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Did you bring home a pandemic pet? The costs have never been higher

Garry Ho with his puppy, a nearly one-year-old Shih Tzu named Bailey, at a Toronto park on Nov. 10, 2021. He’s one of many people who have brought a new pet into their home during the pandemic.Cole Burston/The Globe and Mail

Garry Ho, 30, grew up with dogs and had always wanted his own. He had his heart set on a Shih Tzu – a small breed that would be a good fit for his 500-square-foot Toronto condo.

In January, 2021, as Toronto entered another pandemic lockdown, I heard from a friend about a neighbor’s accidental litter of Shih Tzu. He jumped at the opportunity, paying $3,000 for an eight-week old puppy he named Bailey.

Mr. Ho is one of many people who have brought a new pet into their home during the prolonged pandemic crisis that gripped Canada and the world. A survey released in June found that 3.7 million Canadians – roughly 10 per cent of the population – adopted, purchased or fostered a cat or a dog during the pandemic. Stuck at home, and not spending money on travel and entertainment, many households figured it was the perfect time to add a pet to the family.

These new family members are undoubtedly adorable, energetic and loving. They’re also pricey, and would-be pet parents should take a good hard look at both the upfront cost and continuing expenses before they commit.

Amid soaring demand for pets during the pandemic, the initial price for an animal has increased. Mr. Ho recalls the price of a Shih Tzu from a breeder was around $2,000 prepandemic, far less than the $3,000 to $4,000 he’s seeing these days. While pets adopted from shelters don’t come with these big price tags, would-be owners are often expected to make a donation or cover at least some of the expense of shots and examinations.

And the costs continue once they come home. Rover.com pegs annual dog care at between $840 to $2,385 a year in Canada, with cat care costs coming in between $600 and $1,800.

Pet care costs vary widely depending on the type of pet, breed and gender. Serge Chalhoub, a senior instructor at the University of Calgary’s faculty of veterinary medicine, says people weighing the decision should speak with local vets and pet owners.

“Before getting a pet, phone the clinic down the street and say, ‘I’m thinking of adopting a female Labrador dog. What are the average costs I should expect?’ ”

Breed-specific health concerns can also lead to bigger vet bills, according to Dr. Chalhoub. “A classic example is an English bulldog or a pug,” he says. “They’re prone to regurgitation, aspiration and breathing difficulties.”

People considering adopting a shelter or rescue dog, or cat, should note that these animals could cost more to train. “There may be a chance for higher behavioral issues,” Dr. Chalhoub says. “Some of those pets were potentially born on the street, and then all of a sudden, they’re expected to stay inside a house and be a pet.”

Sessions with trainers and specialists to address issues such as separation anxiety or aggression can run into the thousands – up to $5,000 or more – depending on the severity of the issue. And purebred dogs aren’t exempt from behavioral problems either, he says.

Luckily, Mr Ho hasn’t experienced behavioral issues with Bailey. Still, he’s preparing for any future bills by spending about $50 a month on pet insurance. Pet insurance generally covers unexpected veterinary costs such as surgeries, medications and exams and treatment required owing to illness or injuries.

Alim Dhanji, a certified financial planner at Assante Financial Management in Vancouver, says another approach is to create a rainy-day fund for your pet. If anything major comes up, they have access to capital and they don’t have to tap into their other resources or savings plans to pay for [emergencies].”

For those without pet insurance, Mr. Dhanji recommends putting $2,000 to $3,000 in a liquid account, like a high-interest savings account, for a pet emergency fund.

Mr. Ho is preparing for any future bills for Bailey by spending about $50 a month on pet insurance.Cole Burston/The Globe and Mail

Owners can also make sure their pets will always be cared for by making provisions in their will, Mr. Dhanji says. In addition to designating who will take care of them, owners can designate savings or funds from life insurance to help cover the cost of caring for their pet.

Mr. Ho hasn’t created a will yet, but plans to include Bailey’s care when he does. He’s fortunate to have close friends and family that he can rely on as caretakers in an emergency, or when he is travelling. Recently, on a weekend trip to Ottawa, Mr. Ho opted to bring Bailey along with him.

That decision carried extra costs. He paid an additional $50 each way for her to ride the train with him, along with an additional $50 a night in pet fees at hotels.

Keep in mind that some hotels, rentals and Airbnbs have a no-pet policy, regardless of the cost. Still, Mr. Ho doesn’t regret it: “I also wanted to have this experience with her. She’s part of my family now.”

Travel fees and some additional luxuries, such as a $150 Casper dog bed, and chicken hearts and livers that he cooks to supplement her dry kibble, adding an extra $20 a month to food costs, have increased Mr. Ho’s anticipated dog care spending by about 20 per cent

“She’s my child, basically,” Mr. Ho says. “No cost is too high.”

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