The price of pets

Ownership can involve surprising costs, all of which are rising thanks to inflation


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Inflation bites, and it’s hounding just about every corner of a household budget.

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Inflation bites, and it’s hounding just about every corner of a household budget.

Count everything to do with our furry, feathered or scaled family members among the litany of rising bills families have to pay.

Pet food and related items, according to Canada’s Consumer Price Index, rose 13.5 per cent in March compared with the same month last year.

                                <p>The cost of food and supplies for bearded dragons has skyrocketed in the last year.</p>


The cost of food and supplies for bearded dragons has skyrocketed in the last year.

That’s in contrast to 4.3 per cent inflation for all goods and services combined for Canadian consumers.

For the approximately 60 per cent of Canadian households with at least one dog or cat, who spent about $9 billion annually in aggregate on their animals in 2020, the impact of inflation roughly amounts to a more than $1-billion rise in collective spending.

The situation is not only challenging for owners. It’s a battle for local shelters, including RESCUE Siamese in Winnipeg, which is taking in more animals today than it was just a year ago.

“It’s definitely more challenging today,” says Tara Mychalyshyn, assistant director of the Winnipeg no-kill shelter.

RESCUE Siamese experienced a 45 per cent rise in intake of cats in 2022 over 2021 in large part because more owners are unable to afford their pet, she notes.

“I think that people were lonely during the pandemic, so there were a lot of emotional decisions made when getting a pet where owners didn’t necessarily think how much it might have cost.”

Pet food, toys, litter and other supplies have all gone up in price, she adds.

At the same time, many household budget items are rising, from mortgage payments and rent to groceries and gasoline.

Then there are veterinarian services, which are perennially costly.

“We’re facing similar challenges as other industries, so there is an increase in cost of basic supplies, equipment, medicine and clinic costs, which impacts our pricing,” says Dr. Karen Choptain, veterinarian at Bridgwater Veterinary Hospital and Wellness Centre, which provides 24-hour emergency care.

As an emergency hospital, Choptain says clinic vets are having more difficult discussions in the last year with cash-strapped pet owners and their severely ill animals.

“We try to do the best we can for the animal according to each owner’s means,” she adds.

“Whenever possible, we offer a range of options for the pet while keeping financial considerations in mind.”

                                <p>Tara Mychalyshyn, assistant director of RESCUE Siamese, holds Willow at RESCUE Siamese shelter.</p>


Tara Mychalyshyn, assistant director of RESCUE Siamese, holds Willow at RESCUE Siamese shelter.

Yet inflation is just half the story.

Many owners simply do not consider the total cost of care for their pets, especially veterinary services, which can really upset a household budget that doesn’t have emergency savings, Mychalyshyn says.

“We had a cat today that needed bladder stones removed, for example,” she says, adding the cost was more than $1,000, which is typical for most procedures involving more than a checkup, diagnostics and medication.

All of this illustrates the importance for would-be pet owners to draw up a budget before adopting, says chartered professional accountant Michael Massoud in Toronto.

“What’s really important to understand is not just the impact of inflation, but that costs rise substantially over the life of a pet, due their age and likelihood of their need for more vet care.”

Massoud speaks from experience.

“In the final years of my dog’s life, the vet costs were quite high.”

Now, with his family currently looking for a dog, he too is working on a budget to prepare for all potential costs, including insurance premiums.

“Insurance can be particularly helpful later in your pet’s life when facing significant vet bills,” he adds.

Pet insurance can also be helpful for younger pets for emergencies, Choptain says.

“For example, they can be bitten at the dog park; they can be hit by a car; they can cut their feet, and emergency insurance will provide some coverage care in those events.”

Although it’s increasingly popular among pet owners, some choose not to purchase insurance. These households should at least set up a savings account to pay for future vet bills, Mychalyshyn says.

                                <p>Budgeting for cat ownership can include insurance to cover unexpected feline illnesses.</p>


Budgeting for cat ownership can include insurance to cover unexpected feline illnesses.

Yet many pet owners do neither and, at some point, face difficult decisions, including whether to give up ownership.

“In fact, about half the pets we take are due to owners that can no longer afford them,” Mychalyshyn says, noting no animal is turned away.

“We never say to someone, ‘Not being able to afford your pet is not a good enough reason.’”

Consequently, the non-profit, volunteer-run shelter is in constant need of financial support.

Thankfully, with the pandemic over, the shelter can return to its in-person fundraisers, Mychalyshyn says.

That includes a cat and craft show on Sunday at the West End Cultural Centre from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“We are 100 per cent run on donations, and so it’s definitely getting harder to stay afloat with inflation,” Mychalyshyn says.

“But we’re lucky that we can do a lot of these fundraising events now.”

Unfortunately, many cash-strapped pet owners these days may not be able to say the same.

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