By: Liam Gibson
As the cost of living goes up, one member of the American family is especially at risk - pets. Faced with mounting pressure to maintain living standards in their households, many pet owners are surrendering their pets. Expenses associated with pets are soaring, from the everyday cost of food to the unexpected shock of vet bills.
The phenomenon is not only seen in the US but also Canada, Australia, the UK, and other countries. For many, the abandonment wave signals a painful crash landing to the pandemic ‘pet boom', which saw record numbers of home-bound people purchase pets over the last couple of years.
There are numerous factors at play, but the most commonly cited reasons pet owners gave for surrendering in a recent Forbes survey were a combination of the following: The rising cost of pet food, unaffordable vet bills, and difficulty finding pet-friendly residences when moving home.
Although each poses challenges to pet owners, there are methods for managing costs and keeping your pet through these turbulent times.
Locally, Pima Animal Care Shelter has fluctuated between 'extreme' and 'critical' status throughout the course of the year, offering frequent adoption specials in an effort to clear out kennel space for new arrivals.
PACC's Director of Animal Services Monica Dangler said the shelter's approach is to get the most adoptable dogs into foster care or new permanent homes, in order to free up resources for the most difficult-to-place dogs within the shelter.
“With 519 dogs in the shelter, we need to create kennel space for dogs,” Dangler said. “Getting the dogs on the Preventing Euthanasia List adopted, fostered, or sent to rescue allows us to focus on finding homes for the dogs who need more training, medical care, or need a specific type of home.”
The shelter hasn't had to euthanize animals due to lack of space since 2016.
Food Costs Bite
Pet food costs are outpacing regular inflation - a phenomenon sometimes referred to as ‘ petflation.' US pet food inflation grew 9.1% in July this year versus July 2021, edging ahead of the 8.5% increase in the total Consumer Price Index (CPI) for last month.
There are several possible means of making the food cost manageable and essential to keep your pet going.
Owners can consider getting the cheapest kibble possible, even if it means changing up Fido's favorite brand; that probably won't do him any harm. There is scant research to indicate more expensive pet foods deliver better health outcomes, according to Joseph Bartges, a veterinary nutritionist. Bartges said this year that no conclusive studies have been done that show food cost as a predictor of a pet's health.
If the cheapest brands are still out of reach, there is the option of human food. While this is a hotly debated topic, Bartges also says there is little evidence that moderate amounts are unhealthy for dogs, so long as owners avoid foods that are known to harm dogs (see this list ).
One potential solution is food banks, which have been in high demand in the UK, where pet food has skyrocketed 15% since January. Charities like the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) are now racing to keep up and teaming up with existing food banks that typically feed people to add pet food to their stockpile.
There are plenty of similar services in the US, also known as pet food pantries. Owners looking for local food banks in their state can browse a directory for pet food banks across the nation.
Vet Bills Sting
Increasing medical costs are putting pets at peril and families' finances at risk. Some alarming new survey results reveal how underprepared pet parents are for rising medical costs. Forbes recently surveyed 2,000 cat and dog owners and found that 42% of pet carers cannot afford a surprise vet bill of $1,000.
One solution may be taking out pet insurance. Unfortunately, although pet insurance has become increasingly popular in recent years, the vast majority - around 80% of owners - remain uninsured.
According to Forbes Advisor analysis, pet insurance costs, on average, $35 per month for dogs and $28 a month for cats. Those plans include expenses for both accidents and illnesses, with $5,000 in annual coverage.
Each pet owner must weigh whether insurance is a good choice for them. While this adds a little extra to the monthly budget, it prepares owners for the worst-case scenarios. Yet if having insurance means the difference between keeping and giving up a pet during tough times, many owners will likely consider it worthwhile.
‘No Pets Allowed'
Housing is another major issue that is pulling pets and their owners apart. As rent continues to skyrocket, many pet owners are being forced to downsize or move into more affordable neighborhoods, and their pets cannot always come with them. Finding a new pet-friendly residence can be difficult at short notice, so many owners are saying goodbye to their furry friends.
One animal shelter in Tucson reports that housing-related surrenders have tripled in the last year. Though this sounds dire, there are still pathways forward.
Pet owners who are determined to bring their pets back under their new roof can seek out temporary foster care programs, which some shelters offer. Through these arrangements, pet owners can leave their pets for several weeks or months while they get their circumstances in order. Then, once they have moved into a new, pet-friendly residence, they can bring their pet to their new home.
There are ways the wider community can lend a hand too. Homeowners who aren't restricted by rental contracts, for instance, can offer to adopt or foster a pet from a shelter and give pets a new start.
One shelter in Kansas City, Missouri, KC Pet Project, is becoming inundated with incoming surrenders, expecting the total number to surge to 15,000, up from roughly 10,000 in recent years. There are dozens more shelters across the country like this.
"We need the community to help us get through this - through adoptions, fostering and just helping us save lives," said KC Pet Project's Tori Fugate. "I highly encourage you to reach out and get involved with your local shelter."
As the economy rollercoasters from the highs of post-pandemic recovery to the brink of recession, many pet owners are finding their lives have become too unpredictable to commit to pet ownership. Unfortunately, many were underprepared for the volatility of our times and are now forced to make heart-wrenching choices.
Pets are known for being fiercely loyal to their owners; many owners will try their utmost to keep them by their side.
By making sound choices during these challenging times, pet owners can lighten their load and find the wherewithal to make it through.