Your heart is ready for a furry companion, but is your wallet?

By Emma Lunn

Britain is undoubtedly a nation of animal lovers: almost 50% of UK households own at least one pet. Pets can be great companions and often are as much a part of the family as any human. And, like humans, pets can be expensive, requiring not only basic necessities, but also veterinary visits, medications, and special housing and travel arrangements.

Understanding the costs ahead of time and planning for how you will pay pet expenses can take a lot of worry out of care.pet-costs

Be proactive with insurance
It's a good idea to insure your pet to protect yourself against various veterinary costs. There is no NHS for animals; if you don't have insurance, you'll have to cough up vets' fees out of pocket or, worse, be forced to put your pet down if you can't afford treatment for a serious ailment.

According to insurer Direct Line, the cost of treating a dog's broken leg can be £2,000. On top of that, dogs and cats are prone to recurring complaints; the most common, per insurance claims, are arthritis, tumours and heart problems. Saga Insurance says these claims alone make up almost a fifth of all pet insurance claims.

"A sick pet can be the cause of family heartache, and with vets bills soaring by 10% last year, it can also cause a financial headache if pets don't have the proper cover," says Roger Ramsden, chief executive of Saga.

As with any kind of insurance, be sure to read the pet insurance policy details carefully before you purchase a plan.

Plan for added travel expenses
Thinking of a holiday? The cost of a kennel or cattery can add a significant sum to the cost of your break.

Dog boarding costs depend on the kennel, the location (for example, expect to pay more in London) and the breed of dog. Costs generally start at £10 a day for a small dog.

Taking your pet with you when you travel can be costly as well. The UK government has guidelines for taking your pet abroad. Depending on where you go, you may have to take specific, approved routes, and your pet may need to be microchipped, vaccinated against various diseases and carry a pet passport or other documents. Many of these things require weeks or months of advance preparation, and each comes with its own set of fees.

Staying in a hotel with a pet requires, of course, pet-accommodating lodges, and may require an extra deposit.

On top of all these expenses, traveling with pet supplies can add to the number of bags you must pack and possibly check at the airport.

Account for extra expenses at home

  • Rental properties
    The majority of landlords don't allow pets, especially in flats. If this is the case, do not move in with a pet and hope your landlord doesn't find out -- if he does, he is within his rights to evict you, which could then come up on your credit report.

    Rental properties that allow pets are in the minority, so pet owners' rental choices are limited. In addition, their rents may be higher, and the landlord might ask for a bigger deposit in case the pet damages the property.   

  • Electricity bills
    A survey by energy provider E.ON found that many pet owners turn the heating up and leave the radio on for their pets when no one else is home.

    "Our research shows that owners are thinking carefully about their pet's comfort when they leave the house, but it's important to remember that leaving the heating and radio on for long periods may also increase your energy bills," says Fiona Stark, director of corporate affairs at E.ON.
See related: Many Brits lack emergency funds. Here's how to build yours, 6 tips for dealing with debt stress

Published: 17 September 2013