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The cost of giving a pet at Christmas


A pet is a gift that keeps on giving in terms of love and affection. But it's also one that goes on costing – throughout its life.

Two kittens surrounded by Christmas decorations

And in the case of dogs and cats, those costs often increase as pets reach their senior years and may need additional veterinary care.

A report by charity the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals charity (PDSA) revealed that the cost of owning a pet can vary dramatically according to the type and breed.

A dog can cost £31,000 over its lifetime

A kitten and a dog

The PDSA's Animal Wellbeing report (The PAW Report), produced in conjunction with pollster YouGov, revealed that a dog can cost its owner anything from £16,000 to £31,000 over its lifetime.

Meanwhile, the cost of a cat could be as high as £17,000.

These sums are based on estimates by the PDSA using current market prices and include the initial costs of purchase, neutering, first vaccinations and microchipping.

Accessories such as beds and bowls, as well as ongoing costs of food, boosters, pet insurance, toys, grooming, worming and cat litter in the case of cats are also taken into account.

These do not include veterinary costs if a pet becomes sick or injured, so these lifetime costs could be even higher.

An 'impulse purchase'

A sad puppy in a kennel

PDSA senior vet Sean Wensley says that many current and potential pet owners don't have a realistic idea of the financial commitment involved with having a pet.

"Some people do plan realistically, but others get a pet, either for themselves or to give as a gift without really looking ahead.

"It can be an impulse purchase, based on emotion and financially they only think in terms of the initial price of the pet, together with other items they might see in the pet shop, such as a bed or lead."

If someone is giving a pet as a Christmas gift, the cost of the pet and maybe some extra items will be paid for them.

But unlike other gifts, the ongoing cost of caring for the pet is going to have to be met by the recipient.

Which means that they - or their family, if the gift is to a child - have to be financially stable, and be able to give the time needed to care for the pet, in the case of a dog, walk it regularly too.

Veterinary costs underestimated by owners

A vet holding a cat and a dog

And as many of us have learned during the recession, people's circumstances can change.

"People who are eligible for certain means-tested benefits can get free veterinary treatment for their pets from the PDSA," says Wensley.

"But as people have lost jobs or faced financial hardship, added pressure is being put on our services."

"We find that veterinary costs are the ones most underestimated by owners, with 40 per cent saying that they were more than they expected," adds Wensley. 

"At the PDSA we say that in the majority of cases pet insurance is the best way to budget for costs associated with veterinary care."

The cost of pet insurance

pet insurance policy

According to the report, 60% of pets aren't insured. The main reason given for not buying it was cost: people would rather put that money aside to save for vets bills instead.

At the time of writing*, the cost of pet insurance for a two-year-old mongrel dog can range from a £40.32 annual premium for accident-only cover.

Having a lifetime policy means that providing you renew with the same insurer each year any medical conditions your pet gets will continue to be covered.

For a two-year-old non-pedigree cat, the costs are just £33.24.

A pet is for life, not just for Christmas

A kitten in a tiny box surrounded by Christmas decorations

These are significant expenses, so if you or anyone you know is considering giving a pet as a gift this year it's important to stop and think again.

Although the recipient might be thrilled at the time, a real awareness of the cost of the pet will kick in just as the post-Christmas credit card bills arrive.

And while it's one thing to give an unsuitable Christmas gift that ends up in a car boot sale, the thought of giving a living creature which ends up abandoned in a rescue shelter is quite different.

Pets and owners can form a strong mutual bond, and having to give up the pet that was given as a gift because of financial consideration can cause heartbreak for everyone.

So remember, a pet really is for life, and not just for Christmas.

*Prices correct as of 24/11/2015


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