UK Pet Food’s Annual Pet Survey shows Cost of Living impact on Pet Owners
UK Pet Food (formerly known as the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association) releases its annual pet population data[i].
Population Change - small pets move up the charts
57% of UK households (16.2m) house 38m pets. Although the number of pets is up from 35m last year (a rise of 9%), there has been a fall in the proportion of households owning a pet, from 17.4m (62%) in 2022. The most popular pets list has also evolved with a 50% rise in the number of smaller pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters and this population now at 5m – 1.7m more than the previous year[ii].
Alongside a decrease of 6% in the dog and cat populations, which now stand at 12m and 11m, 13% (3.7m households) admit to having relinquished a pet in 2022 with this figure rising to 28% among young owners (16-24years old)[iii]. Looking at which pets were relinquished, 47% gave up a dog, 36% a cat, 12% an indoor bird, 8% a rabbit, 6% a Guinea pig and 7% another pet[iv]. Following the pandemic pet-acquisition boom, especially among millennials and Gen Z, 30% of these young owners now admit that the cost-of-living crisis has made them rethink pet ownership.
Small Pets come with responsibilities too
Nicole Paley of UK Pet Food comments: “World events have had a massive impact on lifestyles over the last few years. Throughout the pandemic, we saw an increase in people adding a pet to their family as they sought the amazing companionship a pet can bring. Today, owners are clearly impacted by the cost of living and sadly relinquishment figures are high. The small pet population is on the up suggesting that people believe they are more manageable and less expensive to keep. Although pets bring huge joy to a household, they also come with a huge responsibility and it is so important to understand the care and cost implications – whatever the size of your pet”
Pet ownership and cost implications
Nicole continues: “Startlingly, we discovered that only 29% of people considered the cost when they got a pet. Almost one fifth (18%) admitted that a pet was more expensive than they had considered. This figure rises to 23% among the youngest owners (16-24) and families are also impacted with 15% of those with children finding it tough.”
Impact on Rehoming sector
Dr Samantha Gaines, from the RSPCA's companion animals department, said: "Sadly, these really valuable and important statistics demonstrate what RSPCA frontline officers and animal centre staff are already seeing day-in, day-out. As the cost of living crisis deepens, more people are abandoning animals, more animals are coming into our care, and rehoming is slowing as financial pressures bite. It's particularly worrying to see 13% needing to give up a pet, including really high numbers of younger owners.”
Natalie Powdrill-Wells, Research Officer at Woodgreen Pets Charity adds: “We are now experiencing a deluge of demand on our services, with long lists of pets waiting to come into our care as owners can sadly no longer look after them. As a charity, we’re definitely feeling the impact of an increased small pet population in the UK – with a 250% increase in relinquishment requests for rabbits over the past two years. Although they’re smaller in size, it doesn’t mean they’re smaller in cost or responsibility, so we encourage careful consideration before taking on a pet of any species.”
The vast majority of pet owners will do anything for their pet. Giving up a pet – or making changes to their pet care routine is often a very last resort. However, UK Pet Food’s research does confirm that around 20% of owners have had to make cuts on pet insurance, vet visits and pet food. This rises to over one quarter among the younger demographic[v].
Natalie Powdrill-Wells adds: “There are also more people coming to Woodgreen seeking help when they aren’t able to afford urgent veterinary care. In many cases, pet owners aren’t seeking early treatment for minor conditions, and are cancelling insurance policies due to financial worries, which can sadly lead to worsening health problems and unmanageable vet bills down the line. If anyone is struggling with a pet, help is available from charities like Woodgreen – it's often much easier to treat or resolve a problem, whether it’s behavioural or medical, if it’s addressed quickly. Please don’t let it get to the point where you feel like giving up your pet is the only option.”
Dr Samantha Gaines also confirms: “Sadly, we have heard of people going without food themselves to feed their pets but we want people to know that there is help available, from pet food banks, vouchers to help with vital vet care and cost cutting tips.”
"In this tough financial climate, the RSPCA is doing everything we can to keep pets in loving homes. We’ve committed £1.5million of extra funding to crisis measures; launched a new Cost of Living Hub and a dedicated telephone helpline, while our pet food partnerships continue to go from strength to strength.
"What these statistics also show is that pets continue to be really important to people in the UK, with pet ownership on the rise, and that the companionship these animals offer is so invaluable. We're proud to work with so many of these owners every year, sharing our pet care advice and welfare tips, and building a world that's an even kinder and more compassionate place for animals."
The huge benefits of pet ownership in times of crisis
In times of crisis, the companionship of a pet can be even more important and valuable. From a mental wellness perspective, it has been shown that companion animals support owners who are feeling stressed or depressed. Over 50% of owners feel that pets support their mental wellbeing and this rises to over 60% among older people with a wide range of additional benefits such as fewer visits to the doctor[vi].
Working together to support owners
Nicole adds: “There is a need to raise awareness amongst potential owners on the financial responsibilities of pet ownership – whilst supporting all the amazing owners who are struggling. In times of crisis, many pet owners do not have a choice. This year, UK Pet Food wanted to support our colleagues in the welfare sector by analysing relinquishment and we are working closely with the CFSG (Canine & Feline Sector Group) to identify what the pet care sector can do to help. Plus we have a guide for pet owners looking for pet food on a budget (insert link to factsheet when finalized).”
UK Pet Food is also working with Fareshare – the charitable food redistribution network – and a coalition of animal welfare organisations to coordinate donations of pet food from our members. This is part of our work to ensure that the pet food industry provides more immediate support to the most vulnerable owners and keep pets and their families together during these challenging times.
For more information or case studies please contact: [email protected] 07776 184083 or [email protected] 07718 518579
Notes to Editors
Woodgreen is a charity that helps pets and their people every step of the way. We are committed to making sure that pets have the best lives possible, delivering effective solutions tailored to the needs of each individual.
We will always be a safe haven for vulnerable pets in need of urgent care and a loving new home. But, just as importantly, we offer expert advice and hands-on support to both first-time owners in need of a guiding hand, and experienced owners facing new or unexpected challenges.
With almost 100 years’ experience in rehabilitating pets with medical and behavioural needs, and understanding what makes the relationship between pets and people so special, Woodgreen is here to help pets enjoy fulfilling, joyful lives with their humans.
For more information, interviews or images, please contact: [email protected] / 0300 303 9333 ext. 1237
For more RSPCA information: [email protected] / 0300 123 0244 or 0300 123 0288
[i] UK Pet Food commissions two sets of research. The first is an online survey via Kantar / Soulor Consulting with 8,901 respondents, providing detail on the pet population, completed in January 2023. Qualitative data also completed in January 2023 with a sample size of 2,559.
[ii] Kantar / Soulor Consulting online survey with 8,901 respondents, providing detail on the pet population, completed in January 2023.
[iii] Kantar / Soulor Consulting research completed in January 2023 with a sample size of 2,559. The number last year was 3.4m or 12% of HHs relinquished, in 2023 the figures are 13% and 3.7m
[iv] Kantar / Soulor Consulting research completed in January 2023 with a sample size of 2,559
[v] 28% of 25-34 year olds have cut spending on pet food, 29% of 16-34 year olds have cut spending on visits to the vets (both 16-24 and 25-34 are the same number) and 28% of 16-24 year olds have cut spending on pet insurance.