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Thinking of owning a pet? Here's what you need to know
It’s worth remembering that a pet is for life. It’s a serious responsibility as well as a financial and time commitment. While children may clamour after whichever cute creature is the latest craze, choosing a pet needs to be a rational decision. You might be able to test which animal fits you best by looking after friends’ or neighbours’ pets or bringing home an animal from your child’s school for an overnight stay. “My son really wanted a rat,” says one reader in Wallonia. “I conceded over goldfish and canaries, but put my foot down at a rodent. We already had a dog and cat and I couldn’t contemplate managing the whole menagerie. I also couldn’t bear the thought of handling a rat myself.”
Tighter regulations on the sale of cats and dogs have been introduced in response to a rise in an illegal trade in puppies. Pet shops are not allowed to sell cats and dogs; they can only be bought from breeders. If a dog is bought in another country, it must be registered within eight days of arrival in Belgium. Dogs need to be microchipped and registered before they are four months old and before being sold, and each puppy should have an EU pet passport. If you’re thinking of buying a dog, do your research to ensure the breed you want suits you and your family as well as the indoor and outdoor space you have available.
Unless you’re opting for a pedigree puppy, consider acquiring a dog or other animals from a shelter. Animal rights organisation Gaia and online community Pets.be provide information on shelters around the country. Croix Bleue – Belgium’s largest refuge – has shelters in each of the three regions. “Quite wild dogs who were brought in just a few weeks before are so well-behaved. That is one of the most positive aspects of our shelter,” says Guy Adant, a Croix Bleue volunteer. Cat Rescue in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, meanwhile, offers a fostering service for cat-lovers unable to make a long-term commitment. “We provide something a lot better than them having to wait in a cage in a shelter until someone adopts them,” says Paula Dear, a Brussels resident who regularly takes in animals.
If you move to Belgium with your dog, you have to register it within eight days via your vet, on the central national database, DogID. If you adopt, the vet will implant a microchip containing the dog’s ID number. A similar mandatory database for cats holds information on registered animals and can be updated by owners – for example, a new address – by entering the ID number. The databases help track lost pets.
If you’re thinking of acquiring something more exotic, check the list of more than 40 animals in Belgium permitted as pets, and those that require special permits, via Cites.org. You may need to check the regulations at your local town hall.
Travelling to and from Belgium within the EU requires a European pet passport for cats, dog and ferrets, plus a recent rabies vaccination. Your vet will supply a passport if your pet doesn’t have one. The animal will be linked to this passport via a microchip. For travel outside the EU, ask your vet to complete a health certificate in English or the language of the country you’re visiting. The document must state that your animal was vaccinated and tested three months before travelling. If you’re flying, contact your airline for information. Some allow dogs and cats as hand luggage (up to 6kg) or as check-in luggage in a special cage. While friends, neighbours or families may be able to care for your pets if they’re not travelling with you, there are overnight care services and kennels available. Ask your vet for recommendations.
After food, the main costs of keeping a pet are hygiene and health, with annual check-ups and vaccinations advised for cats, dogs and many other animals. There’s no fixed scale for the cost of a consultation with a vet, but you can expect to pay around €35 for a consultation, an extra €10 for a home visit and more on Sundays and holidays. Castration of a male animal costs around €120-140; sterilisation is about €190. While expenses may be reasonable for a young, healthy animal, they can soar as your pet gets older or needs regular treatment or surgery.
“Vet costs represent a large part of the budget,” says one animal lover in Tervuren with a large ageing pedigree dog and an elderly cat. “The cat had an infection that needed antibiotic injections and other medication every day for a week. It cost €50 a day. Maybe I should take out an insurance policy, but that comes at a price too.” Insurance is available: pet shop chain Tom&Co offers policies for cats, dogs and other animals with SantéVet, starting at about €12 a month. Otherwise, you can buy seasonal tick and flea treatments at any pharmacy without a prescription. Be sure to respect the instructions as well as the type of animal they are intended for.
With 160,000 cats and 80,000 dogs registered in Brussels, it’s useful for the emergency services to know if there are animals in your home. Alert them with free window stickers available from town halls and the Bruxelles-Environnement office at Tour & Taxis. The sticker reads: ‘Firefighters, save our animals too’, followed by checkboxes for the type of animal you have.
Burying your pet in the garden is forbidden in Brussels but allowed in Wallonia on condition that it doesn’t weigh more than 40kg, is buried at least 1m deep and preferably in a cardboard box, not plastic wrapping. Home burials on private property are also legal in most of Flanders, but check with your municipality. The animal cannot have died from infectious disease, must weigh less than 10kg, must be buried at least 50cm deep and not be wrapped in plastic or other toxic material. Otherwise, consult your vet. There are also animal cemeteries around the country, at a cost. Brussels’ first pet cemetery is due to open in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre at the end of 2019. At Ixelles cemetery, pets need to be cremated and buried in urns.
This article first appeared in ING Expat Time