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How to combat petflation by sourcing cheaper food, shopping around for vets, and creating doggy daycare groups


Buy in bulk

Buy in bulk

Bray Vet Pete Wedderburn with his own dog, Kiko, a cross-bred terrier

Bray Vet Pete Wedderburn with his own dog, Kiko, a cross-bred terrier


Buy in bulk

“A dog is for life, not just for lockdown”. During the early months of the pandemic, Dogs Trust temporarily tweaked its famous slogan from “a dog is for life, not just for Christmas”.

But the plea fell on deaf ears. Instead, a home-bound public dealing with the isolation of lockdown went on a puppy-buying frenzy, spending as much as five times pre-Covid prices on so-called designer breeds prone to expensive health or behavioural issues. Now, the prohibitive cost of veterinary bills, behavioural training, pet food, grooming and daycare amid the cost-of-living crisis has seen a surge in the number of pets being surrendered to animal welfare charities.

Dogs Trust fielded a 33pc increase in surrender requests between Christmas and February 6, while the Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA) has more than 110 dogs on a waiting list for surrender, mostly because owners don’t have the time or money to care for them anymore, says Gillian Bird, the DSPCA’s head of education.

Barnardos reported earlier this month that the number of parents using food banks more than doubled last year and that almost one in three parents are skipping meals so their children have enough to eat. But many households are also having to choose between feeding their pets and feeding  themselves, says Paul Halpin, fundraising and campaigns manager at the Irish Blue Cross, which provides low-cost veterinary care to people on means-tested benefits.

“Our clients’ pets are their lives,” he says. “They could be a widow or widower and their pet is their only companionship, so they’ll make sure they look after their pet before themselves.”

However, there are wallet-friendly ways to give your pet the best without sacrificing their health. Here are a few:

Shop around for food

The rate of inflation in pet food is outpacing that of groceries for humans, according to Pete Wedderburn, a Bray-based veterinary surgeon and journalist.

“Our clinic sells a range of foods and we’ve been shocked by the price increases,” he says.

The increases are mostly due to supply shortages due to Brexit and because of higher grain prices due to the war in Ukraine, the so-called “breadbasket of the world”. A small bag of Perfect Fit dog food that used to cost €4.99 in SuperValu before the pandemic, the war and Brexit now costs €8.99, while a six-pack of Whiskas jelly cat food that sold in one Centra for €9.30 at the start of February was priced at €14.30 by mid-February.

However, you can shop around for cheaper brands or mix in a cheaper brand with your premium product to make it last longer. Premium dog and cat foods, like those sold by veterinary practices, are tailored to a pet’s size, breed, age, and medical requirements. But expensive food does not always necessarily equate to high quality, so compare the labels of pet food brands to find one that provides both optimal nutrition and the best value.

There’s no point in buying the least expensive food that contains less nutritious ingredients, with cheap fillers to bulk it out because your pet won’t like it. Instead, Wedderburn recommends seeking out a mid-range pet food that’s nutritionally balanced with high quality ingredients. Choose brands with named ingredients on their labels like chicken and brown rice, rather than catch-all terms such as “meat and animal derivatives”, which allow the manufacturer to use off-cuts from whatever cheap meat is available on the market, the vet says. The higher up the list of ingredients that meat is on a label, the more meat it contains. Food that is labelled “complete” contains all the nutrients an animal needs, Wedderburn says. However, introduce new food to your pet’s diet gradually as sudden changes can cause an upset stomach.

Other pet lovers advocate that once you’ve sourced a cheaper food, buy it in bulk from an online retailer such as ZooPlus.ie. Some retailers offer subscriptions that give you a discount in return for regularly buying pet food in bulk. For instance, Petstop.ie will give you 5pc off when you subscribe and delivery for all orders worth more than €20 are free. Using a rolling subscription also means you’re less likely to run out of pet food and have to fork out for more expensive food at your local convenience store.


Bray Vet Pete Wedderburn with his own dog, Kiko, a cross-bred terrier

Bray Vet Pete Wedderburn with his own dog, Kiko, a cross-bred terrier

Bray Vet Pete Wedderburn with his own dog, Kiko, a cross-bred terrier

Resist the temptation to feed your pet scraps from your own meals, because human food can cause health problems in animals down the line, such as obesity and liver dysfunction. Many human foods are even toxic, including onions and garlic. While there has been a trend in recent years of pet owners moving away from mass-produced pet food in favour of making their own, analysis of homemade pet food recipes found online show they are not as beneficial as commercial food because manufacturers must adhere to strict nutritional guidelines set, Wedderburn says.

