Australians love their animals and more than eight million of us – 62 per cent of households – own at least one pet, one of the highest rates in the world.
That breaks down to 39 per cent with dogs, 29 per cent with cats, 15 per cent with fish and 10 per cent with birds. There are 24 million pets in Australia, slightly more than the human population of 23.77 million.
They may be cute and friendly, but they are also expensive. Australians spent $12.2 billion on pet products and services in 2016, according to a new report from Animal Medicines Australia.
Owning a dog will cost you $1818 a year once you add in all the costs, while a cat is a bit cheaper at $1339. A budgie costs $120 a year and a cockatoo $175.
Retirees could be among those worst affected by the impact of the costs of pets, which can have a huge impact on the additional amount of retirement savings required.
The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) has researched pet costs and found that owning a dog means you would need to save an extra $36,360 for retirement. For a cat it’s $26,780 and even a humble goldfish needs a lump sum of $1200 to support it while you are retired.
These amounts must be added to the estimated $640,000 in savings ASFA says is necessary to pay for a couple enjoying a comfortable retirement. For a single person it’s $545,000.
But Aussies are seemingly unconcerned about the rising costs of the more expensive pets. Pet numbers fell by 9 per cent between 2013 and 2016 but that’s because of the waning popularity of fish and birds.
But the animals that cost you more are increasing in popularity. Dog numbers went up to 4.8 million to 2016, a rise of just under 3 per cent in three years. Cat numbers increased 6 per cent to almost 3.8 million.
It seems we’re lavishing more love and attention on our animals, with overall pet costs up a dramatic 42 per cent since 2013.
When it comes to animals, the benefits can outweigh the costs, with pets offering comfort and companionship, security and protection. Those needs often get more pronounced as people age.
Pets may also be good for practical heart health, as well as warming one’s heart with love.
“Many Australians would not consider their retirement as comfortable without their pet, so boosting your super savings to cover pet costs can add to both your creature comforts,” said ASFA CEO Martin Fahy.
Dr Liz Walker, RSPCA Victoria’s CEO, concurred, saying “our pets can actually make us physically and mentally healthier. Just the presence of our pets can lift our spirits and help us relax”.
“Research has shown that owning a pet can have a number of physical health benefits, including increased cardiovascular health, increased physical activity and fewer visits to the doctor.
“Dogs, especially, help us enjoy the outdoors while getting some regular exercise. Growing up with a dog (and other pets) may also help to strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk of allergies.
“Pets enhance social connectedness and social skills and are great conversation starters. They are also great caregivers. They keep us company when we’re sick or feeling down.”
Results of a three-year study of 5741 people by the Baker Medical Research Institute in Melbourne showed pet owners had lower blood pressure, triglyceride and cholesterol levels than non-owners. That result could not be explained by individual factors like cigarette smoking, diet, weight or socio-economic profile.
If you’re thinking of adding a pet to your family, visit rspcavic.org/adoption