How much do you spend every year on your pet? €500? €1000? More, perhaps? The family who lives two doors up, looks like they’re facing such a bill. And the rest of us might be too.
After our neighbour’s second cat had a litter of four kittens, three others on the street (yours truly included) are now the proud owners of these balls of mewing, feline fluff.
These were lucky kittens to be born on a street of cat lovers. But animal protection and rescue groups warn that when there’s an economic downturn – and vet bills can cost as much as visiting a GP.
When things tighten up, more cases of animal abandonment happen, especially of unwanted puppies and kittens, but also larger animals, like ponies and horses and exotic creatures like snakes and exotic birds.
The increase in high-end pet boutiques, grooming establishments, luxurious boarding kennels, extravagant medical treatment, like false hips for doddery labradors and open heart surgery for valve-diseased King Charles Spaniels are a very recent phenomena, imported mainly from the United States.
There are plenty of grossly overpriced doggy boutiques in Dublin, which if they go out of business, frankly, will be no great loss to anyone but the owner.
These are shops where a small cellophane bag of hand-made courgette and carrot flavoured ‘biscotti’ for your dog costs €4.50 and a fancy hand-tooled collar can cost €40.
Whatever about your taste for the luxurious, when it comes to animal treats – your dog or cat couldn’t care less of course – there are some costs that cannot be avoided – like food, shelter and medical care.
We’ve been doing our sums here at CatCity, the new name for our terrace of houses: the 12-pouch box of kitten food costs €4.89 at our local supermarket and lasts about two weeks for a single kitten.
Annualised (though Juno the kitten will graduate to adult food eventually) this will cost €127.14.
Two kittens means a food bill of €254; two kittens and two adult cats raised that bill to well over €500 a year. A large, two kilogram bag of hard cat food at €6.79 will certainly help cut that bill.
Then there’s the cat litter: just €2.79 for an eight-litre sack, but a large family of felines can go through a bag a fortnight if they don’t do their business outside; the cat flap I bought cost €25.
Throw in the usual bowls and a little beanbag bed, a package of worming pills at €6.75 and this first year bill is now inching towards €600.
Annual veterinary care, with all vaccinations and inoculations is a minimum of €80 to €100 per animal at my vet and subsequent visits for unexpected events like cut paw or bitten ear and you’re usually looking at another €40 to €50. Multiply that by four and my neighbour with the four cats is looking at another €560 a year.
Meanwhile, cat boarding fees (in Dublin) range from €10 to €15 a day; a two week holiday can easily cost the equivalent of another air flight.
Boarding fees for dogs can be sizeable – it isn’t unusual to pay up to €20 a day for a dog, and much more for ‘in-home’ boarding of ill or elderly animals. Dog walkers, meanwhile, charge about €5 an hour.
The DSPCA estimates that it can cost more than €1,500 a year to keep a mid-sized dog, when you take account all its food, medical and boarding costs.
Between our dog and the new kitten, I’m budgeting at over €2,000 for their keep, (and that doesn’t include the cost of spaying the kitten, which will be at least €130.)
Ours isn’t a particularly long-lived breed of dog, but if he does live at least 12 years, his bill alone will have amounted to at least €18,000.
Owning a companion animal is expensive – a dog license even costs €12 – but there are ways to reduce the costs. ‘Petplan’ insurance from Allianz, the only provider here in Ireland, costs €114 for a cross-breed cat but as much as €240 a year for a ‘select’ breed dog.
There is an annual excess, but it does cover the most important events – injuries or illnesses that can cost hundreds of euro to treat.
Also, check with the animal charity Blue Cross www.bluecross.ie to see if they offer free or low-cost veterinary treatment in your area if you cannot afford higher vet bills.
Your animals can also be fed home-made pet mince (- in the case of dogs a mixture of cheap cuts of ground meat and roasted bones, suitable vegetables (like carrots, celery,cabbages, etc), oatmeal or other carbohydrate – and an all-protein diet for cats.
Your vet can help you devise meals for your animal or you can check out animal website like http://www.seefido.com/html/basic_dog_broth_recipe.htm). You can make large batches and freeze some of it.
Before you adopt a kitten or puppy, ask family and friends (ideally those with an equivalent size dog, cat or bird) or cat or bird if they will agree to mind your pet while you are away and vice versa.
Finally, unless you do have homes for all puppies and kittens, make sure your animal is neutered.
Last year nearly 15,000 unwanted dogs were put down in Ireland and an estimated 180,000 kittens do not survive their first week.
Spay Week Ireland was held last May to encourage the neutering of pets and through a network of voluntary vets around the country the means-tested scheme results in a charge of just €20 to low income owners.
Dogs Trust Ireland (www.dogstrust.org.uk), part of a UK charity, offer a similar service.