Cut your vet bills

There may be a medical card scheme for humans in Ireland, but there’s no free healthcare for pets. And veterinary bills are increasing as practices start to pass on the rising costs of vaccines, medicine, equipment, energy bills and labour.

“Our big concern, from an animal welfare point of view, is that when the cost of vets go up, people stop bringing animals to the vet or fail to keep up to date with vaccinations or worm and flea treatments,” Bird says. “These are preventative medicines and missing out on them will actually put your pet and your finances at risk.”

Vet consultations that used to cost between €40 and €50 now cost between €50 and €60, Wedderburn says. Some clinics will charge more than €100 for a consultation with a vaccination and medication if your pet is ill. He recommends discussing the most financially effective way of managing your pet costs with your own vet. You can also ask your vet for a payment plan, though “most vets will have to know you well first”, Wedderburn says.

As well as an annual health check that can cost from €60 to €70, you also have to treat your pet regularly for parasites such as worms and fleas, which can cost between €10 and €15 a month, Wedderburn says. If your furry friend develops a serious condition as they age, such as diabetes, arthritis, or a heart murmur, you’ll have to fork out for regular prescription medicines throughout the year and frequent vet visits for check-ups, blood tests, and X-rays.

‘When the cost of vets go up, people stop bringing animals to the vet’

However, some veterinary practices, including the Village Vets network in Dublin and Meath, offer health plans that will enable you to spread the cost of check-ups, vaccinations and parasite treatments by giving you a discount off the total and then splitting this into 12 monthly payments. The health plans at Village Vets cost €23 a month for dogs and cats and include unlimited free consultations, free booster vaccinations, and a 20pc discount on Royal Canin pet food. Wedderburn's practice, Bray Vets, offers a health plan that includes vaccinations and parasite treatments.

If you are on means-tested social welfare payments, including the non-contributory state pension, you can get veterinary services at cost price from the DSPCA and the Irish Blue Cross. The latter charity has been running mobile clinics across Dublin since 1953 and has a pet hospital in Inchicore. A consultation with basic medication costs €25 at the Blue Cross, but Halpin says the service is over capacity at present so it could take time to get an appointment.

Alternatives to doggy daycare

The price of pet boarding and doggy daycare has soared because some facilities went out of business during Covid lockdowns and others are struggling with rising costs, Bird says. Indeed, if you’re planning on going on holidays, you’ll need to book kennels or sitters for your pet first just to secure a spot, unless you’re staying at one of the country’s few dog-friendly hotels. 

The cost of having your pet looked after while you’re at work can prove expensive over the long term. While cats can often be left to their own devices, do gs are pack animals and can develop separation anxiety or behavioural issues if regularly left alone. Doggy daycare can range in price from €20 to €40 a day, depending on your location, though you usually get a weekly discount.

Consider hiring a local dogwalker who will pick up your dog for a group walk. If there are plenty of pet owners in your neighbourhood or in your extended family, you could set up a community group on WhatsApp or Facebook.

Insurance is a wise choice

Some pet owners may view insurance as an unnecessary monthly expense, especially in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis. But by not having pet insurance, you are leaving yourself open to the biggest cost of all – an unexpected veterinary bill for thousands of euro.

For instance, it could cost you €4,300 to get a pacemaker fitted to your dog or €4,000 for a hip replacement, according to 2020 figures from insurer Allianz.

In exchange for paying a monthly sum to an insurer (it usually ranges from €10 to €35), your vet bills are covered if your dog or cat falls sick or has an accident. Pet insurance can also cover dogs and cats for prescription medication, medical tests, third-party liability, and emergency kennel or cattery fees if you are hospitalised.

Insurance will not only save you money but avoid the very scenario that pet-owners dread – having to put down your furry companion because you cannot afford treatment.

“The dreaded phrase we hear in such circumstances is ‘economic euthanasia’,” vet Pete Wedderburn says. If a pet is not insured and an owner is unable to cover the cost, they should talk to their own vet about whether they can pay in instalments.

The cost of the premium will depend on the level of cover you choose, your pet’s health, their age and their breed. However, getting cover for a dog aged six or older is tricky and there are conditions insurers won’t cover once a pet reaches a certain age, according to Gillian Bird, head of education at the DSPCA. This is particularly challenging if you’ve rescued an older pet, so you would need to set aside money each month to cover any unexpected bills for treatment.

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