Underestimation of Pet Ownership Costs or Poor Welfare (PAW Report 2018)

What is the PDSA PAW Report?

The 2018 PDSA Animal Welfare (PAW) Report was released on 12th June.  Late to the table, I read the report last week.  The PAW Report is based around a nationwide survey of cat, dog and rabbit ownership and has been produced annually by the PDSA since 2011.  The PAW Report stats are used by animal industry, animal welfare scientists/ advocates and the veterinary profession to see the latest trends and find the areas of animal ownership which need to be focussed upon to bring about change and improve UK animal welfare.

 

Amongst other things, this year the PAW report looked at the believed costs of pets with the PDSA reporting owners underestimating the cost of ownership.  For instance, the PDSA estimates a pair of rabbits cost around £70/month to own whereas 67% of rabbit owners estimate spending up to £20/month with a further 16% estimating a spend of only £21-£40/month.  I looked at these numbers and wondered if they truly were an underestimation or whether, in fact, owners could spend such a small amount just with basic (or perhaps inadequate) care.

Carl with a treat

I wanted to investigate this possibility!

 

I admit to not knowing exactly how much I spent on my guinea pigs but my rough estimate was around £50/month.  I believe that the care of my guinea pigs would be roughly the same as the cost of two dwarf rabbits especially considering those would have a lower fresh fruit and veg cost compared to guinea pigs.  Therefore, I decided to look at the cost, per month, of what optimal care with good products would cost (ie what I pay) vs really basic care and see if I could safely, and within welfare remits, reach this cost of £20/month.

Some basic rules

  1. Use the normal price; no discounts
  2. Look at the costs for one place, not just go looking everywhere for the cheapest item; I first decided to set this at the costs for Pets at Home (being a nationwide company) but then realised the costs online are cheaper and if I could find everything on one store then this would also be practical.
  3. Fruit and vegetables could be bought elsewhere but still from a nationwide business where I could get online prices.
  4. The prices are correct only at the time of writing 22/07/18

What I Buy and Other Options

My guinea pigs have two separate types of substrate used together; Back2Nature and CareFresh.  I use these two products as they both have low dust, good odour control and Back2Nature is made from recycled paper.  I only use CareFresh in their bed area for comfort alongside the Back2Nature.  With Carl having respiratory issues and only one eye I use product which won’t irritate his airways nor damage his remaining eye (mainly due to me being paranoid!!!).  I, therefore, don’t want him to have hay or straw as bedding which would be a cheaper option especially as bedding hay is much cheaper than CareFresh but if Carl or Ralph take their hay into their bed it remains there.   Cheaper substrate/ bedding to these would be the use of sawdust/ wood shavings, cheaper cat litter or an increasingly favourable option; using fleece as bedding with a towel layer underneath.

 

In terms of hay they usually have Burgess Excel Feeding Hay with Dandelion and Marigold .  The reason for me feeding them the Dandelion and Marigold hay is in a different post but they have other hays at times for variety or if I am looking after other animals and there is some hay left over.

 

With food, I only give a small amount of Burgess Excel Nuggets with Mint per day.  They have a great feeding response to this and it tops up their nutrients.  Nuggets are definitely advisable compared to a muesli-style diet which tends to leave your pet eating the parts they like the most and leaving the rest.  Over time if the bowl does not get emptied it can end up full of what your pet doesn’t like leaving them deficient in vitamins and minerals.

Rabbits in pain may be aggressive
Photo courtesy of Sarah Tait (Twitter @SarahTait23)

Approximately once per month I also give them a new cardboard tunnel covered in hay. These allow stimulation, enrichment and a hiding spot, even well after they’ve stripped the hay away.  The alternative to these are plastic or plain cardboard tunnels which still allow them somewhere to hide.

 

I also then provide them with a few treats which, of course, is optional.

Alongside this, I have costs associated with vegetables.

 

What I Spend

My monthly costings (based on current Pets at Home online prices (not inc offers)) are as follows;

One Back2Nature 30l bag lasts 3.5 weeks = £22.27/ Month

Burgess Excel Dandelion & Marigold Hay 1kg bale lasts 10 days= £19.47/ month

Burgess Excel Nuggets with Mint 2kg  lasts 2 months = £3.25/ month

Carefresh Natural 14l bag lasts a month= £6.99/ month

One Woodlands Medium Hay Tunnel month = £8/ month

One bag of treats costing (commonly VetIQ Nibblots) approximately £1.99/ month

This all adds up to approximately £61.97 per month not including vegetables.

My cage set up

Often I don’t pay this much though due finding deals and often using online stores to buy products; my most commonly used one being VetUK.

If I were to buy the same items on here it would tot up to £47.12/month so that’s already a nice saving however still doesn’t add in vegetables.

 

To come to an approximate cost for vegetables, something which Guinea Pigs need to meet their Vitamin C requirements, I put in approximately the amount of vegetables I’d need to buy in a month into ASDA online shopping which came to £10.52 which, if anything, I believe is an underestimation. One difference between rabbits and guinea pigs is that rabbits don’t need the same amount of fruit and vegetables as guinea pigs so there may be a difference in cost with that.

 

Therefore, for me caring for my two guinea pigs it would come to at least £57.64-£72.49, very similar to the PDSAs estimate for the cost of keeping a rabbit.

The Tunnel Carl and Ralph Currently Have

I priced up different products per month based on the amount I used.  Without actually buying all of the products and seeing how much space they would take up and the amount I would actually need it would be impossible say for definite how much is needed.

