As you know, until recently we shared our living accommodation with HRH The Cat. Not cheap, pets, and when looked at logically, cats are probably more frugal-friendly companions than dogs, but let's face it, costly or not, we wouldn't swap them, would we! There are ways though of keeping the costs down, and not feeling obliged to keep up with the Jones's with trendy accessories is probably the best of those!
My parents recently acquired a new doggy companion - a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel X Bichon Frise - or "Cavachon" as they are now known. The new strains of "pedigree crossbreeds" that are coming to the fore now have largely been introduced to try to get rid of some of the problems that have been bred into pedigree breeds by unscrupulous breeders trying to reach perfection in their breed standard. Mum & Dad chose the Cavachon as it's a small breed (read: portable model) which doesn't shed too much hair, and should be less prone to the heart and brain problems that the purebred Cavaliers suffer from now. In turn this means that insurance costs are kept a little lower and there should hopefully (all being well) be less visits to the vet down the line. Little J has settled in well - aside from chewing everything in sight - and is proving intelligent and quick to learn (except in relation to chewing everything in sight).
One of the first conclusions Mum reached was that puppies don't care how much a toy costs, where it comes from, or what label it bears. All our family dogs have always loved being given an old toilet or kitchen roll centre to play with ("Chewbs" as they've become known) and years ago our first Cavalier kept his teeth clean gnawing away at the heavy-duty cardboard fax inner tubes. One of J's current favourite toys is a plastic drink bottle with some small pebbles popped inside and the lid screwed back on. It's shiny and large enough that she can't sink her teeth into it and get bits of the plastic off, and she can chase it around the floor - the rattling as it scoots away from her drives her mad! HRH The Cat always loved ping-pong balls - you could confuse her for hours by bouncing one against a wall as she never could work out how they suddenly changed direction! For cats also, anything tied onto the end of a piece of string is a winner - just draw it gently along the floor and see what happens! Other puppy ideas: an old towel or teeshirt tightly knotted, or small cardboard boxes with a treat inside (anything where a dog has to work to get a reward is a great idea as it stimulates both brain and body - leading to a thoroughly sleepy puppy!) For an older and less "chewy" dog - you could try childrens toys from the charity shop - just be certain there is nothing sharp in the line of eyes or noses that might scratch their teeth or damage their gums. Childrens soft toys now have to go through such stringent safety testing they are astonishingly resilient. It goes without saying that all play should be supervised and at the first sign of a toy showing signs of wear and tear that might be harmful it should of course be taken away.
For general pet supplies, the pet superstores are often a good bet, but equally small independent pet shops can be a great place to find bargains. When J first started going outside on the lead it quickly became apparent that she was getting extremely cold and miserable - at that stage she was too little to walk far on her own so was being carried, and a dog that size quickly loses body heat in the colder weather. Mum and Dad took her along to a local pet shop where she was quickly sized up and a coat recommended which will probably fit her into adulthood as they sensibly suggested one which can be secured safely on her current small frame, yet has room for adjustment too. ("Room to grow in" you might say!) - £8.99 well spent, and a quick glance at one of the Superstore websites confirms that there is nothing of a similiar type available any cheaper there. They clearly pride themselves on having staff who know their stuff and are happy to chat and make suggestions.
Thinking laterally can get results on other pet accessories too - a local discount store came up trumps with an excellent lightweight pet carrier which was perfect for J (until she chewed a hole in it) and we always went to 99p & £1 shops for cat collars for HRH (just check that their "quick release" catches will do the job properly - essential for a cat collar). Warning though - don't buy dog or cat treats from those shops - they can often be snared for £1 a pack and 3 for the price of 2 in supermarkets - making it better to keep an eye out for the deals there. HRH's food was stocked up on when the supermarket had it on 3 for 2 or at a very reduced price too - by shopping as carefully as you would for your own food you can keep costs down. For dogs, big sacks of "working dog" food can be excellent for really active characters provided you have space to store it. For a big dog, invest in a large china or heavy stainless steel bowl from day one - having to chase their food round it as puppies will slow their eating down too. Water bowls too - for static ones for home use spending a little more in the first place for one that can't be tipped is money well spent. Remember also that pet bowls that will go in the dishwasher are a real bonus.
The one thing that should under NO circumstances be skimped on is insurance. Read details of policies carefully to ensure they cover your needs, and think carefully about limits of cover. Use comparison sites to get prices, then go through the policies one by one ruling out those that don't tick your boxes. As a bare minimum with a dog you MUST have third party cover just in case the worst should happen (cats don't require this as they are deemed to be "free spirits" - meaning that you can't be held legally responsible for their actions). Some form of accident or illness cover is pretty important though - vet bills can easily run into thousands and thousands of pounds and imagine having to take the decision to have your furry four legged family member put to sleep as you couldn't afford their treatment following an accident? As animals get older insurance costs go up sharply - something to remember when getting a puppy or kitten is that they could potentially be with you for up to 16 years for dogs, and 20 for cats - although as they get into proper old age you may well choose to decide that there is only so much treatment you'd put them through - we'd decided with HRH for example that anything that affected her mobility, or meant her having daily doses of multiple tablets would not be treated as it would have affected her quality of life and happiness too much. When you know your own animal there is no shame in this - they give us years of love and company and deserve for us to make the kindest decision for them at the right time.
Don't let the cost put you off owning a pet if you want one, but do be sure that you can afford to be the responsible owner that pet deserves, and don't feel that you need to splash the cash unnecessarily - animals are really not impressed by designer labels!
For more pictures of this little cutie, and what our family dogs are getting up to, follow @Jemima114 & @BorderCollieX on Twitter! (And thanks to Mum for the first photo)