How to cost a pet project

A dog's life - or a cat's - is never cheap. Dido Sandler tots up the bill for creature comforts strapy
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The Independent Online
THE beginning of spring brings a fresh influx of cats and dogs into homes for strays up and down the country. Among the hundreds of thousands rounded up off the streets each year are many belonging to people who received pets as presents, but cannot be bothered to look after them any more.

A good number, though,are discarded by owners who have discovered pets are not as cheap to keep as they thought.

Over its lifetime a dog can costs as much as £7,000, and a cat £6,000, The cost of pet ownership tends to be highest in London and parts of the South-east.

Cats are available free from Cat Protection League homes, and pet shops will sell you a kitten for £5 or so, but a pedigree breed such as a Maine Coon or a potentially prize-winning Burmese can cost as much as £500. Mongrels are often free, but the famous Battersea Dogs' Home and the National Canine Defence League hope for a £60 to £80 donation per dog, towards expenses. Harrods asks up to £500 for a Labrador pup, £2,000 for a Japanese Sharpei.

Average food costs are £4 to £6 a week for a dog or £2.50 to £3 for a cat. But a dog lives on average 12 years and a cat often for 16 and even 20, so running costs tend to even out in the end. Vet fees can run to thousands.

Heaviest expenditure tends to be at the beginning and end of the animal's existence. The young need a series of immunisation jabs costing £35 to £45. Neutering a kitten can cost £30 to £40. A trip to the vet costs more than £20, and treatment can be costly. Recent insurance claims include £741.53 for a cataracts operation and lens replacement on a retriever, and £664.51 for treatment of a tabby cat after a road accident. The average claim at specialist insurance broker Jardine is £120.

Pet insurance is a kind of Bupa for animal companions, helping to keep costs down. Jardine's ``Paws" policies are recommended by the RSPCA. They cover dogs from eight weeks to eight years, and cats from eight weeks to 12 years. Cross-breeds are cheaper to insure. Their replacement cost is lower, and mixed breeding makes them healthier than pedigree animals. Bigger premiums are payable on large canines such as Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds.

Insurers PetPlan and Pet Protect offer a range of policies. Age Concern Insurance Services has just announced flat-rate premiums of £57 for dogs or £44 for cats, for older owners, with a £25 excess.

Kennelling is an important cost consideration for owners who go away frequently and cannot find a suitable minder. Jonathan Shaw of the Animal Inn in Dover charges £6.40 a night for a dog and £3.75 for a cat, with discounts for two animals housed together. No pet is admitted without up-to-date immunisation. Mr Shaw offers a £1 trial day for first-timers anxious about their pets.

Then there is the host of extra services for well-heeled owners. A course of dog obedience classes costs £40 to £50. An elegant grooming, including a trim, nails, teeth and ear check, costs £18 from Animal Fair of Kensington (£25 for larger dogs). Grooming is recommended every eight weeks.

Trends in the popularity of dog breeds follow the Cruft's champions, and change roughly every 10 years. Currently top of the pups is the West Highland white terrier, of whisky label fame. Afghans and Old English Sheepdogs are lagging behind.

For the mutt that has everything, a shopping trip to Harrods is a must. Here the cool canine can pick up a diamond collar at £8,000, or £2,000 for a kitty version. A £75 hamper contains a blanket, a bowl, a jar of treats, a beauty set and a brush.

In the end, when a beloved animal companion passes away, the bereaved owner may wish to have it cremated. Cambridge Pet Crematorium says its personalised service offers respect to a departed creature, a quality not available with customary disposal by a vet. For £87.76 for a dog, or £64.26 for a cat, owners may attend a private cremation. The ashes are later returned to them in a decorative cask.

Or perhaps, at £260 for a dog or £220 for a cat, you would like your pet buried at Rossendale Pet Crematorium and Cemetery in Lancashire - where you can join it later. It is the first site in Britain where owners can be buried with their animals.