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Ten unexpected costs of owning a pet

Most pet owners understand the cost of buying and feeding a pet, but there are some added costs you need to plan for.

cat visiting the vet for an annual checkup
Last updated: 06 March 2019


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Owning a pet offers many wonderful benefits such as companionship, security, relaxation. But it can also come with significant financial responsibilities that, for the uninitiated, may result in some nasty surprises.

Dr Bronwyn Orr, scientific officer for Companion Animals at RSPCA Australia, says: "There are inherent costs associated with responsible pet ownership, including providing appropriate food, shelter, enrichment and vet care. 

"These are unavoidable, and should be considered prior to bringing a new pet into the home."  

Here are ten important and potentially unexpected costs associated with pet ownership.

1. Pet 'housing'

It's essential for your pet's health and wellbeing that you provide them with a safe, comfortable and pet-appropriate space to sleep. 

"Providing comfortable and clean shelter for your pet, including a resting place where they can easily lie down, get up and move around is very important to their welfare," says Orr.

While this may not appear to be an 'unexpected cost', depending on the animal and their requirements, your pet's sleeping space may prove a considerable expense. 

For indoor cats, a warm, comfy spot on the couch or at the end of your bed might suffice but outdoor cats may require a cat enclosure. For pet birds, an appropriately sized cage or a secure outdoor aviary may be necessary.

A warm spot on the couch might suffice for cats, but horse owners may need to pay stabling fees

For certain varieties of fish and reptiles, a large and sometimes heated tank may be called for. Sheep, goats and cows must be fenced securely with a shaded area to protect them from the weather and ample space to roam and graze. 

A horse's needs are similar and owners may need to pay board for them to live in a stable if the family home doesn't have the appropriate facilities. This can be a considerable expense.

2. Desexing

It's a legal requirement to desex your dog or cat in South Australia and the ACT, and cats over six months old in Tasmania and Western Australia. For other states, the RSPCA highly recommends all pet owners desex their companion animal. 

"The RSPCA receives over 125,000 animals every year and many of these unwanted animals are the result of unplanned breeding," Orr explains.

Desexing ensures cats and dogs can't produce any unwanted or unplanned litters, reducing the number of animals entering shelters and pounds and helping to reduce high euthanasia rates. There are also other benefits to desexing your pet: 

"Desexed animals are generally less likely to get diseases and certain illnesses, such as mammary cancer and uterine infections in females and prostate problems in males," says Orr. 

The RSPCA highly recommends all pet owners desex their companion animal

"Desexing commonly reduces behavioural issues such as roaming, aggression and urine marking in males. In females it prevents mating behaviour and false pregnancy. Reducing the desire to roam also reduces the risk of being in fights or a traumatic accident such as being hit by a car."

You might also get a discount on your pet's registration with your local council if your pet is desexed.

3. Annual vet check-ups, vaccinations and flea, tick and worming treatments

average annual vet expenses

Just like us, our pets require regular physical check-ups to ensure they remain healthy throughout their lives and to prevent serious illness from developing. But you're likely to pay more for your pet's than your own check-up.

Average annual vet expenses (excluding emergency visits and medications) are estimated to cost:

  • $397 for dogs
  • $273 for cats.

"It's important not to fall into the trap of comparing human health care with veterinary health care," Orr says. "Human health care is heavily subsidised by the government and Medicare, meaning we only pay a very small portion of the total cost. 

"Veterinary health care is not subsidised in any manner, and is delivered by a veterinary clinic run as a small business."

annual preventative medication costs

Cats and dogs are also susceptible to fleas, ticks and worms, which can cause serious health issues if untreated. Vets can advise on the best preventative medications for your pet, which you can buy from clinics, pet stores and even supermarkets. 

On average, a year's preventative medication will cost:

  • $248 for dogs
  • $159 for cats.

4. Grooming

Depending on the type of pet, there may also be considerable ongoing grooming expenses. While some short-haired animals have coats that are relatively easy to maintain, others may require regular grooming – not just to look their best, but to maintain good health and wellbeing.

"Regular grooming is important, particularly for long-haired breeds," Orr says. "Grooming removes dust, dead skin, loose hairs, grass seeds and tangles, and reduces the amount of fur shed during the autumn and spring moult."

Without regular grooming, long-haired breeds can be susceptible to hair matting, which can cause considerable pain and discomfort. While there are cheaper ways of grooming if you learn how to do it yourself at home, there are also plenty of pet grooming services available at a cost.

5. Corrective surgery

Depending on the pet and/or the breed you choose, your animal may suffer from an inherited defect that requires treatment to improve its quality of life. 

For example, 'pedigree' and 'designer' breeds that have been bred for aesthetics, such as British and French bulldogs and Persian and Himalayan cats – otherwise known as brachycephalic animals – can suffer from breathing difficulties, while others may experience breed-specific eye trauma, disease susceptibility, and skin, back and hip problems.

The cost of necessary corrective surgery can put a real dent in your wallet. Certain breeds have expensive needs, so do your research and consider very carefully whether you're prepared to pay additional costs towards corrective surgery for your pet.

6. Microchipping and council registration

Microchipping and registration for dogs and cats that are three or six months of age and over is mandatory in most Australian states and territories except for the Northern Territory.

