financial assistance for neutering your cat, Cats Protection may be able to help through their means-tested neutering scheme. See their site to view their current regional and national campaigns, or call 03000 12 12 12 to find out if you are eligible. The Blue Cross offers a neutering grant, and the Dogs Trust has a subsidised neutering scheme.
5. Buy cheaper medication online
Some of the medication you buy from the vet can be ordered online. Try Bestpet.co.uk for prescription and non-prescription medicines – which can cost up to 50% less than the price you might pay at the vet's. For instance, the flea treatment Frontline For Cats costs £18 on the site – around £10 less than you would pay at most vet's.
6. Shop around for pet insurance
Nearly 50% of UK pets will require vet treatment this year, costing £220 on average, according to the RSPCA. Like all insurance, it pays to shop around. Check comparison sites and read the small print carefully when comparing policies. You might save a few pounds each month, but the cheapest isn't necessarily the best – particularly if it doesn't cover you for ongoing medical treatment and your pet is prescribed medication for the rest of its life.
7. Form a pet-sitting circle
Paying for a kennel or cattery can be pricey. Save money by starting a dog or cat sitting circle – you have someone else's pet while they go on holiday for a week, in exchange for someone looking after yours. If that's not possible and you have more than one pet, consider asking a friend to house sit. If you decide to have a stranger in the house, make sure to interview them carefully and ask for references.
8. Buy second hand
Charity shops and car boot sales can be a good place to pick up cheap dog beds and toys. Most towns have communities on Facebook where you can buy and sell things cheaply, and some have "everything free" sites, where people offer items for free and those in need can post requests. Don't forget to check eBay too – search for items 'nearest' to you, and you could be able to collect a bargain if no one else is bidding. You don't need to buy a special dog bed - a folded 'budget' duvet from a supermarket or charity shop with an old duvet cover makes a perfectly good bed.