Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.
How much do you think looking after your pets costs? You could be spending a lot more than you could possibly imagine. The latest figures from Tesco show that our canine companions cost almost £600 a year, and require more than 600 hours of care – compared to just over £330 and 340 hours for a cat.
Despite these high costs, it seems we are still willing to splurge on treats to please our pets. Britons admitted that they are willing to spend up to £25 on a single treat, on top of the day to day expenditure on care.
So how can you deal with the ever-rising pet costs? Slash your expenditure with our handy guide to everything to do with pets.
Quite simply, get some! There is no NHS for pets, and there probably never will be. Don’t do away with pet insurance. It’s a false economy.
Sadly, every year over 300,000 pet dogs and cats are put down because their owners cannot afford the veterinary fees or ongoing medical costs of looking after their animals.
Vet and medication costs are increasing by around 5% annually as more illnesses and disease becomes treatable. Between 2003 and 2008, 1.6 million people had to put down at least one pet.
Pet insurance could easily save you thousands of pounds. To help you find the insurance best suited to your pet, read this article on pet insurance and compare premiums using a pet insurance comparison service.
There is one simple way to cut your pet’s costs and save an immense sum of cash. Don’t let your pet get overweight or obese. More than four in ten of the cats and dogs seen by Britain’s vets are overweight, according to research by Sainsbury’s Finance.
Many medical conditions suffered by pets are linked to or worsened by being overweight, costing you dearly in extra vet fees and medication costs. You could also risk invalidating any pet insurance claim if you’re found to have not taken proper care of your pet.
Dogs and cats need daily exercise. It’s great for keeping weight off and providing stimulation for them.
If your dog is ‘hyper’, getting into trouble and making lots of noise he’s probably bored! Regular exercise is essential for dogs and it’s free! Plus, the fresh air and cobweb blowing won’t do you any harm either.
If you don’t like the thought of walking alone, get a friend to come along or join a dog walking group. Ask your vet, pet shop or local dog training group if they know of one locally – or why not set up your own?
Always make sure you have your pets vaccinated when you first get them. Check with your vet to find out how old they should be when they get their first shots.
Annual boosters are also generally recommended for cats and dogs – along with a check-up – but there is much debate about whether or not they are necessary over time.
When it comes to booster time, discuss your pet’s lifestyle, age and habits with your vet. There is an argument that as cats and dogs get older, they stray less and generally don’t fight with other animals.
You may have an indoor pet less likely to come into contact with other animals. Your vet will also know which diseases (such as cat flu) are prevalent in your area and can advise accordingly.
To save on vaccinations for your pets, you should take a three-year vaccination plan as opposed to a yearly one.
After food, shelter and the odd vet visit, flea and other pest control will be your main regular maintenance cost.
Don’t waste your money on supermarket treatments – they seldom work effectively because they’re not strong enough. Get a recommendation from your vet, then shop online for the product. It’s cheeky, but much cheaper than paying through the nose at the vet.
Since the relaxation in prescription selling regulations, you can also get repeat prescription medicines online. Just choose your online site carefully and buy from a UK company like Vet UK or Vio Vet.
Generally speaking, flea and worming treatments cost up to £95 a year for a cat and £76 a year for a small dog.
However, it’s also worth looking at herbal treatments. They can be very effective, and could save you money. Myitchydog has a range of herbal flea treatments starting from under £10.
Flea treatments for dogs and cats are different. Buying one treatment for dogs and using it on the cat too (or vice versa) is not a good money saving tip because you’re liable to poison your pet!
Put the vet in the diary – if you keep up to date with vaccinations you’ll reduce the risk of your pet getting ill, saving you money in the long run.
When it comes to food, you don’t want to sacrifice quality. You probably do need to reduce the quantity. Because most pets are overweight, reducing their portions will save money on food bills – and on vet bills down the line.
Like us, pets are what they eat. When was the last time you read the label on the back of a dog food packet? Feeding them cheap food and treats can lead to obesity, allergies and hyperactivity – all of which cost money to treat.
In effect, good quality food actually costs less than poor quality food per portion, because animals need to eat less good food to get enough nutrition.
Take a look at this pet food cost comparison chart and check out the Campaign for Real Pet Food for more information on what really goes into those pouches and bags.
Remember dry food goes a lot further than wet food and you won’t have to compromise on quality.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but most vets, pet shops and online shops have free or low-cost samples for you to try before you dive head first into a 7kg bag.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for online, just call the company – they’re usually happy to help with free advice and information on the best product to try.
Look for food that lists single protein sources – chicken, lamb, white fish, and so on – as primary ingredients. And look for good carbs like brown rice, whole veg, carrots, and broccoli, as well as clear lists of vitamins and minerals.
Avoid cheap carbohydrate fillers like tapioca or modified starch. Picture them as a bucket of wallpaper paste, with about as much nutritional value and culinary appeal!
For healthy dog and cat food samples – plus loads of advice and information – try calling Natural Pet Choice on 0845 371 0966.
Lastly, shop at an independent pet shop. If they’re worth their salt they’ll have lots of good advice and recommendations on food that’s right for your pet.
Simply avoid food that lists animal and meat derivatives, derivatives of vegetable origin, EC-permitted colours and EC-permitted additives in their ingredients.
Don’t buy food just because someone says you should. That includes the big pet warehouses (who will often try and push their own brands) and the vets, who the big companies love to schmooze, offering vets great margins.
