Keep calm and spend more on your pet

Niki Bruce
Contributor
Young family with their pet dog. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — These days it’s not unusual for people to consider their pets to be fully-paid up members of their family. And just like those who are spending big dollars on their actual children, ‘fur babies’ need high-end fashion and tech products too.

You can buy everything from single-ingredient organic dog treats for $30 a bag, to a preloaded ‘Pet Acoustics Bluetooth Speaker’ to calm your pet when you’re not at home for $110, or an automatic feeder for $150, not to mention a $4.3 million dollar collar! Yes, really!

Some pet lovers are getting into ‘petchitecture’ that creates dedicate interior design especially to either keep indoor pets happy - climbing frames for cats - or to have a dedicated spot for Fido. There are also mobile apps designed to either track your pet’s daily activity, or to remind you to empty the litter tray.

Or if your furkid is particularly sensitive to noise, you could always get them a ‘noise cancelling kennel’ designed by car behemoth Ford.

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At the annual Singapore PetExpo, there were a number of popular categories that echo these huge spends - Pet food, treats and accessories were the most popular items at the expo, with other areas like technology products, pet insurance and pet transport, also showing strongly.

According to Ms See Lay Eng, the Project Director of PetExpo, people’s attitudes towards their pets has changed a great deal over the last few years.

“One doesn’t just adopt a pet, it is now akin to bringing a new family member home,” says Ms See, “It is probably more accurate to state that more young people are adopting a pet as part of their growing families, in addition to having kids.”

And this has contributed to the way people are now treating their pets more like humans, with the 2019 PetExpo focusing on the idea of the “holistic well-being of pets”, says Ms See.

“We have tried to focus our activities, products and education on the health and well-being of pets. To not only educate pet owners on identifying early symptoms of health issues, but also to provide a more holistic approach towards taking care of them,” explains Ms See.

One of the more interesting pet tech products at the PetExpo included a ‘Pet Dry Room’ for $1,280, that is an at-home “air shower dryer” that has “award winning patented clean room, air filtration technology to ensure ultimate care, comfort and safety” for our pets. Yes, a specialised washing machine and dryer for your pets.

Another one was the Eversweet2 Pet Drinking Fountain for $95, that offers your pet a triple purifying system so their water it cleaner than your own; and the PetKit Cozy Smart Pet House for $330, can keep your pet as cool, or warm as it prefers.

Ms See says that over the last six years of running the PetExpo, they have seen an “increasing desire for pet owners to be well informed about how to provide the best care and healthy nutrition for their pets; and in some cases, to indulge their ‘furkids’ [with] a bit of luxury, [like] pet spas, pet massages, [and] pet hotels.”

So, just to check, I reached out to ask some ‘pet parents’ on what they buy for their furkids, and how much they spend on them.

Pet Parent: Gilda Su

“I’ve got three dogs, and we spend anything between $200-$1,000 a month on them, depending on whether or not they are seeing a vet. I buy things like food, treats and toys; they don’t like wearing clothing accessories so we hardly buy those.

“We did recently buy a nice looking tempurpedic-ish beds for them that were $300 each. I don’t think there’s many interior design related things for big dogs who aren’t treated like princesses. We did buy some nice storage for their toys and leashes though.”

Pet Parent: Crystal Lea Shi

“I spend about $1,000 on free range, antibiotic-free food and treats for my dog … [and] pretty harnesses, beds! I've got a pet bed obsession!”

Ms Shi says she doesn’t need to buy a mobile tracker to monitor her pet: “She goes to daycare twice a week and they send us videos. That and she's exhausted when she gets home [and on] the next day. It’s sufficient for me that she's getting play time and her twice-a-day walks”.

She is also open to spending money of a bit of ‘petchitecture’, and says she would happily spend more money if she had more time to research better pet supplies.

“I shop for her like I shop for myself,” says Ms Shi. “I think most of the things I buy are necessities and I think a good diet is worth the investment especially in her first year”.

Photo showing a glass marine aquarium used to cultivate coral fragments. This saltwater reef tank is farming coral frag to cultivate colonies. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

Pet Parent: Shaun Tan

As the owner of exotic fish, Mr Tan admits to spending up to $250 a month on his pets, unless he’s investing in new ‘tank occupants’.

“Monthly electricity and water bills add up to about the same as air-conditioning a room every night. Weekly runs to the wet market and pet shop for a few kg of seafood (prawns, clams, fish… the exact same ones we eat) and some vitamins and supplements rounds off the bill to the tune of $100-250 a month.

“I’ve [also] bought plenty of wood for décor purposes, mostly ranging from $60-$120 per piece, with my nicest piece setting me back $200. I previously did a rock scape (rocks, sand, etc) that cost me about $300. I also buy vitamins and supplements that help keep my fish healthier and more resistant to diseases and stress. I have different sets of lights as well, for day or night viewing and even bulbs with UV light to replicate natural sun rays. The current lighting set up costs about $500 but it’s far from perfect.

“The fish tank [could be] considered petchitecture, in a sense. My current tank cost $3,000-$4,000, but since it’s quite a few years old, I’m actually in the midst of commissioning a bigger tank that is estimated to cost about $8,000.”

