How Much Does a New Pet Really Cost?

April 30th, 2019

Whether they’re scaled, furred or feathered, there’s no denying that making a pet part of your family is an appealing prospect to many Australians. There are just so many benefits to pet ownership – companionship, improved mental health and improved fitness – that it’s hard to believe that there could be any drawbacks!

The fact is, however, that pet ownership can be an expensive decision – according to Animal Medicines Australia, the average Australian household spends an estimated $1,975 per year on their dogs or $1,480 per year on cats. Even relatively cheap-to-keep animals, like fish ($403), birds ($444) and small mammals like rabbits ($464) can represent a financial burden – especially for younger households or those with limited disposable income.

While this article is by no means intended to deter you from introducing a furry new member to your family, it is important to understand the financial implications of pet ownership, and to adjust your spending and saving habits accordingly.

How much does it cost to buy a pet?

According to ASIC’s MoneySmart website, the average Australian can be looking at spending anything from $3,000 to $6,000 Australian dollars in the first year of pet ownership (for dogs and cats). This includes the cost of the animal, vet expenses, food, accessories, pet insurance and other assorted costs. This isn’t even including any unexpected health problems or accidents!

For other types of pets, like fish or reptiles, these costs can be higher or lower; for a large fish tank, the electricity costs alone can run up to $950 per year without taking into account food, water treatment and other costs.

While the initial costs involved in pet ownership can be daunting, there are ways to minimise the damage to your wallet. For example, when you go out to get your pet, consider a rescue shelter. Adopting a rescued animal from a reputable animal shelter isn’t just a great way to save money – you will be contributing to saving a life.

If you’re interested in going down this route, PetRescue is a great place to start your research. PetRescue brings together thousands of pet adoption agencies into one easily searchable database.

Most reputable adoption groups charge a relatively low adoption fee, which generally includes desexing, microchips, vaccinations and behavioural checks. The RSPCA charges around $400 for a single adult dog, or $120 for an adult cat. If you choose to adopt older animals (who often have difficulties finding homes) the RSPCA will generally waive this fee – in addition, they will give you a 25% reduction in vet consultation fees for the life of the pet! What a great opportunity to give an older animal some much needed love.

Pet insurance – yes or no?

We’ve all heard horror stories of massive vet bills and the tough decisions that pet owners are often faced with – the life of their best mate, or a whopping great debt.

‘Boris the Brave’, a Bernese mountain dog from Tasmania that was injured by a wooden chicken skewer, ended up costing his family almost $13,000 in vet bills! While this is an exceptionally large bill, these sort of costs are not unheard of, particularly for complicated surgeries that might involve teams of highly trained (and highly expensive) vets, anaesthesiologists, and veterinary nurses.

The jury is still out on the necessity of pet insurance. As with all financial decisions, the devil is in the detail. While some insurers offer very good coverage for a relatively minimal fee (as little as $25 per month), it’s important you do your research to ensure you are choosing the best provider for your needs.

Thankfully, Australia has quite strict laws regarding what must be included in a Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) so it’s pretty easy (if time consuming) to compare the coverage that different insurers offer.

The question of whether to invest in this insurance is up to you, but it is probably a good idea to err on the side of caution. If you choose not to purchase pet insurance, make sure to have a little bit of extra money put aside in your ‘rainy day fund’ – just in case the unthinkable happens, and you’re left looking at a whopping great vet bill.

What other costs are involved in pet ownership?

From food to tick repellent, there are all sorts of little costs involved in caring for an animal companion – costs that can quickly add up.

Some animals – dogs in particular – require behavioural training, especially when they are still young. All around Australia, ‘puppy schools’ have sprung up, providing group training to socialise and train puppies, and increasingly, kittens. Group puppy training courses can cost anything from $130 to $250, depending on the provider, though the RSPCA suggests that around $170 is a reasonable price to pay. However, be warned! Private puppy trainers can be very expensive, with single sessions costing upwards of $150.

In addition to training, a cost that a lot of pet owners overlook is the cost of quality food and pet accessories. While a lot of these costs are one-off expenses, buying high quality, long lasting pet accessories is often surprisingly expensive. The same can be said for good quality pet food – though the jury is out on whether ‘premium’ pet foods are worth the price for both cats and dogs.

Finally, costs like grooming, vaccinations, worming treatments and flea treatments can be a nasty shock to the wallet. ASIC recommends that pet owners budget around $300 to $450 per year (depending on the animals size) for health expenses, and anywhere from $30 to $200 per year for other services like grooming and boarding.

So, is it worth it?

Well… yes.

If you can afford it.

Sadly, thousands of pets are abandoned around Australia each year for all manner of reasons – so it is important that you take a lot of care making your decision. If you plan your family budget accordingly, adding a furry face to your family will bring you joy and friendship for years to come!

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