  • In the ACT and Tasmania, only dog registrations are mandatory. 
  • In South Australia and Queensland only some council areas require cats to be registered in this way, but it varies so you will need to check. 

Microchips are commonly implanted by breeders, suppliers or vets, but registration, for which a microchip number is essential, must be completed and paid for by the owner through their local council. Failure to do so can result in a fine.

A microchip is the most effective way to ensure your pet can be returned to you if it becomes lost

"It's very important to ensure your pet cat or dog is microchipped because if it becomes lost, you're far more likely to be reunited," says Orr. 

"Council pounds will often have lower 'release' fees for animals that are registered and desexed, meaning it's cheaper if you ever have to pick up your pet from the pound."

Reptiles and native animals are registered with state environment departments and owner responsibilities and laws are different again. You should only have a native animal if you have a licence and penalties for breaching these laws can be extremely high.

7. Training

With a little patience, most pets can be trained using positive reinforcement. 

Dogs in particular can benefit tremendously from early training as it helps to reinforce positive behaviours, prevents problematic behaviours and establishes boundaries and expectations essential to the happiness and welfare of the dog.

If you're considering welcoming a dog into your home, it's important to factor in the costs associated with training it from a young age. 

"Puppies have a 'critical socialisation period' between about three and 17 weeks of age," says Orr. "Puppy preschool is highly recommended as a starting point."

puppy at puppy training

It's wise to factor in puppy training costs – it will pay off in spades later.

8. Boarding your pets

For pet owners planning holidays it's essential you arrange appropriate care for your animals while you're away. And unless you're lucky enough to have a trusted, reliable pet sitter on hand, you'll need to pay someone for the service. 

There are myriad ways you can go about this, but one of the more common and convenient is pet boarding at kennels, catteries and veterinary clinics, which can be expensive and put a real strain on your holiday budget.

"Alternatives to boarding facilities include pet sitters and pet friendly accommodation," Orr says. 

"There are a range of apps now that connect pet sitters with pet owners, with many experienced and knowledgeable pet sitters available. Pet friendly accommodation (and bringing your dog with you) is another alternative that could prove to be quite affordable."

9. 'Premium' pet foods

The cost of pet food may come as a shock, particularly if your pet has special requirements. Of the estimated $12.2 billion Australian households spent on pet products in 2016, more than a third was on pet food (35%).

Our pets need nutritionally balanced diets to maintain an ideal weight and to fuel their bodies for the activity they require to maintain health and vitality. 

Nutritional requirements will vary from pet to pet, depending on sex, species, breed, age and activity level, but generally speaking, an animal's diet must consist of a combination of proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates and plenty of fresh water.

There's not enough definitive information to say whether premium foods are any better for your pet than regular pet food

There's a plethora of pet food options out there, and when we've reviewed premium pet food in the past, we discovered that some were certainly better than others. 

Premium pet food brands make claims about the high-quality, often human-grade ingredients, having a high meat content, being grain-free and including 'superfoods'. But there's not enough definitive information to say whether premium foods are any better for your pet than regular pet food. 

Anecdotally, however, some pets will do better on a premium diet and this is something you should discuss with your vet.

Some pets will require special diets for any specific health conditions they might have," Orr says. "In some circumstances, special food is actually the cheapest way of preventing certain diseases and illnesses."

10. Death and cremation

Amidst the grief of losing a beloved pet, owners must consider what to do with their bodies after they die which, depending on the animal and the circumstances of its passing, can carry considerable expense.

While there are some small domestic animals whose remains can be respectfully buried in a back garden without cost, the remains of larger animals will need to be disposed of appropriately for health and safety reasons. 

Some local councils offer a pick-up service for deceased pets

If a pet dies at a veterinary clinic, vets will usually offer to dispose of the animal's body for a fee. You can also choose to have your pet's remains cremated and their ashes returned to you. A burial at a pet cemetery may also be an option, depending on where you live. The costs of pet cremation and burial packages vary widely between providers.

Some local councils offer a pick-up service for deceased pets and accept dead domestic animals at council waste facilities for a fee. Please check with your local council for further information. Owners must also inform their local council of their registered pet's death and, if you have pet insurance, you should cancel the policy.

average yearly costs all pets

High cost of ownership

Australians love their pets. In fact, we have one of the highest household rates of pet ownership in the world. Around 5.7 million of Australia's 9.2 million households – or 62% – home at least one pet.

Unsurprisingly, dogs (38.5%) and cats (29.2%) are our most popular animal companions, but fish (11.8%) and birds (11.8%) are also common pets, followed by small mammals (3.1%) such as rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, mice and rats. 

Reptiles or amphibians (2.7%) like snakes, turtles and tortoises, lizards and frogs are also favourites, and other pets (2.8%), like horses, goats, sheep and hermit crabs, aren't uncommon either.

According to a survey by Animal Medicines Australia, Australians spent a whopping $12.6 billion on pet products and services in 2016.

The average yearly costs were:

  • $1475 for dogs
  • $1029 for cats
  • $115 for birds
  • $50 for fish.

These averages cover food, vet care, health products, grooming and boarding (where appropriate).

Over the course of your pet's lifetime, these expenses can add up to a significant investment. However, it's important to consider that these are averages only and actual costs are entirely dependent on the animal's age, breed and size. They also don't take into account any possible accidents or illnesses.

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Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.