Mr Tan says that the satisfaction he gets from keeping fish can’t be justified by the money spent. “I’ve cut down plenty and found the sweet spot to continue the hobby at a level that I enjoy, without spending too much unnecessarily.”

“I see my tank as a living work of art, a carefully curated ecosystem of various species and how they co-exist and interact perfectly with each other. Each fish is unique, the experience is different and to learn about them first-hand is a joy. Totally worth it.”

Pet Parent: Pia Jacqueline Chandra

Ms Chandra’s pets are actually dogs that she fosters, which means she won’t keep them forever, but she still spends about $300-$500 a month, “depending on what our current foster needs from us”.

“We feed our foster dogs fresh food and dried food and try as much as we can to only feed 100% meat products as treats,” says Ms Chandra.

And although she’s not into the idea of a mobile pet tracker, she’s totally into the idea of ‘petchitecture’.

“This is what we want for our future home. Depending on the size of our future dog, we want to build a space under our bed where our dog can go to sleep in it’s man-made ‘den’. We’d be willing to spend $1,500-$2,000 for a custom project.

“They are family, like having a kid, just in a form of a dog.”

Pet Parent: Elim Chew

Parent to two rather large Afghan Hounds, Ms Chew says she spends about $500 a month on her furkids, but more if they need to visit the vet, and the extra spend is mostly on pet snacks. As for when her nephew looks after the dogs during the school holiday, Ms Chew notes that “even more money is spent”, but it’s fine “because they are part of our family”.

Pet Parent: Melissa Cheng

“My dog is a Chow Chow, so he needs to be in an airconditioned environment most of the time due to his thick coat of fur. I would say we spend about an average of about $700 a month [on him].

“[I buy] plenty of treats. Loads of toys because we like his reaction when he sees a new toy. We also buy him fruit like pears, melons and apples as well because he likes them. We get him yoghurt too and some Fur omega 3 supplements.

Ms Cheng also once commissioned a digital painting for her living room that included Chester (her dog) as a character in a ‘Dogs Playing Poker’ scene for about $480.

“To us, Chester has become a part of our family from the very first day that we got him. He is like our kid in a certain way, and we like to spoil and pamper him! Of course, we have to make sure he is healthy as well, hence the food and vet bills.

“Chester brings joy to our home, so shouldn't we spend more on him if we can?”

Daniel Boey with Leia. (PHOTO: Raymond Lee)

Pet Parent: Daniel Boey

“Most of my money spent is on practical extravagances like Henry Hottie beds (she has three), which is good for dogs with orthopaedic issues and a customised, single meat raw diet created by Leia’s nutrition consultants because of her allergies. Also, hydrotherapy and doggie massage sessions, which are part of her recovery process.”

Mr Boey’s pet, Leia, is a Weimaraner who was rescued by the animal welfare group Voices For Animals, and Mr Boey adopted her in 2017. Leia had major issues with her back legs and needed substantial surgery to correct the problems.

“However, I do indulge in the odd fashion extravagance occasionally. She's got three customised chainmail necklaces, one from Marilyn Tan Jewellery and two from TheKang, which I commissioned for her on separate occasions - to celebrate her adopt-versary, for the Crazy Rich Asians party and for a MU/SE magazine photoshoot. I got her a Thomas Wee bespoke cheongsam dog collar for last year’s Chinese New Year (The Year of the Dog).

Portrait of Leia. (PHOTO: Daniel Boey)

“She’s also got customised bandanas by Singapore and British designers to match pieces in my wardrobe. And special dog tags by artist friends from around the world, which they have created for her.

“I’m in the process of getting her measured for a customised leather harness by an American specialist who creates collars, harnesses and leashes products for big dogs.”

“Before Leia joined the household, I renovated the house and custom-built a back room for her, consisting of a ‘walk-in wardrobe’ space for her leashes, harnesses and collars, accessories (bandanas, necklaces etc), towels, bed linen, toiletries (ear cleaning fluid, flea repellents), meds and misc stuff (like poo bags); a kitchen where her twice-daily meals are prepared; a dining spot where she takes her meals and where her drinking bowls are situated.

“I designed and built an enclosed garden with astroturf and trees so she can chill and take toilet breaks during the day when I’m at work.

“I also carved out a ‘day room’ and a ‘bedroom’ for her on my ground floor (she is not allowed upstairs because of her operated legs - I don’t want to risk her injuring herself), complete with her beds and several trunks of her toys. I pack the toys every day and she will pick the ones she wants to play with for the day herself directly from the trunks,” explains Mr Boey. “I also built a non-slip ramp at the front of my house so that she can get up and down the few steps easily without injuring herself.”

Leia's pimped ride. (PHOTO: Daniel Boey)

He even changed his car to one that was better suited to Leia’s issues with her legs and climbing. “I customised the back of the car with a Henry Hottie bed and Marimekko cushions so that she can travel in comfort. So essentially, my car is like a pimped-out ride for my dog.”

As for whether or not he spends too much on his pet, Mr Boey disagrees: “I draw upon the example of people who spend extravagantly on their children. Leia is my baby so I am only doing what other parents are doing too.”

“She gives me unconditional love; she is non-judgemental; she sticks by me through thick and thin; she cheers me up and is always there for me no matter what. She is my be-all and my end-all. She has made me a much happier person, and I want to give her the best life I can possibly accord her.”