3.2m households gained pets during lockdown
By Bethany Winter | 12th March 2021
More than three million homes in the UK have welcomed in a pet since the start of the pandemic, according to research by Pet Food Manufacturers' Association.
The data was compiled using a cross section of pet owners; of those who have newly acquired pets, 59% are aged 16 to 34 and 56% have children at home. Although 74% claim their pet has benefitted their mental health, the study has raised pet welfare concerns.
The most popular pets are dogs and cats, with 12 million of each registered, of the 34 million pets in the UK. Followed by 3.2 million small mammals (hamsters and guinea pigs), 3 million birds, 1.5 million reptiles and 5 million aquaria. This equates to 17 million households being responsible for the welfare of a pet.
38% of new pet owners compared the responsibility to that of having a new baby and 17% admitted the training was more challenging than anticipated, particularly alongside raising their children.
Nicole Paley, PFMA deputy CEO, said: "Our research confirms the belief that many more people are benefitting from pet ownership and we are reassured by the mental health findings. However, it is clear that we need to consider the welfare of these new pets. As our survey highlights, introducing a pet to a household in Covid times can have repercussions or create some unexpected difficulties."
RSPCA pet welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said: "Many of our pets are now used to having us around all the time while others have 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 be really difficult for them to adjust to which is why it's so important that owners start to prepare them now. In the absence of this preparation, pets could be facing their own crisis."
Battersea's Canine Behaviourist and Training Manager Janine Pemberthy said: "There's a whole generation of new dogs that don't yet understand that lockdown life isn't the norm, and as a result we believe there may be some key areas that owners will need to work on with their dog, such as separation anxiety and meeting new people and other dogs, before we all return to 'normal' life.
"To help with this preparation, Battersea is hosting a series of virtual training classes focusing on specific areas of training for puppies and 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 make the difficult decision to give up their pet and we'd urge anyone struggling to care for their dog to get in touch."
Dr Gaines added: "Throughout the pandemic, members of the Canine and Feline Sector Group worked together to produce a variety of resources for pet owners. The RSPCA, Battersea, PFMA and other welfare organisations hope to continue this collaborative work so that owners have access to advice from the UK's best loved charities and experts helping them prepare their pets and to avoid any unnecessary anxiety once our lives start to return to normal."
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