Here is what the true cost is of owning a dog - Sarah Coles

One energy supplier was firmly in the dog house this week for some light-hearted tips on ways to keep warm – like cuddling up with a pet – at a time when rising prices could cause real hardships. This story sparked all sorts of reactions, but I can’t be the only dog owner who thought “finally, some payback from the dog”.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m firmly team dog. She’s part of the family, and was an enormous source of comfort and support for us all, even before the pandemic, but she’s also a far bigger drain on my finances than I ever imagined. So anyone considering a furry addition to the household needs to go in with their eyes open.

The vet charity PDSA puts the cost of dog ownership anywhere between £4,600 and £30,800 – not including the initial purchase price – which is only marginally more specific than saying they’ll cost “a lot”.

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When you start out, you may well focus on the initial cost of the dog, because it can be eye watering. A study by Pets4Homes put English Bulldogs and Cavapoos a shade under £3,000, while Cockerpoos, Miniature Dachshunds and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels came in around £2,500. If you’re considering a rescue dog you will usually pay an adoption fee of up to £200.

If you’re considering joining team dog, you really need to know exactly what you’re getting into, says Sarah Coles. Picture: Marisa Cashill

However, this is just the start.

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Before you can bring it home, you’ll need to kit your home out with the basics, from a bed and a crate to a collar and lead, and if you’re getting a puppy, approximately a billion puppy pads to cover accidents. The first £100 will just flow through your fingers.

One of your first important decisions is whether or not to insure your dog. It’s not cheap, which is why most dog owners don’t – according to YouGov research last year, only 30 per cent of dog owners insure their pet.

However, Compare the Market estimates that 92 per cent of pets need emergency treatment at some point during their lives, and insuring our dog was just about the only sensible decision we made when we got her.

Without it, you’ll need to pay for any treatment your pet needs, and you may well be surprised just how expensive it can be. According to the Association of British Insurers, the average pet insurance payment in 2019 was £822, so without cover you’ll be paying this bill in full.

The average cost of pet insurance, by comparison, was £271 a year, but the cost of insurance depends to an enormous extent on the kind of cover you get.

There are two common types. The first is the annual policy, which tends to be the more affordable option: you can find cover for under £150. You get your pet covered for a year and then at the end of each year you can shop around for the cheapest possible cover for the next year. However, you need to be aware of the compromise you’re making, because each time you renew, any pre-existing conditions are excluded. It means that if your pet develops an ongoing condition, you won’t be covered.

My dog, for example, had pancreatitis, after scavenging some fatty leftovers on an ill-fated off-lead walk. She needed several thousands of pounds of treatment, and we were told it could flare up again at any time. If we’d opted for annual cover, this would put us in the frame for the full cost of treatment.

The alternative is lifetime cover, which is more expensive from the outset, but conditions are covered for life. The proviso, however, is that there’s an annual limit to the cover for each condition, so once you’ve spent your limit, if they need treatment again in the same year, you’ll have to foot the bill.

The cost also varies depending on the breed of dog, and its age, and you need to be aware that premiums will rise significantly as your pet gets older. It’s why my middle-aged dog costs me £57 a month to insure.

Beyond the health of your dog, there are ongoing costs you need to consider. You might think you can feed a dog on scraps, but this can cause all sorts of expensive health issues, so you need to factor in food. Dogs don’t tend to be enormously picky, but some will develop conditions that require expensive specialist food, which is how I’ve found myself forking out £40 a month.

If you go out to work and are away from your home for long periods, you may need to pay someone to look after your dog and take it for walks while you are out. This can cost £10-£15 a day. Even if you work from home, you’ll need to cover holidays, unless you’re going somewhere that takes dogs. Depending on whether you opt for kennels or dog-sitting this can cost between £15 and £25 a day. It could add £350 to the cost of a fortnight away.

If you take the dog away with you, you need to understand the arrangements if they cause any damage. In fact, you need to take the general level of destruction throughout their life into consideration. One horrible day, when my puppy had emerged from her destructo-dog stage, I calculated the cost of the rugs, shoes, glasses, books, fences and chairs she’d destroyed, and realised it added several hundred pounds to the cost of dog ownership.

Added together, right now, my dog costs just under £2,250 a year – which could cover a family holiday. It’s worth it, she warms our hearts as well as our home, and we wouldn’t be without her. However, I wandered into dog ownership without a clue as to what it would cost me, and if you’re considering joining team dog, you really need to know exactly what you’re getting into.