With more than 24 million pets in Australia and one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world (62%), it would seem that we have a lot to be happy about when it comes to sharing our lives with pets.
But the number of people who would love to own a pet is far greater than the number who actually do. While 53% of us would like to share our household with a new type of pet, only 13% of those plan to purchase one in the coming year.
This suggests that for many of us, there are still plenty of obstacles putting a damper on pet ownership. So what exactly is getting in the way?
Cost, housing and lifestyle factors are the major deterrents to pet ownership. There are several reasons people can be put off buying a pet:
A changing housing situation
As our country becomes increasingly crowded and urbanised, many living environments are becoming less suitable for pets. The move toward high-density housing in city areas is a significant deterrent, with strict no-pet policies common in many apartment complexes.
For ‘Generation Rent’, this can be a problem – barriers to home ownership quickly translate into obstacles to pet ownership. Landlords know that pets can result in extra mess and noise complaints, so pet-restrictive rules help protect their investment.
Even in homes where pets are allowed, the environment may not be appropriate for a number of reasons – safety, noise, sufficient room for the animal, etc. Our yards are getting smaller, our neighbours are getting closer and our lives are becoming increasingly regulated, which means having a pet becomes a little more complicated.
Owning a pet benefits us in many ways. Aside from providing companionship, pets teach us compassion, empathy, commitment and how to look after a creature more vulnerable than ourselves. Pets can make life more fulfilling and also create extra incentive to get outdoors and exercise.
With these lifestyle advantages come some extra demands, however, and these must be carefully weighed against ‘the fun stuff’. Having a pet as part of your household doesn’t change your life as much as having a child, but it definitely adds an extra element of daily responsibility.
Social media and a ‘more experiences, fewer possessions’ mindset may also be detracting from the appeal of pet ownership. We’re now a more mobile society, wary of being tied down and shying away from commitments because the pace of life is so fast.
For some of us, social media interactions may be at least partially replacing the human need for companionship that was once provided by a pet.
In an age when we switch jobs and locations more frequently than ever, the sheer commitment of looking after an animal can put people off: after all, a dog needs regular walking once or twice a day and may live for 15 years.
These extra obligations might discourage those who want to take numerous overseas holidays or maintain a more flexible lifestyle.
In decades past, one half of a couple often stayed at home while the other went off to work but these days, more and more couples need (or choose) to both work, which means the pet is left behind at home. This basic change in household dynamics might also cause people to think twice before committing to a pet.
And just because one person in a household desperately wants a pet, doesn’t mean everyone does. It’s not uncommon for one half of a couple to be a ‘cat person’ and the other a dog fan – or not want any kind of pet at all.
Balancing the costs of pet ownership
For many people, cost is a significant barrier to owning a pet. Owning and looking after an animal isn’t cheap these days. As a nation, we currently spend $12.2 billion a year on pet-related products and services – everything from birdseed and cat scratching posts to dog toys and aquarium filters.
The pet industry is growing in leaps and bounds – our expenditure is up 42% in just the last three years.
Pet healthcare is big business in this country. Treatment for parasites (internal and external) makes up nearly two-thirds of all pet healthcare products sold in Australia, with serums and vaccinations coming second (around 15% of pet product sales).
There are also microchipping costs, flea, worm and tick treatments, regular vet check-ups and all the surprise expenses associated with illnesses and injuries that crop up for your pet along the way.
Because pet insurance is still a relatively new product in Australia, it’s something that a lot of people don’t fully understand or appreciate – but with pet ownership costs rising, it’s a form of protection that more of us are starting to value.
At the moment, 26% of dog-owning households and 19% of cat-owning households have some type of pet insurance, and this take-up rate has been increasing over the past few years.[i]
Pet accessories come in many types, some less essential than others but all adding to the annual costs of pet ownership. If your cat or dog is going to travel in the car with you, they’ll need an appropriate carrier or restraint.
Cat litter, scratching posts, toilet mats, pet kennels or beds, leashes, harnesses, collars, toys, winter coats and all the rest can add up in a hurry.
With busy lives, many pet owners now outsource many of the services that previous generations might have performed themselves as well – dog walking, obedience training and grooming, for example.
Pet registration fees and requirements vary depending on where you live in Australia – the RSPCA can provide guidelines. As an example, in NSW, the current rego fee for a de-sexed animal is $55 and for one that’s not de-sexed, it’s $201 (as of Sept. 2017).[ii]
The larger the animal and the more pets you own, the heftier your yearly costs will be for pet food. Premium quality wet and dry dog food might set you back around $800 a year, even before treats are added into the equation.
If the cost of looking after a pet puts some people off, the initial price to buy one can be a shock too. An animal purchased from your local shelter can be fairly affordable but if you have your heart set on a particular breed, you could be looking at anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars to get the pet you want.
Adding ongoing expenses to initial purchase price, ASIC puts the estimate for new Aussie pet owners at $3000-$6000 for the first year, excluding any unexpected medical expenditures.[iii] For cash-strapped folks, these can be some pretty daunting numbers.
Pets in a rapidly changing world
Reasons for wanting to own a pet haven’t changed much over recent decades but the way we live certainly has. With these lifestyle changes have come a realignment of priorities and new perspectives on exactly how dogs, cats, parakeets and goldfish fit into the picture.