Today, the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) releases its annual petpopulation data[i], confirming that 3.2 million households in the UK haveacquired a pet since the start of the pandemic[ii]. Largely driven by Gen Zand Millennials, two thirds (59%) of new owners are aged 16-34 and 56% of newpet owners have children at home. Although 74% claim their pet has helpedtheir mental health through the pandemic, the study raises pet welfareconcerns.
There are now 34 million pets in the UK including 12 million cats and 12million dogs, 3.2 million small mammals such as guinea pigs and hamsters, 3million birds and 1.5 million reptiles. There are also 5 million aquaria. Thisequates to 17 million households responsible for a pet’s welfare. Notably,over a third (38%) of new owners claimed that having a new pet was like havinga new baby and almost a fifth (17%) of families with children admitted thattraining was more challenging than expected. Sadly, 5% have already had togive up a pet and this figure increased to 11% among families.
Nicole Paley, PFMA deputy CEO, comments: “Our research confirms the beliefthat many more people are benefitting from pet ownership and we are reassuredby the mental health findings. However, it is clear that we need to considerthe welfare of these new pets. As our survey highlights, introducing a pet toa household in Covid times can have repercussions or create some unexpecteddifficulties.”
“We also looked in more detail at the future concerns of new pet owners.Perhaps worryingly, although just 15% have a pet-friendly office environment,only 10% were concerned about returning to work and spending less time withtheir pet. This figure rises among younger generations with 15% of 16-34 yearolds concerned about spending less time with their pet in the future. We mustwork together with the pet care sector to ensure the 3.2 million householdswith new pets get the support they need. This is in terms of access toeducational material, training and adequate flexible working from home or petsin the office policies.”
RSPCA pet welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said: “As these figuresdemonstrate, a huge number of people have added a new pet to their familyduring lockdown while other pet owners have made the most of spending moretime at home during the pandemic to enjoy the company of their pets.
“Many of our pets are now used to having us around all the time while othershave never known any different so we have real concerns that life post-lockdown, both in terms of a new routine and spending time alone, could bereally difficult for them to adjust to which is why it’s so important thatowners start to prepare them now. In the absence of this preparation, petscould be facing their own crisis.”
Twovery different households in South London have compared pandemic puppy stories– having initially met walking their very similar dogs in a South London park.
The Flints (Steve and Fritha late 40s with children Charlie 11, Jack 13 andPoppy 14) explain: “During the first lockdown, we realised we had time tointroduce a dog to our family – something we had wanted for years. We startedour research by looking after friends’ dogs to check the animals didn’ttrigger any allergies and finally, this January, we added Minnie (a SchnoodleSchnauzer / Poodle mix) to our family. Minnie has been such a positivedistraction during lockdown and it has certainly benefitted our children’smental health. Whenever they have felt lonely or miserable, cuddling Minniehas put a smile on their faces.
Training has been the only challenge because puppy classes have not beenpermitted – and there are five of us to pamper her and give slightly differentinstructions! Minnie is now four months old and we are in the middle of anexcellent online zoom course with Battersea so hopefully that will help ironout our concerns. Returning to work will fortunately be OK as one of us willalways work from home.”
Marie Da Silva is 30 and single. She found her puppy Stevie – also a Schnoodle– at the end of December. Marie explains: “I have always wanted a dog andchose a doodle mix for temperament and being hypoallergenic. I also needed asmall puppy as I live in a flat with a small outside space. Stevie is anabsolute ray of sunshine. Every morning she is so excited to see me and go onher walk. She is always making us laugh and has such a kooky personality – shejust makes a bad day not so bad and a good day even better!
There is no way I could have adjusted to life with a puppy had there not beena pandemic. Luckily, I work in a dog friendly office and the two months oflockdown have really helped me train her. However, you shouldn’t underestimate how demanding and time consuming they can be! She’s definitelyadventurous but nothing that some training sessions can’t fix.”
Battersea’s Canine Behaviourist and Training Manager Janine Pemberthycomments: “As many of us eagerly prepare to start spending more time outsideour home again, whether it be to go into the office, visit friends or head tothe pub, it is vital that we ensure our pets are also prepared for this biglifestyle change. There’s a whole generation of new dogs that don’t yetunderstand that lockdown life isn’t the norm, and as a result we believe theremay be some key areas that owners will need to work on with their dog, such asseparation anxiety and meeting new people and other dogs, before we all returnto ‘normal’ life. To help with this preparation, Battersea is hosting a seriesof virtual training classes focusing on specific areas of training for puppiesand young adult dogs, and we encourage all members of the family to take part.Rescues like Battersea are here to help owners long before they need to makethe difficult decision to give up their pet and we’d urge anyone struggling tocare for their dog to get in touch.”
Dr Gaines adds: “Throughout the pandemic, members of the Canine and FelineSector Group worked together to produce a variety of resources for pet owners.The RSPCA, Battersea, PFMA and other welfare organisations hope to continuethis collaborative work so that owners have access to advice from the UK’sbest loved charities and experts helping them prepare their pets and to avoidany unnecessary anxiety once our lives start to return to normal.”
Nicole concludes: “It’s never too late to ask for help with your new pet andwith the right support in place, families can continue to enjoy the company oftheir pets and the benefits of the incredible bond we have with our animals,for years to come. We work closely with those in the pet industry to ensurethat new pet owners can access good information to help them become and remainresponsible pet owners. For top tips, owners should visithttps://www.pfma.org.uk/pet-care and for more pet data pleasevisithttps://www.pfma.org.uk/statistics.”
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