How much is that doggy…?

There’s nothing like the love and loyalty you can get from a pet. Dogs are known as man’s best friend for good reason. Sadly, however, not all pet owners are good friends to their animals, and many grossly underestimate the cost; financial and emotional of caring for a pet. Angelique Arde, reports.

Animal shelters and animal rescue organisations in South Africa are home to hundreds of thousands of abused and unwanted animals. Various factors account for this. While it may be easy to blame the truly cruel people in our society as the primary culprits, the reality is that many pet owners in South Africa are indigent and without the means to feed themselves, let alone a pet. And then there are a great many who are simply ignorant of the responsibilities and costs associated with caring for a pet.

Don’t fool yourself; a pet can be very costly. Yes, you can buy a kitten from the pet shop for only R50, but the initial outlay is minuscule compared with what a pet is going to cost you over the course of its life.

Just the cost of feeding an animal can be hefty if you want to give your pet a high-quality diet, such as via the food brands sold by vets. andquot; Pet ownership is a 10- to 20-year contract.andquot; Dion Koekemoer, a veterinary surgeon from Roodepoort, says you can expect a large-breed dog to live for 10 to 12 years and a small-breed dog to live for between 14 and 18 years. A cat can live for anything from 18 to 20 years. So, what costs are you in for when you buy a pet dog or cat?

Security

Before you get a dog, you need to ensure that your property is secure. Not only are dogs prone to wandering, they are also in danger of being stolen or run over by a car. Securing your property can be expensive, particularly if it is easy for a dog to get over or under your existing perimeter wall or fence. Many animal behaviourists advise that some dogs must be able to see out of the property, and advocate fences or peep holes in the walls so that the dogs can see beyond their territory, because this can reduce distress in the animal.

Pet identification

No matter how well you have secured your property, it’s easy for a dog to slip out of an open gate, or charge off while you’re walking it in the streets or on the beach. And it’s even easier for a cat to wander off and be taken in by another home. At the very least, your dog or cat needs a collar and a tag bearing your phone number and your pet’s name.

Most supermarkets sell collars for cats and dogs, for anything from R12 to R40. And it will cost you about R30 to have a metal tag engraved with your petandrsquo;s name and your telephone number. Someone intent on stealing your pet can, of course, simply remove the collar, but it is useful when your animal strays.

Pet lovers who are afraid of their animals being stolen can have an Identipet or Virbac microchip implanted just beneath the surface of the animalandrsquo;s skin (usually in the scruff of the neck). The chip, which is the size of a grain of rice, contains your pet’s identity (ID) number. Most vets and animal rescue organisations have the necessary scanners to detect microchips. If your pet is found and taken to a vet or the SPCA, the animal will be scanned for a microchip. If one is detected, the vet or SPCA will alert Identipet or Virbac of your pet’s ID number. This number will throw up your contact details and you will be notified that your pet has been found.

You can get a microchip from your local vet for about R160. Your vet will then forward your details to Identipet or Virbac to be loaded on to a databank. Thereafter, in the case of Identipet, you will be charged a membership fee of R25 a year.

Food

Pet food is your most basic cost. Not only will a good diet keep your dog lean and healthy, but it will also affect your pet’s temperament. Claire Grobbelaar, a Cape Town-based animal behaviourist, says a poor quality diet can have a negative impact on an animal’s behaviour. A poor diet can cause low serotonin levels that can lead to aggression, anxiety, impaired learning or even obsessive behaviour.

Vets sell a variety of pet foods that they endorse, and the locally produced brands cost less than the imported products.

A 20-kilogram bag of Vet’s Choice for large-breed puppies will cost you about R270, compared with R400-odd for an 18kg bag of imported Hill’s Science Diet. It’s difficult to estimate how long you can expect that to last, because vets recommend that you feed your animal according to its weight and age.

Dog food from your supermarket will cost you considerably less than vet-approved food. For example, an 8kg bag of Pedigree sells for about R75 and a 10kg bag of No Name brand costs R30.

