Rise of lockdown ‘starter pets’ could lead to increase in neglect

The RSPCA is warning that a rise in the interest of ‘starter pets’ during lockdown could lead to an increase in neglect due to their complex needs.

Figures for people searching on Google for small pets to buy during lockdown soared compared to the year before, with:

  • ‘rabbits for sale’ searches more than tripling from 18,000 in July 2019 to 65,000 in July 2020;
  • ‘hamsters for sale’ searches tripled from 10,000 in July 2019 to 30,000 in July 2020; and
  • ‘guinea pigs for sale’ searches doubled from 19,000 to 40,000.

RSPCA’s rescue teams also took nearly 240 rabbits into our care during lockdown (March 23 to August 31) due to cruelty, neglect and abandonment.

Dr Jane Tyson, from RSPCA’s Companion Animals Department, said that in 2019, the charity dealt with 9,277 incidents involving small furries – around 25 a day.

Dr Tyson said: “Small furries can be fantastic pets to have, however they have a reputation as a good ‘starter pet’ for children as there’s a misconception that they’re easy to look after, but they actually have quite complex needs.

“For example, rabbits need to live in pairs as they’re sociable animals – and need a much bigger space to explore and exercise in than just a hutch. During lockdown there seems to have been an increase in interest for starter pets, which may be because parents were at home with their children and so thought it was a good time to bring a new pet into the family.

“While we believe many people buy a rabbit, guinea pig, hamster or other small furry with good intentions, and many will also do their research, there’s a risk that not enough research is being done and we’re concerned that this could lead to an increase in neglect of small furries in the months to come.”

Dr Tyson added: “Adopting small furries from the RSPCA, either from our national centres or any of our branches around the country, will mean you will have all the information and advice you need to ensure your new pets are happy and healthy.”

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