In Israel, Man's Best Friend Is Also His Most Expensive Friend

Want a pet? Get ready to fork out the cash: Average costs for keeping a cat or dog range from $600 to $1,220 a year.

FILE PHOTO: Israeli dogs
David Bachar

Pining for a puppy? Craving a cat? Pets can provide joy and comfort, but they also have a price — one that you have to keep paying every month.

Pet shops, veterinarians and the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimate that raising a small dog will set you back 2,300 shekels ($600) a year, with a large dog costing 4,700 shekels ($1,220) and a cat 1,300 shekels ($340). This will only cover basic expenses including immunization, treatment against fleas and ticks, licences, food and basic material such as sand for cats.

Ad-ons such as training, toys, treats, a dog-walker, high-grade sand that absorbs odors or fancy scratching devices will add a few thousand shekels in outlays. The sky is the limit for those wishing to pamper their pets. One should also take into account expenses associated with serious illness or complicated injuries.

A survey by the Economy Ministry showed that a third of Israeli households have pets, the most popular ones, not surprisingly, cats and dogs. According to a Ministry of Agriculture registry there are 380,000 dog owners in Israel, 45,000 of whom have two or more dogs. There are no exact numbers regarding cats since owning one doesn’t require a permit, but estimates are that there are 260,000 cat owners.

The Central Bureau of Statistics, TGI research and the Economy Ministry have gathered data showing that the pet market in Israel is worth 1.9 billion shekels ($500 million) a year. The average household spends 280 shekels ($73) a month on a pet.

While cartoon character Garfield the cat had a penchant for lasagna and hamburgers, most pets don’t dine off the family table, but eat special pet food purchased at pet shops or supermarkets. Food is in fact one of the major expenses associated with pets and there is a large selection of it that varies in quality and price.

A survey we conducted, using the mySupermarket website and pet shops, showed that dry food starts at 8.3 shekels ($2.2) per kg, going up to 15.1 ($3.9) shekels for brand names. At the higher end one can even find food for 20-30 shekels a kg for dogs and 40 shekels a kg for cat food.

Cheap food is like junk food

“Different prices reflect quality variability. Lower-grade food is cheaper but the dog will be hungrier sooner and will defecate more,” explains Eli Klinstein, from Pet Buy in Tel Aviv, a chain with 19 outlets. “The more meat or fish components there are the better and pricier the food. Using fewer grains and less corn makes food better since pets don’t digest these well. Cheap pet food is like junk food, and pets have to eat more of it in order to feel full. For cats you’ll need more sand since they will defecate more with cheaper food.”

Na’ama Rolnick, a pet adoption and behavior consultant at the SPCA, says that most owners buy mid-range brand names. She has three dogs and spends 400 shekels a month on their food. “Choosing a food brand depends on your income but I recommend higher quality food since it’s healthier for animals’ fur, teeth and overall health,” suggests Rolnick.

Lilach, a dog walker who owns a mid-size dog, spends 150 shekels a month on food. “I choose food I know is high quality” she says. “With a new dog I find out what works, since various components work differently for individual dogs. High quality can still be unsuitable for a particular dog, causing stomach problems.”

Atara Cohen, who spends more than 100 shekels a month on her dog, agrees. “Pollyanna responds differently to different brands. There were some she refused to touch. I now buy a brand that has more meat and less rice and corn, which she digests better.”

Cats, which are usually smaller than dogs, consume less food. However, cats that stay indoors need sand. Here too there is a wide range of products with significant differences between them. Plain sand costs 3 shekels per kg, whereas scented crystalline sand goes for 8.9 shekels per kg.

Anna Derman, who owns three cats, works at a pet chain outlet. “I spend 225 shekels on food and 89 shekels on sand every month,” she says, adding that most cat owners she knows buy mid-range products. Meirav Arieli of Holon raises two house cats and regularly feeds two street cats. She spends 400 shekels a month on average for food and sand. “I buy dry food on the internet and odor-absorbing crystalline sand. It’s all quite expensive.”

What does one do when the dog is unwell?

