Christmas is traditionally known as a time when families buy a new pet to welcome into the family. Yet, pet ownership may actually be falling in the UK. We've had a look at the data and if recent trends continue, pet ownership levels in the UK could be more than a fifth (23%) lower their 2011 levels of 67 million by 2020.
Pet ownership was at just over 69 million in 2013, and has fallen by over 10 million over the last three years to approximately 58.4 million in 2015.
Changing living patterns and the cost of owning a pet are likely to be contributory factors in the decline. Ownership of cats, the second most popular pet in the UK, is falling faster than that of dogs. In 2013 there were 8.5 million cats, on par with the number of dogs, now down to 7.4 million. Just 46 per cent of households owned a pet in 2015, compared with 55 per cent in 1999.
What is the reason?
There are many factors that contribute to the decline in ownership levels, such as a rise in the number of people living in rental accommodation, there are definitely signs that pet ownership is seen as less affordable than now than it has been in previously.
Pet ownership should definitely not be seen as a luxury, but with the cost of owning a dog or cat over its lifetime up to £31,000 and £17,000 respectively, many are unprepared for the financial management that goes into owning an animal.
What should I consider if buying a pet?
There are several things owners can do to reduce the cost of owning a pet and keeping this valuable life experience open to everyone."
Pet supplies can be up to 30 per cent cheaper if you buy them online, and when it comes to food it's a great idea to buy in bulk. Bigger bags will last longer and they also work out cheaper in the long run. Medicines are much cheaper online, too, which is a big help if your pet has a chronic condition.
Pet insurance can be a lifeline if your animal falls ill, but shop carefully. It's best to insure your pet before they reach the age of seven, as many insurers will turn older pets away. Remember premiums can vary depending on where you live and that most insurers will not cover the cost of treatment related to a pre-existing medical condition.
Open a savings account
It's a great idea to open a savings account so you can manage your pet budget. A recent report found that almost four in ten claims were rejected by insurance companies, and it's best to have a buffer. If you can't afford pet insurance, I'd advise putting aside between £50 and £70 per month so you're not caught off guard by a medical emergency.
Don't forget the vet
Prevention is always better than cure. It's essential to see a vet regularly if you want your pet - and your bank balance - to remain healthy. I've had to put animals down in the past who could have easily been saved had their owners reported health problems before they spiralled out of control. I advise taking your animal for a health check at the vet at least once a year. The earlier problems are detected, the easier - and cheaper - they are to manage. De-sexing your pet is also a wise move - not only does it prevent unwanted pregnancies, it reduces the risk of a range of costly health problems.
Ask for help
If you're struggling to cope with the cost of looking after your pet, help is out there. From April this year, it is compulsory to microchip your dog - but some charities, such as the Dogs Trust, can fit your dog with a chip for free. This will make it far easier to locate your dog if he or she goes missing. Also, if you're receiving certain benefits - such as universal credit, council tax support or housing benefit - and unable to meet the cost of vet bills, the PDSA may be able to secure free treatment for your poorly animal through their veterinary services scheme, which covers most household pets.
Owning a pet is a wonderful experience. Almost three-quarters of customers told us in a survey that they strongly believe that having a pet is good for their mental health.
However, please consider everything before you buy a pet. It really is a commitment for life and should not be taken lightly.