Can you afford your pets?

By Andreas Wilson-Späth

When our family dog Milo died a couple of years ago we were all pretty devastated, but when we met with our vet on the following day to discuss the burial options, I had a rather surreal experience. I felt as though I’d been magically transported onto the set of the Coen brothers classic The Big Lebowski, one of my all-time favourite movies.

I have buried my share of small pets, from hamsters to kittens, in the shadier parts of our back garden, but a fully-grown Labrador was a different matter. In consultation with the vet we decided on cremation. The good man started to rattle off a variety of containers we could choose to receive Milo’s ashes, all of them surprisingly pricey and adding to the already not inconsiderable cost of the cremation itself.

It was at this point that I felt my wife Sam and I transposed into The Dude (Jeff Bridges) and Walter (John Goodman) in the final scenes of The Big Lebowski. In the film, the pair resorts to unconventional if creative measures when faced with having to choose from a range of expensive “receptacles” for their departed friend Donny’s mortal remains.

Unlike our two heroes, Sam and I went for a tasteful earthenware urn for Milo. It was, of course, the right decision, but having to fork out a considerable sum on the occasion of Milo’s death got me thinking about exactly how much money we were spending on our pets while they were alive.

Not counting the goldfish in our pond (they’ve learned to fend for themselves), we’re a two-dog-one-cat household (Harry the free-range hamster and full-time escape artist doesn’t count as he only rarely emerges from the crawlspace beneath the wooden lounge floor to take a midnight spin on the wheel of his personal gym… err, cage). That doesn’t sound like a lot, but having done the maths, I was surprised by how much it all added up to money-wise.

There are the obvious ongoing expenses: the food (have you seen how much a bag of cat or dog food of decent quality costs these days? Around R50–150 for the former and R150–250 for the latter, but for premium brands can cost R1000 or more) and the cat litter (here too, prices have gone through the roof — R40–70 per bag). Then there are scheduled visits to the vet for neutering and spaying, routine check-ups, injections and so on, followed at regular intervals by emergency consultations to deal with injuries, illnesses, flea infestations and more (these can cost you from about R200 to R1000 and more each).

Depending on your personal proclivities and circumstances, money may also have to be spent on dog trainers and walkers (R100 per session), overnight stays at the kennel or cattery (R150–200 a night or more for doggie “hotels”), visits to the grooming parlour (R75 and up), collars, leashes, scratching posts, toys, special treats, items of pet clothing and all manner of accoutrements (anywhere between R20 and R200 for each of these).

By the time you’ve taken all of that into account and depending on the size and composition of your menagerie, you’re likely to be spending as much as R500 on your pets every month. In bad months, you might be looking at well over R1000.

And I haven’t even considered other unusual events with monetary consequences. A while ago, Sam had to take a day’s leave to find and recover Lucky, Milo’s successor, whose special talent is hot-footing it out of the front gate at every opportunity without being able to find his way back home once he’s around the first street corner.

I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that our pets aren’t worth every cent we spend on them. The value they add to our family life can’t be accounted for in monetary terms. But Milo’s death did make me realise that our pet-related household expenses are more substantial than I had thought and that we’d better start budgeting for them.

For card-carrying greenies like myself, there’s an additional cost to having pets. Did you know that your kitty and pooch come with their own carbon footprints? I guess that should be carbon paw prints.

A study conducted in New Zealand in 2009 found that the average pet dog is responsible for carbon emissions that are about twice those of an SUV. That’s because most pet food isn’t produced, packaged and distributed in particularly eco-friendly ways. In addition, there is considerable potential for pollution from poop as well as the medicines and chemicals used to treat diseases and control pests.

Cats and other smaller pets also have environmental impacts — just think of all of the used cat litter that ends up in landfill sites all over the world. Your pet’s individual contribution to the problem may be relatively small, but given a global pet cat and dog population of more than 800 million, the cumulative effects are significant.

Again, these largely hidden costs haven’t made us want to get rid of our pets, but knowing about them means that we now read the labels on the cat and dog food we buy much more closely and that we choose natural pet-care and grooming products whenever we can.

Originally published at on May 31, 2016.




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