How is the modern lifestyle affecting the UK’s pet ownership?

For millennials opportunities to purchase a house are minimal. With stagnating wages and housing being not only smaller but harder to find, the pet population, like everything else is taking a knock on effect. The total dog population decreased by two percent since 2012 according to Euromonitor. Larger dog-ownership also declined by seven percent in the UK showing a shift towards owning cats, gerbils, hamsters, rabbits or guinea pigs. Charity Shelter, stated: “The proportion of privately rented dwellings has seen a steady increase.The Government’s own research shows that private rented households are paying an average of 40 percent of their gross incomes on their rent, which is double the average among households with mortgages. Almost 4 million working families (3.787 million) in the UK could be just one paycheque away from losing their home.”

We asked industry experts how a change in lifestyle and housing has affected pet ownership.

Euromonitor pet care analyst

“There is no single reason behind a decline in dog ownership but a combination of different factors which year-on-year are making it increasingly difficult to own a dog – especially a large one – in the UK. In addition to the fact that owning a large dog in a small flat is more difficult that it is in a big house due to the needs of the animal in terms of space and daily activity, Britain’s young adults are experiencing and are expected to continue experiencing difficulties regarding the housing market over the next decade. According to different studies, in the next 10 years, approximately only 25 percent of the population between the ages of 20 and 40 years will own or be in the process of buying a house, which has a direct link with dog ownership, making it much less likely than previous periods when British consumers found it easier to become house owners. This is likely to favour the trend that was witnessed over the review period, with cats and small mammals experiencing growth and dogs experiencing a decline in ownership.”

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Mayhew, head of animal welfare, Zoe Edwards

“Over the years Mayhew has seen the affects housing and modern lifestyles have had on pet ownership. Incredibly 12 percent of phone calls Mayhew received this year so far have been from people who have had to give up their dog or cat because of housing problems, whether it be having to move house or a landlord not allowing pets in the home.

“There are many welfare issues out there, but people who don’t want to give up their pet, yet have to because of housing reasons shouldn’t be one of them. Mayhew’s aim is to support and give advice to pet owners, preventing animals from ending up in rescue centres in the first place and ultimately keeping owners with their pets. Hence our focus on our work in the communities and the provision of preventative veterinary health and welfare from our community vet clinic.

“Our team of animal welfare officers actively work in the community preventing animal welfare problems becoming crises and work extensively with vulnerable pet owners in society, including the elderly, disabled and homeless. For many homeless people, they refuse to be parted from their dog, so we are proud to help keep them together by providing support, advice, offering veterinary care, and supplying vital items such as collars, leads, jackets, dog food and treats.

“Pet ownership is important for the emotional well being of thousands of residents that’s why Mayhew encouraged Brent Housing Partnership to update their pet policy last year, focusing on and encouraging responsible ownership rather than not allowing residents pets, by adding neutering to the policy, with the support of Mayhew’s community projects. Our community vet clinic offer low cost and in some cases free preventative veterinary services such as neutering, microchipping and vaccinations to help Brent residents. Mayhew’s animal welfare officers offer an innovative ‘pick ‘n’ snip’ service, where we pick up pets from Brent residents who are not able to visit our clinic, we then neuter, vaccinate and administer flea/worm treatments before returning them to their owners. Free bull breed neutering is also offered for eligible bull breed type dogs.

“All these initiatives have been able to prevent situations reaching crisis points and have meant that many more animals have been able to stay with their owners with support and advice and not have to be given up for rehoming.”

NAWT, CEO, Clare Williams

“The housing crisis does throw up problems for pet owners. We have had people come to us in distress because they’ve had to move into rented accommodation and the landlord refuses to take pets. We are glad they have approached National Animal Welfare Trust as they are doing the best thing possible for their pet in wanting to find him or her a new home and we’ll do our utmost to help. Other issues we see are increases in certain pedigrees coming into rescues, often because the animal has been given a high profile on TV or by a celebrity. TV hit Game of Thrones is believed to be one of the reasons why so many huskies were coming into rescue. Huskies are not family pets but working dogs more suited to experienced owners. We’ve also noticed that people are making more choices to rescue dogs from abroad. While there is nothing wrong with doing this, it does not always go well as many of these dogs are street dogs requiring special handling and so sometimes then end up in rescue in the UK. We care for any animal for as a long as it takes to find them a home and it is the same for these pets too.”

Anna Wade, public affairs assistant, Blue Cross pet charity

“The internet and social media have made it easier than ever before for people to purchase a pet, literally at the click of a button. Research into the best species and breed to fit into their lifestyle isn’t always looked at in-depth. Pets might be bought online because of how they look or whatever breed might be popular at the time, with little or no thought of the care that pet will need and what health problems they might be likely to have due to genetically inherited issues with the breed. At Blue Cross we’ve seen worrying trends in pets given up following an impulse buy or because people were influenced by breeds they’ve seen on social media and TV shows such as Game of Thrones.

“Unscrupulous breeders can remain almost anonymous behind their online adverts and puppies are sometimes handed over in public locations instead of from their home where they can be seen with their mum and littermates. Our animal hospitals have admitted very sick young pets who were bought online – their owners usually had not received any paperwork proving their vaccination and veterinary history.

“Puppies like Rocky, bought online and rushed to Blue Cross less than 24 hours after being picked up. He was suffering from the highly infectious parvovirus and had not been vaccinated. We would urge anyone looking to get a new pet to fully research their chosen animal and to ensure they rehome from a pet charity or reputable breeder.”

Katy Orton, vet nurse, PDSA

“In our modern world, we have wealth of knowledge available at our fingertips. With the proliferation of smartphones, finding the latest information has never been easier or quicker. Yet despite this, lack of pre-purchase research continues to be a significant problem which shows no signs of improving. Recent statistics from the PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report reveal that 3.8 million pet owners did no research at all before taking on their pet. Cat owners actually did the least research, with just 34 percent looking into their pet’s needs before taking them on. This compares to dog owners where 13 percent did no research and rabbit owners at eight percent.

“Taking on a pet is a huge responsibility, requiring significant time, money and dedication”, Katy adds. “But with people becoming increasingly time-short in our demanding world, giving pets the time and attention they need to be happy and healthy could be compromised.

“And further to this, many underestimate the true cost of pet ownership. For example, 69 percent of dog owners underestimated the minimum lifetime cost of owning a dog (£6,500), when in fact, a dog could cost between £21-33,000 over their lifetime.

“Before taking on a pet and all that comes with it, it’s important to think about whether you can meet a pets’ five welfare needs – for example, if you have time to walk a dog every day – and find out about related costs; including pet insurance, pet food and veterinary care, including unexpected bills if your pet becomes ill or injured.”


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