The real cost of owning a pet


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It's hard to resist the pleas for a pet. Most kids ask for a pet at some stage.

I'm a big fan of pets - my family has had goldfish, rabbits, guinea pigs, a cockatiel, budgies and cats.

They have brought us plenty of joy and taught my kids about responsibility and compassion. They become a focus for the whole family.


But think carefully before you fall for a pet.

While you can adopt a pet from the animal pound for a small cost and others such as birds or fish appear easy to look after, owning a pet is a serious financial - not to mention emotional - commitment.

You are looking at a 10 to 12-year commitment for dogs and cats though they can live for as long as 20 years.

Birds typically live for 10 to 30 years, mice for three to five years and even goldfish live for five to 10 years, so think carefully before you buy a goldfish at the school fete.

Kids don't think about cost but you must. It's a good financial exercise to involve them in understanding the true, ongoing costs of a pet.

If they really want a pet badly (and 63% of Australians have a pet), you can make it a condition that they will feed, exercise and clean up after the pet. Perhaps they could save up from their allowance for their pet too.

But buying a pet is just the beginning.

There are plenty of costs for food, vet bills, micro-chipping, de-sexing, pet insurance, grooming, toys and - if you go away - boarding fees. Once your pet ages, there could be medications, special food and regular vet visits.

A friend of mine's ageing dog was recently diagnosed diabetic. It needs daily insulin injections and expensive regular blood tests.

Not long after being diagnosed the dog lost her sight. It cost a hefty $7000 for an operation to regain part of the dog's sight, amounting to the family's holiday budget for the year.

While kids will promise to care for the pet, this often falls apart. I have inherited pets from frustrated parents whose children lost all interest.

I recommend making at least feeding the pet part of the chores tied to pocket money.

A survey of the housework and homework of 10-year-olds by Jennifer Baxter, presented at the Australian Institute of Family Studies conference, found that 10-year-old girls spend more time taking care of pets than on any other chores.

Boys spend more time preparing food, with pets coming in as the second housework chore.

I know well that in most cases it's the woman who ends up the pet's main carer and decision-maker. So weigh up whether you really have the time to care for a pet.

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.