The Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) has released its annual pet population data, confirming that 3.2 million households in the UK have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic.
Largely driven by Gen Z and Millennials, two thirds (59%) of new owners are aged 16-34 and 56% of new pet owners have children at home. Although 74% claim their pet has helped their mental health through the pandemic, the study has raised pet welfare concerns.
There are now 34 million pets in the UK including:
- 12m cats;
- 12m dogs;
- 3.2m small mammals (such as guinea pigs and hamsters);
- 3m birds;
- 1.5m reptiles; and
- 5m aquaria.
This equates to 17m households responsible for a pet’s welfare. Notably, over a third (38%) of new owners claimed that having a new pet was like having a new baby and almost a fifth (17%) of families with children admitted that training was more challenging than expected.
Sadly, 5% have already had to give up a pet and this figure increased to 11% among families.
Nicole Paley, PFMA’s deputy chief executive, 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-19 times can have repercussions or create some unexpected difficulties.”
Ms Paley added: “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 with their pet. This figure rises among younger generations with 15% of 16-34 year olds concerned about spending less time with their pet in the future.
“We must work together with the pet care sector to ensure the 3.2m households with new pets get the support they need. This is in terms of access to educational material, training and adequate flexible working from home or pets in the office policies.”
RSPCA pet welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said: “As these figures demonstrate, a huge number of people have added a new pet to their family during lockdown while other pet owners have made the most of spending more time 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 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.”