Today, the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) releases its annual population data, with a record 35m pets in the UK in 2022. Pet ownership is at a peak and 17.4m households (62%) own a pet[i][i]. In the UK there are now 13m dogs and 12m cats, 1.6m indoor birds, 1.4m domestic fowl, 1m rabbits, 900k Guinea pigs, 700k pigeons, 600k hamsters, 600k tortoises and 600k horses. Whilst 4.7m households (17%) have acquired a new pet since the start of the pandemic, sadly 3.4m (12%) have given up a pet over the last year.[ii][ii]
Although over a half (57%) of new pets have been welcomed into homes with children (2.7m households), Gen Z and Millennials represent 53% of those owning new pets (2.6m households). 25% (1.2m) are 16–24-year-olds and 29% (1.4m) are 25–34-year-olds. Almost one quarter (23%) of the people in these age groups have been unable to keep their pet and 71% of all relinquishments can be attributed to this demographic (2.1m households). Looking at which pets were relinquished, 60% were dogs and 45% were cats. However, anecdotally, rehoming centres are seeing more small mammals such as rabbits.
Nicole Paley, PFMA deputy CEO, comments: “Reflecting the recent ONS report with its new shopping basket containing a pet collar[iii][iii], we are not surprised to see these strong figures. However, on closer inspection, we are concerned about the number of owners who have given up their pet. We are keen to investigate why owners are giving up their pets and where they are being relinquished. We believe that many pets are being sold on to recuperate funds, in addition to being taken to rehoming centres. We are working closely with the CFSG (Canine & Feline Sector Group) plus other animal welfare charities to identify what the pet care sector can do to support owners and prevent this from happening.”
The main reason 16–24-year-olds gave up a pet was a change in living arrangements with 34% citing this factor. 23% claimed financial obstacles and 22% identified a change in working arrangements. Behavioural concerns were a reason for 13% of those who relinquished in this age group. For those slightly older aged 25-34 years old, both working and living arrangements were an issue affecting 41% and 39% respectively. The research revealed that 40% of owners don’t have pet friendly offices with an extra 11% unsure.
Nicole continues: “At the PFMA, we believe there is a need to boost the provision of pet-friendly policies at work and in rental accommodation. There are some excellent campaigns focused on this. We also need to ensure that potential pet owners are aware of the full implications of pet ownership and the significant responsibility that comes with a new family member. We are active in supporting pet ownership education campaigns such as National Pet Month and we work to promote the many excellent resources provided by the network of UK charities and welfare organisations. Woodgreen, for example, have a service whereby struggling owners are supported in their own homes. Rehoming centres should always be the first port of call for owners unable to cope.”
Linda Cantle, Director of Pet & Owner Support Services at Woodgreen Pets Charity explains: “Sadly, we are seeing the number of requests for intake increase, which has been most significant for dogs and small pet species (rabbits in particular). Unfortunately, we cannot always accommodate pets straight away, resulting in concern about how these pets are being rehomed instead. Online or private sales may be worse for pets’ welfare in the long-term, especially if they have significant medical or behavioural needs that go on untreated.
“On a more positive note, we at Woodgreen have seen demand for our outreach, behaviour advice and online workshops increase. Well over 200 people receive support each week, indicating that many owners are keen to work at keeping a pet. We’d encourage any owner experiencing problems with their pets to reach out as soon as possible for guidance, as many common issues can be improved in the home with trusted advice and support.”
Pet welfare expert at RSPCA, Dr Samantha Gaines, adds: “The relinquishment figures are very worrying but, sadly, not surprising as we are now starting to see an increase in requests for help and rehoming and particularly with rabbits. Bringing an animal home to join your family is a significant commitment and responsibility and the increase in ownership during the pandemic did cause concerns that some people may not have fully considered whether they would be able to properly care for them for the rest of their life.
We understand that circumstances can change and, sometimes, this leaves families having to make the heart-breaking decision to give up their pets. However, we also know that animals are often signed over to charities, rehomed or even abandoned because people took on a pet without the necessary research or appreciation of the responsibility and commitment.
Following the surge in pet acquisition during lockdown, with many people now returning to normal life, and with the cost of living rising at a shocking rate, at the RSPCA we fear this is just the start of a pet welfare crisis; and we’re worried that it’ll be charities like us that are left picking up the pieces.”
Nicole concludes: “Pets are wonderful additions to the family, but it is a huge responsibility and people need to do their research. As we have highlighted in our research findings, the burden is too great for some people. To address this, the pet industry is working together to educate as many new owners and potential new owners as possible.”
For top tips, owners should visit https://www.pfma.org.uk/pet-care and for more pet data please visit https://www.pfma.org.uk/statistics. There are also many resources online for pet owners who are struggling such as:
- Woodgreen Pets Charity Training Events: https://woodgreen.org.uk/events/
- RSPCA Dog Training: https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/dogs/training
- Battersea Dogs and Cats Home: https://www.battersea.org.uk/pet-advice/dog-advice
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