Cutting the cost of keeping a pet

Loyal, loving and part of the family, we would not want to be without our pets. But our furry (or in some cases, scaly) friends can work out surprisingly expensive to buy, feed and care for. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to ensure that keeping a pet need not keep you short of cash.

Finding the right pet

Keeping the costs on a tight leash starts when you buy your pet.

You cannot go down to the local pet shop and pick out a cute kitten or puppy any more. They have been forbidden to sell animals since the beginning of the year. Unless you know a dog or cat owner with a litter, you may need to go direct to a breeder.

A popular small breed dog like a pug, or hybrid such as a labradoodle can cost about £1,000 from a registered breeder,

This is expensive, especially if you had in mind a friendly mongrel rather than a fancy pure breed. An animal rescue centre will cost far less than a breeder, and many of the expensive procedures - like neutering and vaccinations - will already have been performed.

Charities like Blue Cross can often help with pets that need homes.

We all tend to choose a pet with our heart rather than our head, but remember the practicalities. Obviously, a big dog will cost more to feed and care for than a small one. A regular household moggie may eat much the same as a pedigree cat, but will cost rather less to buy. What’s more, mixed breeds can tend to be hardier, which means vet bills and insurance can be lower.

Feeding time

Pets are like people, and will tend to have their favourite foods. But don’t worry if your Peke turns its nose up at anything other than freshly roast chicken. Sooner or later they all get used to the idea of eating pet food, and you can try a few brands until you find one that suits them.

Lesser known brands are usually far cheaper and the ingredients may well be the same. You need to research your pet’s nutritional needs – they can change as your pet grows older – but don’t assume that the famous names are any better for them.

Once you have found the right brand, bulk buying from a specialist will reduce your pet food bill. If you can’t carry it all home, don’t worry. Many suppliers will now deliver for free. Check out Pets at Home and Petshop.co.uk.

It’s too easy to overfeed your pet. The RSPCA suggest that a majority of UK pets are overweight, which can lead to arthritis, diabetes, liver and heart disease.

Equipment

A dog or cat needs a bed, a bowl or two, a litter tray, and a carry basket. Rabbits need hutches, fish and reptiles need tanks. The cost can run into hundreds of pounds. However, they are bulky, and people are often happy to give them away once their own pets are gone.

Your local Freecycle network is worth keeping an eye on for free equipment, and Gumtree can be worth a look for a bargain.

Just be sure to give it all a good clean. You don’t want your little companion catching anything.

Staying healthy

Speaking of catching things, you need to cut the cost of veterinary bills, which can be eye watering if your pet becomes seriously ill. First, remember that non-prescription medicines don’t have to be bought from your vet, and can often be much cheaper online. VetUK has food as well as animal medicines, while Pet Drugs Online allow you to order prescription medicines, as long as you provide a prescription signed by your vet.

You also need to look at insurance for your pet. £10 - £20 a month might sound a lot if cash is tight, but it will work out a lot more expensive if you have to pay the full vet bill yourself. Surgery or the results of an accident could run into thousands. A good pet insurance policy just covers more than your vet bills. Some pay out if your pet is lost or stolen, and some will even pay if your dog gives into temptation and bites the postman.

Your pet may mean the world to you and your family – but don’t let it cost the Earth.

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