A Christmas pet? Here’s all you need to know

So finally at Christmas your dreams came true and you got a new pet? Whether it’s a dog or cat or any other kind of pet, it is a very exciting time for the whole family.

But there’s that old saying about a pet being for life not just for Christmas, and if you are a new pet owner you may now be beginning to worry about various aspects of how to look after your pet. There seems to be so much that you need to know. And it can all get very expensive.

So in this article we take a quick look at:

  • Five things you need to know about owning a pet.
  • Five ways to save money on looking after your pet.

We will focus particularly on dogs and cats, as they are the most common pets in the UK.

Five things you need to know about owning a pet

As a pet owner, you now have various responsibilities, both legal and ethical. Here are five of the most important:

  • The Animal Welfare Act

Since 2007, pet owners have had legal responsibilities for the welfare of their animals. The Animal Welfare Act makes it a legal duty for pet owners to provide for their pet:

  • A proper diet and fresh water;
  • Somewhere suitable to live, including any need to either be with other animals or alone;
  • The opportunity to express normal animal behaviour;
  • Protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease. This includes being registered with a local vet, kept up to date with vaccinations, worming, flea and tick treatments, and having regular check-ups. 
  • Dogs and cats must be microchipped

Both dogs and cats must now legally be microchipped. Dogs must be microchipped by the time they are 8 weeks old; with cats it is 20 weeks.

Once a pet is microchipped, the contact details of their owner is stored and kept up to date in a pet microchipping database. It is important that you keep your details up to date with the database so that if your pet is lost or stolen there will be a better chance of you being reunited.

  • Dogs must wear collars

As well as being microchipped, dogs must also wear collars with identity tags whenever they are in a public space. At the moment there is no legal requirement for cats to wear collars.

The identity tag on the collar must state the owner’s name and address, and it also makes sense to include your telephone number so that you can be contacted immediately if your dog is found by someone.

  • Pets must be restrained in cars

If you are travelling by car with your pet, be aware that Rule 57 of the Highway Code requires you to “make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so that they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly”. 

So if you intend to take your pet around in the car with you, you need to get hold of either a seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard.

  • Dogs mess in public must be cleaned up

If you walk your dog in public spaces such as parks, playgrounds, pavements and other footpaths. you are legally obliged to clear up any dog mess. So make sure you carry poo bags with you, and once the waste is bagged it needs to be put in a bin, not left on the ground or hung from a tree.

If you don’t do this, you could either be issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice of up to £100, or taken to court and fined up to £1,000. This could still happen even if you are not aware that the dog has fouled.

Five ways to save money on looking after your pet

However much you pay for your pet itself, that is only the beginning. For starters, there are injections, microchipping and – should you decide – spaying or neutering. There are then so many other things to buy, including bed, crate, lead and collar, feeding equipment, litter trays, toys etc.

Costs vary enormously depending on the type of pet, vets charges and where you buy your equipment, but a rough estimate would probably be at least £500. If you need extra money to get everything you need for your pet, a short term personal loan from Simple Fast Loans may be able to help.

But there are also many ongoing costs of having a pet. The PDSA estimates the typical monthly cost of keeping a dog is £50-£80 and a cat around £70.

Some of the things you need money for are:

  • Food;
  • Pet insurance;
  • Vets’ bills;
  • Regular flea and worm treatments;
  • Annual booster injections;
  • Grooming;
  • Kennels, catteries or pet sitters;
  • Toys and treats.

So owning a pet is not cheap. But here are five ways you can reduce some of that expenditure:

  • Buy pet food in bulk

It can take a while to find out the food that is best for your dog or cat, but once you’ve done that it’s quite easy to buy food in bulk. You can do this from wholesalers such as CostCo, pet stores such as Pets At Home, or from an online supplier such as Pet Supermarket, Amazon., or the manufacturer of the particular food.

If you are short of storage space or can’t afford to buy too much in bulk, see if you can find a local friend who uses the same food and you can split the cost and the goods between you. 

  • Shop around

Another useful tip is to shop around for the best prices on pet products, for example such as accessories, toys and grooming products, and toys. You can often pick up great bargains in the pet sections of large supermarkets. Many of the retailers listed above also supply these products. 

Once you know what kind of regular medication your pet needs – for example flea and worm treatments – you may also be able to buy online from suppliers such as MedicAnimal and Pet Remedies. It is also worth checking with your vet if they have any kind of loyalty scheme whereby you can pay a monthly fee and get regular medication either free or at a reduced price.

  • Get pet insurance

Pet insurance can be expensive and many owners are unsure whether it is worth the money. An alternative would be to put aside some money every month in case you need it for a pet emergency.

But an advantage of pet insurance is that a good policy will cover you and your pet for a wide variety of expenses, including:

  • Illness, including an ongoing condition;
  • Emergency treatment for injuries and accidents;
  • Dental treatment;
  • Loss or theft;
  • Behavioural problems;
  • Death by illness or injury;
  • Euthanasia if needed, cremation or burial;
  • Kennel or cattery fees if you have to go into hospital.

Dogs tend to cost more to insure than cats. According to Compare the Market the average premium for dogs starts at around £157 per year, but this varies enormously depending on the type of dog you have and can be much higher. An average premium for cats is around £83 a year. 

But it’s important not just to look at the price itself, but also the small print. If you have a new pet, your best option could be a lifetime pet insurance policy, because it covers expenses for the lifetime of your pet, even if you have previously claimed for the same condition. 

So do shop around for the best insurance for your pet. You could start by looking at comparison websites such as Compare the Market or Money Supermarket

Some insurers also provide a 24 hour pet helpline that you can call for advice if you are worried about your pet. This could save an expensive trip to the vet. But if you do need to go to the vet, many insurers pay vet’s bills directly to the vet, which means that you don’t have to find the money upfront to pay for your pet’s treatment.

  • Don’t over worry about your pet

We’ve mentioned above that a call to your insurer’s pet helpline could save a trip to the vet. As a pet owner, you will find that one of the biggest expenses for your pet is vet’s fees. And there will be times when this is worth every penny.

But as a new pet owner, you may notice every little unusual symptom your pet has, and perhaps end up taking them to the vet unnecessarily. Of course, do take them if you are genuinely worried, but also be aware that animals can have off days just like humans. 

So if your pet seems a bit under the weather, it can be worth just keeping them quiet and rested for a day or so to see if things improve before rushing to the vets. If your pet is up to date with vaccinations, flea and worm treatments and is clean, well fed and watered, they may well be as right as rain in a day or two.

  • Organise a pet care swap with friends

Being a pet owner is a 24/7 responsibility, and there will be times you need help. The problem is that to get someone to walk your dogs during the day, or pet sit when you are away, is expensive. Even more so if you plan to use kennels, catteries or some kind of doggy day care.

A cheaper and more flexible option could be to set up a pet care swap system with friends. Having trusted friends to look after your pets as needed – and you do the same for them – not only saves money but also gives you the reassurance of knowing that your pet is in capable and familiar hands.

We hope that this article helps you to understand more about the responsibilities of pet ownership, and also to find better and more economical ways of making it work for you and your family.

Check back with us again soon for more lifestyle and financial tips from Simple Fast Loans.