Koekemoer says the pet foods that vets sell are of a superior quality. These foods have been researched and tested extensively for quality, consistency, palatability and digestibility. The ingredients they use are usually fit for human consumption.

Accommodation

Shelter is another basic need. Every animal needs shelter from the elements, particularly the heat and rain, and a good durable kennel is essential for dogs that live outside the house. Each dog in the household needs its own kennel; its own safe space to which it can retreat, Grobbelaar says.

A medium-size PVC kennel will cost you about R500 and a large one can set you back R800. There are cheaper alternatives, such as asbestos or wooden kennels, but asbestos is prone to cracking, and wood will eventually rot unless it is treated.

Grobbelaar prefers wooden kennels to PVC and asbestos ones, which, she says, get too hot when exposed to the summer sun.
If your dog lives in the house and the couch is off limits, you’ll need to get him a basket to sleep in and blankets on which to lie, especially your heavier breed dogs, to protect their joints and bones she says.

Cane baskets sell for anything from R100 to R450, and plastic beds cost between R50 and R500, depending on the size. Rogz for Dogs baskets, at the top end of the range, cost from R400 to R800. You can buy a cheap blanket from your supermarket for under R40, but these tend to fall apart after a couple of washes. Vet Bed blankets sell from R50.

Sterilisation

Hundreds of thousands of unwanted animals are euthanased every year in South Africa. This is partly why animal rescue organisations and a growing number of vets are against indiscriminate breeding and some encourage sterilisation at an early age.

Koekemoer says indiscriminate or backyard breeding is when animals that are unfit for breeding are used to breed. He says an animal is unfit for breeding if it has a bad temperament, genetic skin diseases, genetic skeletal or eye defects, for example.

People often breed with unfit pets out of ignorance or bcause they believe the myth that having a litter will make a better dog of a bitch. The size of the litter will also surprise the uninformed. For example, some large-breed dogs can produce up to 10 pups in one litter, and finding homes for all these pups is not easy andndash; hence the number of unwanted pets found in animal shelters.

Responsible breeding is a science and a way of protecting and improving a breed’s temperament and conformation.andquot; Grobbelaar says. Unscrupulous backyard breeding, for the sole purpose of making money, can produce dogs with poor temperaments and physical problems, which can cost the unsuspecting owner a lot of money in the future, in terms of medical and behavioural therapy costs.

The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) provides a welfare veterinary service to pet animals and horses whose owners are not able to afford private veterinary services.

We reserve the right to sterilise the animals we treat, as we believe this will assist in decreasing unwanted litters and will promote improved health among adult animals, Linda de Klerk, a spokesperson for the PDSA, says.

Neutering a dog can cost you about R500, and spaying will cost about R700, provided there are no complications. The larger the breed of dog, the more expensive it will be, as more anaesthetics will be needed.

Vets bills

The average cost of a visit to the vet is R180 to R250, Koekemoer says. The most common treatments carried out at his practice are for skin problems, injuries, gastrointestinal diseases and routine vaccinations, which need to be done once a year. Vaccinations can cost from R150 for a five-in-one vaccine, which includes the consultation fee and vaccine, and sometimes deworming medicine.

Koekemoer says that you need to deworm your pets every four to six months. A commonly used multiwormer for dogs and cats costs about R14 a tablet, and you need one tablet per 10kg of body weight.

Protection against fleas is also vital. Most vets recommend Frontline, which comes in ampoules or spray. The spray bottles cost anything from about R100 for 100ml to R300 for 500ml. A box of three ampoules, which is a three months supply, starts at R100 (for dogs that weigh up to 10kg) and goes up to R250 (for dogs 40 to 60kg in weight).

Apart from routine vaccinations and common ailments, dogs and cats will need medical treatment from time to time, for sometimes the strangest reasons.

Buddy, a five-year-old Golden Retriever from Wilderness, recently landed himself on the operating table because of an intestinal blockage. It turned out that the blockage was caused by a tennis ball! His operation cost R2 500. Buddy’s owners can count themselves lucky that he never needed to see a specialist.