Price of Lower Cost Pets at Home Products

Firstly, as before, I looked at products available at Pets At Home based on their normal pricing on their website.  I am not going to note all of the products viewed as this would be a huge list as I compared the pricing of a lot of products.  I also looked at two different types of foods; one muesli type and one nugget.  Per month the nuggets cost around 41p more, however, I believed the need for nuggets from a dietary point of view far outweighed the cost difference.  In order to get to a cost which could come lower than the £20/month they needed to be bedded down and fed the same hay not typically something I recommend as bedding hay doesn’t have the courseness needed to ground down the teeth and doesn’t stimulate the guts as much.

So costings came to the following;

One Pets At Home Nuggets 2kg would last two months= £2.40/month

One large bag of Pets At Home Bedding Hay for Small Animals would last approximately one month= £3.49/month

Two Medium Bales of Pets at Home Wood Shavings would likely last a month = £6.98/ month

 

This totals to be £12.87 and doesn’t include any vegetables so, including those estimated earlier this would total £23.39, over the amount the majority of owners estimated the spent per month on their rabbit.

 

Are Online Products Cheaper?

I looked at a couple of websites but only VetUK had all of the products I’d need.

My estimates don’t include P&P which only becomes free on spending £29 so that may have an influence on price.

 

Here I worked out my spend as;

One Back2Nature 30l bag lasts 3.5 weeks = £13.88/ Month

Burgess Excel Dandelion & Marigold 1kg Hay bale lasts 10 days= £11.46/ month

Burgess Excel Nuggets 2kg with Mint lasts 2 months = £2.05/ month

A new delivery of hay

Carefresh Natural 14l bag lasts a month= £4.37/ month

One Boredom Breakers Naturals Hide ‘N’ Hay Gnaw Tube (Large) = £5.99/ month

One bag of treats costing (commonly VetIQ Nibblots) approximately £0.74/ month

This all equals £38.49 + Vegetables elsewhere (+£10.52)= 49.01; a significant saving but still 2.5 times the £20 target!

Now the Online Cost for more Basic Products

So once again I worked through other options and came up with the following;

Mr Johnson’s Advance Guinea Pig Nuggets would last 1.5 months =£1.90/month

Approximately 4.5kg Pillow Wad Meadow hay= £6.66

VetUK Paper bedding is another alternative I’m just trying

 

Just over a bag of VetUK Woodshavings= £4.00/month (NOTE: woodshavings can be very dusty so are not recommended for any animals with breathing issues.  Always check them for pieces of wood and ensure you remove these and always remove any wet bedding as shavings do notdry or hold in smells as well which your pet will be sensitive to.  Woodshavings is therefore not recommended as the best option)

This comes to £12.56 plus the vegetable bill of £10.52= £23.08, once more over the estimated under £20/month.  This amount also doesn’t include P&P which would only be deducted if you bought over 2months worth at once.

Dandelion leaves are an often free green you can feed

Fleece Bedding Reduces Some Costs

The main other option I could see as reducing this bill further would be the use of fleece bedding.  This would completely get rid of most of the need for woodshavings/ cat litter apart from maybe some in a litter tray.

However,  rabbits enjoy digging so this may not be the best option from an enrichment point of view.

If you were to replace all the substrate with fleece bedding (and towels/ similar underneath) the bill would be reduced to £19.08/ month, NOT including the cost of cleaning the fleece/ towels at least twice weekly.  This would therefore theoretically JUST come under the £20/month but includes no treats/ toys etc and the price would almost definitely go slightly above £20/week when taking into account washing the bedding plus any water given to the animals to drink.

Ways of Further Cost Reduction

Of course, there are ways to reduce costs further;

  • going to bargain stores
  • buying whatever products are discounted
  • buying vegetables close to their use by date can be considerably cheaper (I once purchased a big piece of broccoli for £0.01… I then realised Carl doesn’t like broccoli!).
  • feeding them muesli based diets; NOT RECOMMENDED due to them picking and choosing which bits they eat.

 

Pricing is based on the full clean out of a 140cm*70cm cage every week (plus spot cleaning where more substrate needs to be added); some may believe less often cage cleaning reduces costs.  This is counterproductive.  It can lead to your pet sitting on wet bedding causing sores to the feet (known as bumblefoot) and the ammonia from wet bedding affecting their breathing, putting them at risk of upper respiratory tract infections.  Both conditions need veterinary treatments as well as significantly lowering the welfare of your pet and therefore is not a fair choice to make.

Vaccinations for Rabbits Come At a Cost Too

When budgeting for rabbits (though not guinea pigs) it is important to remember them needing to be vaccinated against Myxomatosis, RHD1 and RHD2; together this will come to approximately £50-70 per rabbit per year so £100-140 per pair of rabbits, adding an extra £10 to the monthly cost of ownership, bringing the costs of ownership above £20/month.  However, despite campaigns, the PAW Report found that 49% of owners are not taking their rabbit for their first course of vaccinations and 58% not giving them boosters, putting them at risk of these potentially life-threatening conditions especially given how rife both Myxomatosis and now RHD2 can be now across the whole of the UK.

It is also important to discuss with your vet about the need for worming and flystrike prevention for any rabbit you have.

Conclusion

This has shown that owners either underestimate the costs or don’t give their pets as high a quality food as possible.  Even the use of bedding hay for both bedding and feeding may be counterproductive as it is less likely to wear the teeth down as well meaning they are more likely to need costly, and potentially dangerous, dental procedures and could both reduce the efficiency of their gut or make them less likely to at it which will also mean their gut is less efficient and therefore lead to them needing treatment to resolve this.

As rabbits need less fresh fruit and vegetables than guinea pigs it may be that though they are larger their care may actually be cheaper to some degree; especially with breeds such as the Netherland Dwarf.  However, likelihood is if you are managing to pay less than £20 per month on your guinea pigs or rabbits then the likelihood is their welfare may either be reduced ot you are getting some really good deals.