Income+
The cost of having a pet
Lim Siew May 
The cost of adopting a pet generally varies from free to RM300, depending on age and if it is a pedigree – 123RF
advertisement[x]

There’s something about companion animals that tug at people’s heartstrings – if you own a dog or cat, for instance, their wide-eyed innocence, how they greet you with enthusiasm, listen to you intently and love you unconditionally are but a handful of reasons why they are so valued.

A study published by the American Psychological Association (APA) reveals that pets are important sources of social and emotional support for “everyday people,” not just those who are struggling with serious health issues.

It added that “pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.”

Talk to any responsible pet owner about his or her pets and chances are, you will learn that many perceive the pets as part of the family. However, like many things in life, pet ownership comes at a cost. 

First, there could be an initial cost, depending on how you source your pet. A pet could cost a pretty penny if you are looking to buy breeds like Pomeranian dog, Munchkin cat and Arowana fish, which can set you back by between RM3,800 and RM4,800.

Meanwhile, adoption from shelters such as Paws Animal Welfare Society and SPCA (Selangor) are significantly cheaper. You can expect to pay between RM50 to RM280 for a dog (depending on age, and if it is a pedigree), and RM50 to RM100 for a cat. 

 

Be ready for long-term commitment if you aspire to have pets, says Koh

Founder of animal welfare platform PetFinder.my Andy Koh points out that the cost of adopting a pet generally varies from free to RM300 or so, depending on the rescuer and shelter. Some rescuers or shelters, he adds, may request for fees to cover or subsidise medical, vaccination or sterilisation costs.

 

Owning common pets like a dog or a cat can easily cost about RM3,000 initially, and nearly RM4,000 a year for grooming, food, health check-ups and vaccinations. Fish owners may incur lower maintenance cost but the initial investment of setting the aquarium with the right equipment could cost about RM1,500, depending on the type of fish.

 


Insuring your pet

Did you know there’s such thing as pet insurance? It is quite common in pet-loving developed nations such as the UK or the US, but Malaysian pet owners may not be aware of such a policy or may be less inclined to purchase it.

The then Kurnia Insurans (M) Bhd’s Kurnia Pet Care Insurance, which was touted to be Malaysia’ only pet insurance scheme, was launched in November 2009. However, the response to the scheme was reportedly “lukewarm.” Kurnia Insurans is now known as AmGeneral Insurance Bhd.

A local daily reported in June 2010 that only 14 dogs were insured under Kurnia’s insurance scheme. According to a financial comparison site in 2016, this insurance policy was discontinued “a few years ago”.

This did not deter other players from offering such schemes. MSIG Malaysia recently launched a pet insurance policy in Malaysia. According to MSIG Insurance (Malaysia) Bhd chief operating officer Jennifer Hsu, a pet owner would need to assess whether the benefits or coverage are sufficient for them should there be any unfortunate event.

She adds that the necessity of a pet insurance depends on individual needs as insurance is meant to assist in covering unforeseen expenses arising from illness or injury.

Under the MSIG pet insurance, pet owners have the flexibility to choose from three plans with an annual premium that ranges from RM200 to RM500. The insurance offers six sections of medical benefits.

Depending on the type of plan you opt for, you may be entitled to benefits such as RM2,000 to RM5,000 for veterinary and surgical fees, death from injury or illness (RM2,000 to RM5,000), burial or cremation costs (RM1,000), advertising and reward costs for recovery of missing pets (RM1,000), boarding kennel and cattery fees for pet (RM1,000 to RM2,500) and third-party liability (RM50,000 to RM100,000).

Hsu does not specify the take-up rate of its pet insurance policy but says it has received positive feedback. “The pet ownership landscape in Malaysia has grown over the years, where pet owners are now more willing to spend on pet care such as pet grooming, pet food and bringing their pets to a pet-friendly park,” she says.

As with any insurance plan, the devil is in the details. As usual, watch out for key exclusions to lower the risk of having your claims rejected in future. Hsu points out that some key considerations include ensuring that your pets are microchipped so that they are more identifiable for claims purposes. (See sidebar on microchip)

Also, this policy is only open to cats and dogs aged between 12 weeks to nine-years-old. Pet dogs must also be licensed by the government or local authority, and they must not be under banned or restricted breeds listed by the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS).

She cautions that claims arising out of the following circumstances are excluded, namely routine and preventative treatments like vaccinations, using pets for racing, breeding, security and guarding, pre-existing conditions such as congenital illness and elective treatments, as well as illness occurring during the first 14 days of cover.

Meanwhile, PerroPet, which claims to be a one-stop dog and cat centre offering everything from entertainment content to pet food, says that investing in pet insurance is a personal decision based on your financial situation.

