18 June 2009 11:44:54
|We look at how the recession has affected the UK's pets|
Despite the UK being a nation of animal lovers, with around 8 million dogs and 8 million cats living in the country in 2009, the recession is forcing an increasing number of Britons to cut back on expenses when it comes to their animal companions, with some cutting back on day-to-day costs and some getting rid of their pets altogether.
"We dealt with 11,586 dumped animals last year, a shocking average of more than 30 animals abandoned every day of the year," says Tim Wass, chief officer of the RSPCA inspectorate. And the trend isn't slowing down - another 1,432 animals were abandoned in the first two months of 2009.
"The number of calls from members of the public wanting to give up an animal is also up by 52 per cent,” he added.
Pet insurance cut
Pet owners choosing to keep their pets are cutting costs in other ways - by eliminating pet insurance.
In March 2009, Petplan, one of the first pet insurance providers to enter the market, announced that “it’s increasingly concerned that many people are trying to economise by reducing their [pet] insurance premiums or cancelling them altogether, and may unwittingly be creating greater problems for themselves”.
Alison Andrew, marketing manager from Petplan, said in a release: “It’s genuinely worrying to us when we hear people talking about cutting insurance as a moneysaving tip, because we understand the heartbreak people can suffer if they suddenly find they can’t afford to treat their pet any more.”
Charities feeling pinch
Animal charities, like the RSPCA, are also experiencing some tough economic conditions and those people without pet insurance are indirectly adding to the strain.
"The RSPCA is facing pressure on two fronts as the Society tries to cope with the increase in workload caused in part by the recession, but also facing its own financial pressures,” Mr Wass continued.
“The fall in property prices is expected to reduce income from legacies and the recession is also likely to reduce donations to the charity, so the RSPCA is going to have to consider cutting jobs,” he added.
The problems faced by charities are in turn made worse by the cost-cutting moves pet owners are choosing to make in hard times as more are reluctant to pay for preventative treatments, which is ultimately going to result in more trips to reduced-priced clinics such as those offered by the RSPCA.
Mark Johnston, public relations officer for the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, explains:
“People are more cautious on paying out on preventative measures such as worming and flea control and vaccination.”
“Skin problems may increase later in the year due to increase in the flea population if flea control is not maintained,” Mr Johnston added.
However, cutting back on preventative measures, such as pet insurance, could be a false economy.
David Grant, hospital director for the RSPCA Harmsworth Animal Hospital, advises that the best course of action is to take your pets to the vet on an annual basis for a check up because it could actually reduce the amount of money you spend on your pet in the future.
“Ideally, you’d have your animal examined every year,” he said.
“Maybe it’s going to cost 30 or so pounds, or perhaps a bit more if you have drugs on top; that’s probably money well spent because by doing that you’re sure that you are feeding the animal correctly, you’re doing treatments for fleas, you’re worming regularly and you’re checking out for any signs of ill health which can be dealt with promptly rather than wait until things go badly wrong,” he added.
However, Mr Grant warned pet lovers about the true costs of keeping a pet and how pet insurance is just an integral part of the cost.
“So my feeling is, if the feeding and the boarding fees and the general sort of routine stuff which isn’t covered by insurance – worming, flea treatment, all of those things – if you can’t afford that don’t get the animal insured; don’t get the animal in the first place. Because pet insurance is not the answer; it’s just a good thing to do in case of something really bad happening.
The RSPCA is also calling for help from the public because the service that consumers and their pets may one day rely on can only be continued if the charity continues to receive donations.
“Now more than ever we need the public’s support. It's a challenging time for the RSPCA, but more importantly it is a crisis out there for the animals, and it’s only because of the public’s help that we’re able to do what we can,” added Mr Wass.
The good news
Those beloved pets that aren't being abandoned are eating well.
Recent figures from mysupermarket, an online supermarket price comparison site, have shown that 77% of the amount UK consumers spend on pet food is on branded products -- a trend that has not changed over the past 12 months, despite consumers buying cheaper products for themselves.
Jonny Steel, spokesperson for mySupermarket, said: "Downshifting to cheaper products is a quick and easy way of saving a significant amount on the weekly shopping bill and it’s something which we have seen mySupermarket shoppers doing in recent months in order to beat the price increases.
“But whilst in many cases shoppers have been pleasantly surprised by the cheaper products they have swapped to, it seems they aren't willing to risk upsetting their pets.
“Despite the current climate, the nations love affair with animals has resulted in a clear reluctance to move away from the default pet brands of choice, instead picking up supermarket own brand versions of some everyday essentials," he added.
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