Pets Planning for the costs of pet ownership September 22 2020

Just like any new member to the family, it’s important to understand and plan for the costs that come with having a pet. We asked a vet to give us a quick lowdown.

It’s undeniable that Aussies love pets, with around 40 per cent of households having a dog, and more than a quarter of households being home to a cat.

And it’s little wonder. More than ever, we’re discovering how pets offer more than just companionship. They can also have a positive impact on mental wellbeing, from alleviating stress to reducing loneliness.

However, keeping our four-legged friends happy and healthy can sometimes be surprisingly costly – especially for first-time pet parents. That’s not to say you can’t plan and prepare for the fabulous time you and your fur baby will have together.

We spoke to vet of more than 15 years, Dr James Carroll, for his thoughts.

Their early years

When your pet is young, the bigger expenses often centre around preventative care.

“In the first 12 months, there are generally two to three vaccinations depending on the age of the pet and the area, the use of heartworm and flea and tick preventative products, and the desexing operation.”

Beyond that, along with annual vaccinations, ongoing flea, tick and heartworm prevention is required.

When it comes to food – what pet owners will ultimately spend the most on – Dr Carroll says you get what you pay for. Premium pet food tends to have ‘real’ protein sources, while cheaper brands can be filled out with fat and salt.

“Nutrition is a very controversial subject, and there is no right or wrong answer,” he says. “Some people greatly support the feeding of commercial dog food and other people will say, ‘I want to feed my dog natural wholefoods’. Either way, you have to ensure that the food is complete and balanced – and that can be a challenge.”

The in-between years

One thing a pet parent should know when getting a cat or dog for the first time is that ‘accidents happen’.

Whether it’s scurrying across a busy road, or coming off second best with another animal, cats and dogs can run into types of trouble that sometimes leads to a vet visit. And as Dr Carroll explains, these events don’t always end cheaply.

“In Australia, there is probably a tendency to undervalue [veterinary] healthcare due to the fact that we have an excellent public healthcare service,” says Dr James Carroll. “There is no Medicare for animals, so whenever we’re dealing with animal health costs, we’re dealing with the true cost – not a subsidised cost.”

“In an emergency, the initial consultation and hospitalisation is commonly in excess of $1000, and the total bill can be many times that,” he says. “But for veterinarians, when you’re faced with an animal who has just suffered significant trauma and the interventions that you require are very expensive, it is nice to be able to take money off the table and do what’s right by the pet.”

While it won’t cover all conditions, vet visits and treatments, pet insurance may offer some protection against accidental injury and illnesses. Always refer to your policy documents and read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) carefully to understand what’s covered before choosing a policy.

Little brown dog lies on it's back as it gets it's heart checked

Their later years

As they get older, cats and dogs often suffer from age-related health conditions – and your pet’s breed can usually offer an indication for the types of illness they can expect to face later in life.

It can pay to research your preferred breed, especially if you’re planning to get a designer cat or dog. Along with a healthy price tag, these animals can experience health issues that can sometimes result in significant and costly treatments and procedures.

Meanwhile, arthritis – a degenerative joint condition – is prevalent in both ageing cats and dogs who’ve had an active life, Dr Carroll says, and can be costly to manage. “Later in life we also start to see a high prevalence of cancers,” he adds.

Pet insurance can help protect your dog or cat from certain conditions, but always refer to your policy documents and read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) carefully to understand what’s covered before choosing a policy.

The never-ending payoffs

While fur babies come with unavoidable costs that can vary from one animal to the next, it’s undeniable that becoming a pet parent is one sound investment.

Studies show that people with pets have better cardiovascular health than those in non-pet households, while pet-loving kids have stronger immunity, and higher levels of empathy and self-esteem.

“The emotional and psychological benefits of pet ownership have been shown time and time again,” Dr Carroll says. “There are mental health benefits, and particularly social benefits, to owning a pet.”

“The benefits of pet ownership are well documented, very strong, and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.”

Blonde woman holds her pet dog and pet cat in her arms lovingly
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