In a nutshell, read the label, trust your gut, and don’t be afraid to try new things.
Feeding your pets great food followed by awful treats is a waste of cash! There are plenty of healthy treats out there made of just meat, or fish, or unusual things like sweet potato.
Again, avoid animal and meat derivatives. You’re paying good money for by-products.
This couldn’t be simpler or cheaper – plus you’ll know exactly what’s in them. Vet Joe Inglis makes great treats. You’ll find recipes on his site Pets’ Kitchen. Experiment with chicken and catnip jelly for the cat, or bacon flapjacks for the dog.
My friendly butcher will sell me a 500g marrow bone for 59p – and you can’t say fairer (or cheaper) than that. A chew on a bone will entertain a dog for hours, stop them chewing your stuff and help keep their teeth clean.
If you’re really lucky, the butcher might just give you a bagful. And there’s no BSE to worry about: A butcher will never sell you the spine or spinal tissue, just good meaty bones.
If you have a dog, brushing their teeth daily can end up saving your pet from contracting a lot of diseases. Remember to buy toothbrush and toothpaste that are designed for your pet, otherwise it can upset their stomachs.
Owning a pet doesn’t have to be as expensive as you think. Clothes, jewel-encrusted collars and pricey toys are just extras that you like. The dog couldn’t care less! Look at what you do for your pet, cut out the unnecessary stuff and try some of these money-saving tips.
Sometimes the least expensive place to find pet supplies is in the human section of a store. Baby gates often sell for much less at baby shops than pet shops!
You can buy beds, leads, collars, crates and toys from charity shops and online websites for cheap. Hunt down a good bargain by being extra savvy with where you purchase.
How many odd socks do you own? Got a fleece top that’s seen better days? Don’t chuck them out, make toys from them for little or no money.
This free site has loads of toy-making projects and ideas for pet stuff, everything from making party hats and costumes to jumps and assault courses for the more adventurous pet owner in you!
Fleece material is great for making tug toys because it’s brightly coloured, doesn’t fray and you can just stick it in the wash when it gets slobbered over one too many times. Fleece makes great cat toys too, especially the bright colours.
Try giving them empty cardboard boxes to play with, or hiding food inside old toilet roll tubes. You can also consider pampering your cat with regular grooming sessions – no need to pay for a professional to do it!
Charity shops are a great place for old kids’ toys which make wonderful pet toys. Buy inexpensive squeakers and sew them into the toys. Your pets will only see a new toy.
Sometimes the best toys are already in your overflowing toy basket. Most dogs and cats have piles of toys they never use. It’s like today’s kids!
So, as with children, rotate their toys to keep them interested. Pick up two-thirds of them and put them away. Every couple of weeks, rotate one-third of the toys back out on the floor. Your pets will feel the fun of new toys – and you’ll have the fun of giving them something – without spending a penny.
A word of caution: Always supervise your pets when they’ve got a toy or chew, whether it’s shop bought or home made. And NEVER let them play with string or add it to a toy. String is easily swallowed and can literally tie intestines in knots.
A pet house is a luxurious addition for your dog, whether they live indoors or outdoors. It will provide your pet shade from the rain, hot sun, snow, wind and generally give them their own space. Save the money on a pet house by making one at home.You can build a pet house easily with equally cheap materials including cardboard and recycled materials.
Put in your postcode and search for free pet sitters near you at Pet Sitter Swap. The organisation is dedicated to putting pet owners, who live locally, in touch with each other for pet sitting purposes.
The brilliant thing about Pet Sitter Swap is that any pet minding session is free. You can search for pet sitters in your area without joining, then pay a yearly fee of £9.99, which allows you to contact the pet sitter of your choice.
Talk to your vet and boarding kennels. Do they run special offers? Will they give a discount if you bring in multiple pets at one time?
The nights are getting shorter, so switch off the telly and teach the dog (and cat – it is possible!) new tricks. Visit Dog Trick Academy to download dog tricks from professional dog trainers for free. Or amaze your friends by teaching your cat to shake your hand, sit, and come when called at Squidoo.
Joining a local training group isn’t going to break the bank. Shop around but expect to pay £10 an hour. This means a seven week course will cost you £70 – but it’s worth every penny!
Most groups incorporate behaviour, nutrition, grooming advice and training into one course, all of which will save you more money in the future.
Training bonds dogs and their owners, plus they’ll be less likely to have accidents because they will be under your control.
You’ll learn a lot and you’ll get to meet other dog owners who can point you in the direction of that walking group you were looking for! Search the web or ask at the vets or pet shop to recommend local groups.
Keep fit by becoming a professional dog walker and earn money from pet sitting. Have a look at the National Petsitters’ Association’s site Dog Sit to find out how to become a petsitter, what you can expect to earn and the kind of services pet owners are looking for. Find out how to make £60 an hour dog walking.
You could go the whole hog and combine pet sitting with house sitting for a living – or just to earn extra cash in the holidays.
Animal Aunts offers a full house and pet sitting service to its members. Just bear in mind that all sitters must be fully DBS checked and interviewed before being accepted – plus it’s a big time commitment as you move into the house for the duration of the job.
If you work from home already, why not spend a few weeks of the year being an animal aunt? Rates vary depending on the job and location, but expect up to £60 per day looking after the dog, watering the plants and tickling the fish!