Sam, a Cape Town cat, swallowed several pipe cleaners, unbeknown to his owner. He fell ill and almost died before a veterinary specialist physician made a diagnosis and cleared the obstruction. Sam was hospitalised at a specialist facility for one week and his bill came to R8 383.80.

Specialist practices are run by highly qualified professionals and have advanced life-saving and diagnostic equipment.

Training

A badly behaved pet is like an ill-disciplined child: at best demanding, at worst destructive or dangerous. Grobbelaar says most dogs that are relinquished to shelters are there due to behavioural issues. Training is vital for every dog, but especially for your larger and working breeds. She recommends a course of puppy socialisation classes followed by a course in obedience training.

A six-week course of puppy socialisation classes will cost about R380, and you can expect to pay about R480 for an eight-week course in obedience training.

Socialisation classes are for pups between eight and 16 weeks old, as this is their critical imprinting period for social learning. If you miss this type of class, you might end up with a dog that is reactive, or even aggressive, towards other dogs, humans or children, and is generally fearful towards new stimuli. Any social learning after this period will have to be remedial, which means it is going to cost you much more than a good puppy class would have. Also, a good trainer will pick up early signs of potential behavioural problems which can be modified then, instead of when the dog is much older.

Grobbelaar says obedience courses should be done as soon as possible after the socialisation course. These courses focus more on obedience behaviours and other necessary life skills, such as impulse control she says.

She advises that you seek referrals from your vet regarding reputable and ‘positive-methods-only’ trainers. This is an investment in your dog’s future and will ensure a relationship of trust and understanding between you and your dog.

Therapy

Much like their owners, some pets have negative personality traits that they have learned or that have manifested because they have been abused. In her practice, Grobbelaar says the most common problems she sees are dog-to-dog aggression/reactivity, separation distress, hyper excitability, destructive behaviour and general fearfulness.

These problems are caused by various factors, such as bad breeding practices, separating a pup from its mother before eight weeks, inadequate socialisation, or a lack of positive training at an early age.

You can expect to pay R400 for an initial consultation with an animal behaviourist, and follow-up sessions to modify unwanted behaviour will cost about R100 to R150.

Toys

Most dogs today are not used for the purpose for which they were originally bred, Grobbelaar says, so it’s up to owners to keep their dogs mentally and physically stimulated. If you don’t stimulate them, she says, that energy will be directed into dysfunctional behaviours, such as digging, unnecessary barking, chewing or even compulsive behaviours.

Dogs need a variety of toys of different textures and consistency to keep them interested and occupied. They need ‘alone-time’ toys (hooves, raw hide, ostrich twists) and interactive toys (different types of balls, Frisbees, tug-ropes, rings with which you can play throw-and-play). They also need mentally stimulating toys such as food-dispensing toys. Food-dispensing toys can keep your dog busy for hours. They can cost between R40 and R200, but it’s still cheaper than your lounge suite or your Krepy Krawl, Grobbelaar says.

Kennel fees

If you go away for the weekend, or go away on holiday and can’t take your pet with you, you will need to book your animal into a kennel. But before a kennel will admit your pet, you need to produce proof that your pet is up to date on all of his vaccinations, particularly kennel cough.

Kennels charge per day according to the size of the pet. A large-breed dog, for example, would be housed in a larger kennel and fed more than a medium-size dog. You can expect to pay kennel fees of between R26 and R30 a day for a medium-size dog, and between R5 and R10 on top of that over the Christmas holidays.

Grooming

If you aren’t keen on chasing your dog around the garden and getting soaked in the process, a visit to the parlour is your next best bet. If you have a small dog, it will cost you between R60 and R100 for a wash, dry and cut, about every eight weeks.

This article, written by Angelique Arde, was first published in October 2005, in Volume 25 of Personal Finance magazine, an Independent News Media (Pty) Ltd publication.