According to a TGI survey published in Haaretz last September, 5.8 percent of pet owners said they’d give up their pets if they encountered financial difficulties. “At the entrance to the veterinary hospital at Beit Dagan there’s a sign warning that anyone caught abandoning a pet will be fined and that surveillance cameras are installed there,” notes Yael Lior, a Ramat Gan veterinarian. She says it was placed there since many people abandon their pets when times are tough and treatment becomes expensive. “This is an extreme step, but having a pet isn’t just about buying food and walking it around the neighborhood. Immunization and medical treatment are part of the required expenses, which can be significant," she says.

Adopting a puppy or kitten entails an initial expense of several hundred shekels, varying according to whether this is done through a non-profit group or through a vet. “A puppy has to be immunized against viral diseases since its immune system is underdeveloped,” says Rolnick. “Kittens are immunized against four diseases and puppies against six, as well as against worms, during the first year. Some people neuter their pets. Dogs now need a hypodermal chip, as well as a licence. These expenses are included if one gets the pet from a non-profit group. It’s more expensive when treating a pet at a veterinarian’s office.”

Older dogs also require immunization and routine care, such as annual anti-rabies vaccination, preventive anti-tick and anti-flea treatments and licence renewal. This can cost 53.5 shekels for a neutered dog or 370 shekels for a non-neutered one, since the state favors neutering.

Cats cost less

Cats, in contrast, are much cheaper to keep after the first year, requiring mainly food, sand and anti-flea and tick treatment, as well as immunization (which is not legally required, although vets recommend doing so, particularly if they roam outdoors).

If the pet you adopt is basically healthy and stays out of fights that lead to injuries, the costs will be limited to the compulsory immunizations. When the dog or cat is injured or falls sick, however, costs soar.

“Most pets don’t have serious illnesses, only vomiting and diarrhoea and occasional dehydration in the summer,” says Lior. Most dog owners buy a subscription to the vet, she says. This includes the licence, immunization and unlimited examinations. Subscriptions range from 270 shekels a year for cats to 480 shekels for dogs at cheaper clinics, climbing to 500 and 1,300 shekels, respectively at others. Without a subscription, a visit can cost 150-200 shekels, not including special tests. Complicated cases requiring further tests cost more.

“Problems start when the dog ages and gets diseases associated with old age,” explains Lior. “You should take into account treatments that go beyond basic needs, whether it’s kidney problems or tumors. In these cases costs go up. If surgery or hospitalization is required this can reach tens of thousands of shekels,” she notes.

“When taking a dog or cat you have to care for them when unexpected high costs crop up,” stresses Lior. “I think it’s better not to have a pet than to get into a situation where you need to abandon it.”

In addition to the basic expenses like food and visits to the vet there are endless opportunities for spending money on a pet. This includes collars and leashes, toys, clothing, haircuts, dog walkers and kennels for when you’re away, as well as treats used in training and for pampering.

Lilach, the dog walker, says that “you can spend hundreds or thousands of shekels on your cat or dog. I have clients that buy them fancy beds for 600 shekels while others use a mattress they find on the street. This applies to toys as well. You can buy a rubber toy for 5 shekels or fancy ones that last for years for much more. Collars and leashes range from 15 to 200 shekels, depending on durability and strength and the dog’s comfort.”

Like shopping for your child

Derman adds that shopping for your pet is sometimes like shopping for your child. “I can go shopping and not buy myself anything because it’s expensive but then buy my cat something for hundreds of shekels.”

Lilach notes that many dog owners require her services because they work long hours in high-tech. “We charge 35-60 shekels for a 30-minute walk. This can vary depending on whether the dog is large or has additional requirements, such as not being able to be with other dogs or needing a longer walk.”

“Some people can afford more and spending 1,000 shekels a month on a dog walker," says Lior. "Kennels can cost 70-150 shekels per day.”

“Extra expenses depend on how much owners want to spend. Pets don’t really care," says Klinstein. “They just want to eat and let off steam.”

Of course the value of pets can’t be measured in terms of costs alone, says Arieli. “They’re worth their weight in gold. They are funny and cute, and they are known to induce peace and health.”