It believes that there are many factors to be considered, including breed and age of your pet, the lifestyle of your pet (indoor or outdoor) and its past health experience. “However, if you think you would find yourself in a position where your pet care cost would be impossible for you to come up with in an emergency, then you should consider investing in pet insurance,” it writes.

Confession of a dog lover

Chew Su Wei, assistant sales and marketing manager at Mercury Marine Sdn Bhd, a company that specialises in marine engine, propellers, marine parts and accessories, is the proud owner of her 15-year-old West Highland White Terrier, Winter. She instantly fell in love with Winter, which was then a puppy, and adopted her when her sister’s friend could no longer take care of her.

In Chew’s experience, being more involved in the dog-rearing process can cut down the cost of pet ownership, and bring both of you closer

The initial cost of owning her pet was “pretty affordable,” Chew recalls. “For a start, you get the basics like the kennel, dog food, shampoo, grooming supplies, collar and toys. I think RM200 would suffice,” she says.

Then, there are the ongoing maintenance fees. Chew spends about RM100 per month mainly on her dog’s food, snacks and shampoo. She also spends about RM50-100 worth of vitamins or supplements on her dog, which is estimated to last up to six months.

Occasionally, she would spend around RM100-200 mostly on her pet’s veterinary visits, medicines and flea treatment. After an unpleasant trip to the pet groomer, at which she saw how pets were handled unprofessionally, she decided to groom her pet on her own, from bathing her to trimming her fur and nails. Chew recalls that the costliest expense to date was her dog’s surgery for a uterine infection in 2014, when the bill came up to about RM1,000.

 

Tips on reducing cost of ownership

On how one can optimise savings on pet ownership while still being a caring and responsible owner, Chew advocates going for locally-made products, be it pet shampoo, food, grooming supplies and more. “They can be equally good in quality compared with the imported ones that cost twice or more,” she says. Chew also buys dog food or shampoo in bulk whenever there is a discount or promotion at the pet shop she frequents.

She believes that being more involved in the dog-rearing process can shave off the cost of pet ownership, and bring both of you closer together.

“Occasionally, bath or groom your dog instead of sending him or her to a pet salon – this encourages bonding and it’s free. And instead of spending a bomb on fancy canned food, you can prepare a simple home-cooked meal for your dog like steamed chicken or boiled eggs served with cucumber, which is cheap and healthy,” she says. 

Money, however, is just one aspect of pet ownership. Chew stresses the importance of always giving loads of patience, care and love to one’s pets, who, like human beings, desire attention and affection too. She recalls having to take leave from work to bring her pet dog to the veterinary when she fell ill. It also takes a lot of time and patience to train her pet to be obedient.

“Only get a pet if you are certain and willing to commit your time and money as it involves a lot of responsibilities,” she says. She joins Facebook groups like Dog Lovers of Malaysia and Cherishlife Home to get tips and ideas on how to better care for her pet.

Meanwhile, PetFinder.my founder Andy Koh says, “For aspiring and existing pet owners, we hope that they would do sufficient research and properly understand the responsibilities of having this new family member, proper ways to care for them, and are ready for the long-term commitment.”

Consider, too, if you have the right home for your pet to grow up in a conducive environment. “For aspiring pet owners, it is essential to evaluate if you have adequate space in relation to the size of your pet. I believe the choice of residence should come first before getting a pet. I was already living in a landed property when I adopted Winter, and I plan to continue living there,” Chew says.

Finally, it would make your new role as a fur parent a lot more rewarding if you have a strong support system in place. When Chew adopted Winter 15 years ago, she was just a rookie in the workforce.

However, she was aware of her new responsibilities and felt confident of her ability to care for her dog with the support of her family members. “Yes, there were definitely some concerns about my dog’s impact on my finances and time, but I had co-owners like my sister to help out with. My parents were also fond of her, and they could keep each other company when I was at work. I also had my helper to feed her daily,” she says. 


Microchipping your pets

Losing your pet is one of the worst nightmares of many ardent pet owners.

Enter microchip, which offers a way for pet owners to be reunited with their babies should they be separated.

According to PetFinder.my, the microchip allows a good Samaritan who recovers your pet to locate its microchip number with a veterinarian’s assistance, but it does not serve as a tracking device. 

Should the owner information exists in its central microchip database, this will enable the rightful owner to be located. Microchip also helps to resolve ownership dispute, whereby a quick check in the database can help determine the rightful owner.

How to go about it

Microchipping your pet is inexpensive, with prices ranging between RM20-30, reveals WaggyMeal.com, an online pet store in Malaysia.

Many local veterinarians are licenced to microchip your pet, a procedure that involves injecting a passive electronic device the size of a grain of rice into your pet.

The procedure takes only a few seconds and causes minor discomfort to your pet. The pet owners will then need to register their contact details into a central microchip database like PetFinder.my, which offers access to the largest database of microchipped animals in Malaysia.



This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 267.