Keep costs on a leash and don't join the thousands who put their pets to sleep

As many owners decide the vets' bills aren't worth it, Jacob Floyd sees how to find the right cover, and how to save on food and medicine

For most owners, a pet is a beloved family member – one you wouldn't dream of getting rid of, regardless of how tight money might be right now.

But in the past five years, 1.6 million pet owners have resorted to putting their animals to sleep because they could not afford the cost of veterinary treatment. That's 927,000 dogs and 822,000 cats between 2003 and 2008, according to Sainsbury's Finance. Furthermore, 80 per cent of vets surveyed have had an owner decline treatment because the dog or cat was uninsured.

Pets are rarely considered one of life's luxuries, but the costs quickly add up. For a medium-sized dog, pet-food-choice.co.uk says dry food will cost between £71 and £306 a year, while wet food is between £212 and £1,051 annually if you buy expensive brands like Cesar. Dry food for cats will set you back between £64 and £98 a year or anything from £171 to £629 if you buy cans.

And don't forget the ruined furniture and fittings. Dogs, particularly, are liable to chew things. Great Danes cost owners an average of £669.64 in damages over a lifetime, according to eSure. And if you thought a small pooch like a Chihuahua would cause less carnage, guess again. They may have smaller jaws, but they typically rip up the furniture to the tune of £638.41.

There are, though, a number of ways to keep down the cost of a pet without compromising its well-being, says Ali Taylor from Battersea Dogs Home. "Get a mongrel," she suggests. "They tend to be less prone to disease and cheaper to insure. And keeping your animal healthy with a balanced diet and regular exercise is not only your responsibility as a pet owner, it will cut down on vet bills."

The type of food you buy also matters. "There are various brands, so you don't have to go for the most expensive," Ms Taylor says. "It's more important to look at the details. If you've got a hyperactive dog, you don't want a high protein content. Ask a pet store owner about what is the best value for money."

You can save on food bills by buying in bulk online and splitting the cost of large quantities with a friend.

And don't fork out for unnecessarily expensive entertainment; many of the games you can play with dogs, for example, are free, like hide and seek. If you have toys, don't leave them lying about so they lose their novelty value, forcing you to buy in more brightly coloured balls.

Meanwhile, if your pet is suffering from a long-term condition, buy medicine in bulk and learn to give the doses yourself. By buying online, from sites like petmeds.co.uk, you can avoid the profit margin your vet will add for supplying the same drugs. And if your pet does need expert help, a veterinary school may offer treatment from students at a lower cost without scrimping on care.

Volunteering at a local animal shelter could help you build useful contacts with people involved in animal care. Investigate subsidised neutering and treatment. If you are out of work or on a low income, charities including Cats Protection, Blue Cross and PDSA might be able to help you out, Ms Taylor says.

You could even get your cat or dog to pay its own way with a spot of modelling. A photogenic pooch could bring in as much as £100 an hour with specialist agencies such as PetLondon Models.

Ultimately, though, pet insurance is the best way of protecting yourself from nasty surprises when the vet's treatment bill comes in.

Overall, cover for a dog costs from £76 to £354.51 a year, while a cat will set you back between £46 and £186.69. However, there are so many different policies now that you have to chose carefully. "Don't just look at headline prices," advises Peter Gerard at the price- comparison site Money-supermarket.com. "It is more important to ask if the policy will cover emergency and continuing treatment. And check that it does not have a high excess or a low benefit level – the amount the provider will pay out for a claim.

"Insurance will not cover a condition that you're already aware of," he continues. "If you buy with that assumption, you'll be very disappointed. And some policies can also contain some nasty surprises for the unprepared purchaser.

"Check if the claim is 'continuous'," Mr Gerard adds. "Some companies will pay out for one set amount in one year. If you have to pay monthly amounts for treatment, they may not cover it."

Finally, make sure you're not over-insuring your pet. Some policies offer the works, but may have parts that aren't very useful to you. "The sneakiest example of this is third-party liability," says Mr Gerard. "You can't be liable legally for the actions of a cat, but you can for a dog. If the policy includes liability for a cat as an extra cost to the basic quote, then you are paying for something essentially useless."

The best buys for insurance

Tesco offers the cheapest cover for a cat aged between five and six, at around £4.50 per month including up to £2,500 worth of vets' bills and £1,000 worth of boarding fees. For a young cat up to a year old, an E&L policy offers cover for £2,000 in bills and £250 of boarding fees for around the same price.

Insuring a puppy under a year old will cost £7.30 at Tesco. This will cover £2,500 in vets' bills and £2m for third-party liability. If your dog is five or six, a monthly premium of £6.80 with Tesco should offer the same cover.

Source: Moneysupermarket.com

From cats to cockatiels, the escalating cost of keeping a pet

Even pets are being affected by the credit crunch, it seems, and as the cost of animals are re-evaluated, some nasty surprises have come to light.

The cost of having a pet is currently rising at above the rate of inflation. A puppy bought last year will cost its owners an estimated £9,000 in its lifetime. Yearly maintenance costs are typically around £502 now, but the amount is projected to rise over the course of a dog's average 12-year lifespan to £921 by 2019. And the expense incurred in a cat's lifetime is not much lower, estimated at just over £7,200.

For rabbits, the internet rescue operation Rabbit Rehome estimates annual maintenance costs of at least £520 a year per animal. And as it suggests they are happier when housed in pairs, the figure can quickly escalate towards £800.

Among other, less-common pets, birds are also victims of the recession, with around 800 parrots, budgies, cockatiels and macaws handed over to the National Parrot Sanctuary since January. It is estimated that aviary enthusiasts have to spend in excess of £500 a year keeping thier birds well-fed and healthy.

Ed Forbes

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
VIDEO
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
life
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit