Ask any pet parent and they will tell you about the many benefits of having a pet. The list will be endless. But along with the benefits comes the huge responsibility of caring for a dog that goes beyond buying bed, food, treats, toys, accessories and some more.
From annual vaccination to regular health check-ups there is a lot to consider. Add to that a sudden health emergency or unanticipated prolonged illness. A lot can happen over a dog’s lifetime that can sometimes be heartbreaking for pet parents.
Matters become complex when financially unprepared pet parents are hit with hefty vet bills or diagnosis requiring specialised care. Budgeting for pet care is therefore crucial. This article offers a detailed checklist based on first-hand experiences that will help pet parents to be prepared for regular and one-off pet care expenses.
Starting with mandatory annual vaccination
Dogs in the UAE need to undergo vaccination and have their registration with Dubai Municipality renewed every year. Charges widely vary at UAE-based private veterinary clinics starting around Dh350 and going up to over Dh700 for annual vaccination, deworming and renewal of municipality tag. Meanwhile Dubai Municipality is the most cost-effective option charging approximately Dh220 for annual vaccination and deworming.
In addition, one-time procedures like neutering also tend to be expensive ranging between Dh800 and Dh2,000.
Pet care must be a non-negotiable expense head
Pet care is expensive in the UAE and must be a “non-negotiable” expense head, emphasised Ravania Reddy who adopted her rescued dog Aria (aged 2.5 years) a couple of years ago.
“Our pets are completely dependent on us for their basic needs. So, it’s important to treat pet care as one of the main expense heads and account for it at the beginning of the month as opposed to making it a month-end exercise. For instance, before Aria was rescued, she had sustained serious bite injuries impacting her joints. Every month we set aside Dh660 for her hydrotherapy sessions to safeguard against any major joint related issues,” she added.
Although Aria is not even three years old, Reddy gets her blood works done annually as preventive care [Dh1,000] along with vaccination [Dh800]. They have invested in a pet insurance policy too for Dh2,500+ annually. In addition, Reddy and her husband save Dh500 every month towards any unforeseen veterinary expenses.
“We diligently transfer Dh1,000 every month into our savings account to build a pet care fund for Aria. I’d strongly recommend pet parents to start with as small an amount as Dh50 per month and by the end of the year you’d have saved Dh600. Increase the amount whenever possible. If done in a discipline manner the pet care fund will grow over time,” Reddy shared.
Opt for the right food, find a trustworthy, pocket-friendly veterinary clinic
Back in 2015-16 Shanon Mallier who has two dogs French bulldog Bella (eight) and French Mastiff Zorro (seven) had to spend Dh4,500-5,000 every month on Zorro’s tests [allergy, stool tests, blood works, x-rays] and medication as he suffered from severe stomach related issues. In a bad month it would go up to even Dh6,000-7,000.
“For four years [2015-19] we tried all kinds of dog food [dry, wet, vet prescribed] available in the UAE but Zorro’s stomach issues kept cropping up. Then a friend suggested a raw food brand that has worked wonders for Zorro. Although expensive it has made a huge difference as our vet visits have reduced drastically,” Mallier shared.
He also emphasised on the need to find a “trustworthy and pocket-friendly” veterinary clinic which can ease a pet parent’s mental and financial strain. “Now even if we go to our regular vet for an emergency the charges are anywhere between Dh500 and Dh1,200 based on the nature of tests.”
There are several non-negotiable pet care expenses which must be budgeted for. Even as Mallier spends less on vet visits bringing down his overall monthly expenditure, he still saves Dh2,000 “every other month” to build a pet care fund.
“I’d like to suggest every pet parent to economise where possible because emergencies are always unforeseen. For instance, we used to spend a minimum of Dh500 per month to buy treats which we’ve stopped altogether, also because it would lead to flareups. Now, we give our dogs home-prepared treats such as raw beef bones boiled at home [Dh25/month], cucumbers, carrots and broccoli. Moreover, we spend around Dh180 to stock up on pain management medication to provide relief to our dogs in case of small-time emergencies.”
