NEW Pet Population Data Highlights Pet Peak But The Number Of Owners Giving Up Their Pet Is Huge Concern
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]. 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]
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% gave up a dog, 45% a cat and 4% ‘other’, indicating some overlap. 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, 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. It is widely acknowledged that household bills will be increasing over coming months, and this puts an extra financial strain on many families. 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 heartbreaking 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. [iii]
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
NOTES TO EDITORS
It is a challenge to find pet owners who have given up a pet. Here are three case studies but do contact us if you want more:
Storm the dog (RSPCA) and owner Amy Ockleford – photos available of Storm and Amy
Five-year-old collie-cross Storm was dumped at an RSPCA centre at the beginning of lockdown after his owner fell ill and their family could no longer take care of him. He was incredibly overweight and had nasty ear and skin infections. Staff at Stubbington Ark set about treating him and put him on a strict diet and exercise regime before he came to live with me. I'd lost my late rescue dog, Sammy, at 15, just a few months earlier and was really struggling without a dog. Storm settled in right away and, over the following months, continued to lose weight and really come out of his shell. He now weighs 26kg (more than 20kg less than when he arrived) and is the picture of health. He loves to run and play, especially with a tennis ball or with his best friend, Jack Russell Jimmy. He brings us so much joy and always makes us laugh; I'm not sure how we would have got through the last few years without him!
Vinnie the cat (Wood Green) – photos available of Vinne
An 11-month-old cat. He was an emergency arrival at Wood Green in February, after he suffered a serious injury to his third eyelid and his owner was unable to afford treatment. Vinnie was taken straight into Wood Green’s veterinary surgery to have his eyelid repaired, where he was also neutered whilst under anaesthetic. Poor Vinnie then needed a course of pain relief and antibiotics following his surgery. He has now fully recovered and is settling into his new home.
Cosmo the dog and owner Sam Eliott – photos of Cosmo available
Sam and her family lost their much loved 18-year-old rescue collie in November 2019 and thought they would take some time out from having a dog. Sam explains: “I lasted about 4 weeks before I signed up to all the rescue centres. Lockdown happened and we didn't hold much hope but then Battersea called, and they wanted to test bringing a dog to us. As the centres were not allowed to open in the lockdown, Cosmo arrived, this mad ball of energy just 7 months old. Very different to a deaf, partially blind old fella. Of course, we said yes!! He got me through lockdown, I learnt very quickly that my life without a dog feels partially lived, I adore my family, but I am whole with a dog, Cosmo has his issues, and we are working through them with him, but we love him very much, and he gave us such a great focus through lockdown. My job can be very stressful, I work in higher education, and we never stopped, being forced to take a break, walk, work on training etc really improved my mental health.”
PFMA has been working with Kantar since 2008 and Soulor Consulting since 2016. After years of running face to face surveys, in 2021 due to the Covid Pandemic, the survey moved online. The change in methodology has allowed the PFMA to increase the sample size. However, it is not possible to benchmark the change from data sourced face-to-face and online.
The online survey has been run for two consecutive years. In 2021 the size was 5093 and in 2022 is 8983 for the main annual population figures. For 2022, caution is required when comparing 2022 data to previous years due to the change in sample size. Percentages of households owning pets can be compared between 2022 and 2021.
This year, we asked a smaller group of 2,560 people more detailed questions on acquisition, habits and relinquishment.
[ii] Kantar / Soulor Consulting online survey of 2,560 people, responding to more detailed questions on acquisition, habits, relinquishment etc. in February 2022. This confirmed that 17% (4.7m households) had acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic. With 17% owning a pet x estimated 28.1m UK households = 4.7m. 12% confirmed they had had to relinquish a pet since the start of the pandemic. 12% x estimated 28.1m households = 3.4m households.