New research has found that Australian pet owners are collectively paying a hefty $1.3 billion each year at the vet.
In a survey of 1,248 people conducted by finder.com.au, 64 per cent of animal owners admitted to taking their pet to the vet at least once a year, spending an average of $248.
According to Kate Browne, finder.com.au’s personal finance expert, it is the unforeseen costs of emergencies or developing conditions that can catch the 5.5 million Aussie households that own a pet off guard.
“The real cost of owning a pet is not the cost of buying the animal or even the food and accessories, it’s the money spent in vet consultations,” she said.
“The cost of annual check-ups and vaccinations stay fairly consistent but it’s the outlay for emergency care and acute health problems in animals that can quickly spiral.”
With both mental health experts and medical professionals actively advocating pet ownership as good for maintaining health in old age, it is estimated up to 30 per cent of retiree households have an animal.
2017 research produced by the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) found that owning a dog requires an individual to have an additional $34,500 of super savings at the time of retirement. Cat owners need an extra $25,600.
This is on top of the $545,000 ASFA recommends a single person needs to enjoy a comfortable retirement.
At the time the research was released, ASFA CEO Dr Martin Fahy said these figures did not factor in unexpected emergencies or prolonged animal health issues.
“With the cost of a dog or cat being tens of thousands of dollars over its lifetime and in some cases much more, depending on diet, health issues and age, it’s worth checking your super calculations to make sure you have fully factored in your furry, feline, feathered or fishy friend,” he said.
Despite this, financial planner at Verante Financial Planning Liam Shorte told Nest Egg he believes the benefits of pet ownership far outweigh the potential strain on retirees’ budgets.
“From my experience a companion pet is worth its weight in gold for a retiree client. The additional cost of pet bills and food is offset by a much calmer and content client,” he said.
“I do home visits as well as have clients come in to the office, and on visiting their homes I can see the interaction with their pets and how much it adds to their enjoyment of retirement.”
Mr Shorte said retirees need to be cautious of being sold unnecessary extras for their furry friends in order to avoid spending in excess.
“What they do need to be wary of is getting the ‘up-sell’ from veterinary staff to expensive foods, treats, supplements, clothes or toys that the pets do not really need,” he said.
“Unfortunately, people do come to love these animals like family (or better) and are vulnerable to sales tactics. That is where the budget can blow out.”
Mr Shorte acknowledged that unanticipated pet costs can take a serious financial toll on retirees but highlighted that support services exist to assist this demographic of animal owners.
“Like with anything it is the unforeseen expenses that can blow out the budget. Many pensioners simply do not have spare funds for pet surgery, kennels while in they are hospital etc. Thankfully, there are some support services such as the RSPCA’s Pets of Older Persons (POOPS), Animal Aid’s Seniors for Seniors Program and Queensland’s Gold Hearts Seniors Pet Support Program to help alleviate the costs,” he said.
“These programs offer discount on vet bills, discounted boarding, home visits and help when you’re ill to take care of the pet while you recover. So, it’s important retirees see what is available in their own area.”