Consider a pet insurance
Rescued dog Giggles (aged two years) faced a prolonged period of illness during the first year of being adopted. Giardia, bloody diarrhoea, vaginitis, inflamed intestines, urinary tract infection all of which required constant medication and frequent vet visits. Over a period of 12 months roughly Dh20,000 was spent on her vet bills, medicines, x-rays, blood tests, special vet prescribed food, probiotics and more.
“Giggles is finally off medicines since a month now. She looks happier, and we are relieved,” said her human Rajiv Madidi. “During this period, we also realised that pet care can be very expensive,” he admitted. “Initially we used to budget around Dh500-600 every month for Giggles. Now we set aside Dh2,000 every month including Dh800 for vet visits, Dh1,200 for food, treats, toys, wipes etc.”
Realising how expensive pet care can be Madidi quickly bought a pet insurance for Giggles [especially since she is quite young and without any pre-existing conditions]. “There were three types of plans mini, maxi (medical only) and maxi (medical and TPL) priced between Dh840 and Dh2,000 annually. We opted for the maxi (medical only) plan for Dh1,500 which covers two surgeries of Dh18,000, hospitalisation of maximum Dh600 per day and Dh350 per consultation (excluding medicines) and maximum of 20 claims in a year at a deductible of 20%. It’s been worth it, and I’ll renew the policy.”
Save enough to care for senior dogs
A harsh reality of having a dog is to see them grow old. Health issues might crop up too requiring mental and financial preparedness.
“Beginning of this year our dog Popo (almost 10 years old) was diagnosed with a condition called Canine Lafora and needs anti-seizure medicines, a specific raw diet, supplements and regular vet visits. Everything taken together our pet care expenses is now roughly Dh3,100 in a regular month, excluding tests, emergency and occasional day care [that can add up to Dh400],” shared Sidhartha Halder.
In addition, given that Popo has always been on soft food [earlier wet and now raw] since the past couple of years he has had to undergo dental cleaning that can easily go up to over Dh1,500 at private veterinary clinic/hospital.
From the age of seven [based on the breed] a veterinarian might suggest dogs to undergo annual tests such as blood works, urine analysis, biochemistry profile, thyroid hormone tests to rule out the risks of underlying diseases. Add to that the likes of hydrotherapy and physiotherapy pushing up pet care related expenses without factoring in emergencies.
“That’s why saving for pet care from early days of having a dog and growing the kitty over time is as, if not more, crucial as mindfully diversifying one’s investment portfolio to reap results in the future. An unforeseen diagnosis requiring specialised care or an emergency surgery [like Popo’s ileus surgery in 2019 that cost roughly Dh12,000] can take a massive toll if you don’t build a financial safety net by saving consistently,” Halder added.
More tips worth considering
• The urge to splurge on dogs and other pets is not uncommon. But set aside a budget and don’t exceed that amount to buy fun and safe toys and accessories. “My wife used to buy toys worth almost Dh200 every week for the first couple of months after adopting our dog which we’ve consciously reduced,” Madidi said.
• For food motivated dogs opting for home-made and/or healthy treats even if its slightly more expensive is better than buying too much of commercial grade ones. “But try to regulate their daily consumption which is good for the dog’s health and the human’s pocket,” Mallier suggested.
• Opt for bulk buying and subscriptions to avail discounts on food and supplements. “Even after factoring in a delivery charge of Dh15 its possible to save up to Dh80 by bulk purchasing raw food for a quarter and avail 10 per cent discount on supplements,” Halder shared.
• Factor in and consciously save for annual, regular and emergency vet visits as well as day care, occasional boarding and training related expenses to safeguard against hefty bills in a certain month. “A good approach is to consistently save an ‘x’ amount in the beginning of every month to create a pet care kitty and grow it over time,” Reddy recommended.
• Finally, every expatriate living outside their home country must set aside a lumpsum amount for pet relocation if such a situation comes up. Its important to bear in mind that pet relocation is an expensive proposition but one that must be planned for if you have a pet.