UK pet numbers have grown once again and now stand at a record high of 35 million, according to the 2022 population survey from the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA).
The survey reveals that UK households now include 13m dogs, 12m cats, 1.6m indoor birds, 1.4m domestic fowl, one million rabbits, 900,000 Guinea pigs, 700,000 pigeons, 600,000 hamsters, 600,000 tortoises and 600,000 horses among the total population of 35m. The study also estimates that 17.4m UK households – 62% of the total – now own a pet.
However, the survey also highlights growing concerns about the number of pets being given up as lockdown restrictions ease. It shows that, while 4.7m people have acquired a pet since start of the pandemic, 3.4m have given up a pet over the last year.
More than half (57%) of new pets have been welcomed into homes with children (2.7m households), while Generation Z and Millennial age groups represent 53% of those owning new pets (2.6m households). However, almost a quarter (23%) of under-34-year-olds have been unable to keep their pet and 71% of all relinquishments can be attributed to this demographic.
The main reason 16–24 year-olds gave up a pet was a change in living arrangements, with 34% citing this factor and 23% claiming financial obstacles. For those slightly older aged 25-34, both working and living arrangements were an issue affecting 41% and 39% of people respectively. The research also revealed that 40% of owners do not have pet-friendly offices. Dogs and cats were the most relinquished pets, but rehoming centres are also seeing more small mammals such as rabbits.
Nicole Paley, PFMA’s deputy chief executive, said: “Reflecting the recent ONS report with its new shopping basket containing a pet collar, we are not surprised to see these strong figures. However, on closer inspection, we are concerned about the number of owners who have given up their pet.
“We are keen to investigate why owners are giving up their pets and where they are being relinquished. We believe that many pets are being sold on to recuperate funds, in addition to being taken to rehoming centres. We are working closely with the CFSG (Canine & Feline Sector Group) plus other animal welfare charities to identify what the pet care sector can do to support owners and prevent this from happening.”
Ms Paley said there is a need to boost the provision of pet-friendly policies at work and in rental accommodation.
She said: “There are some excellent campaigns focused on this. We also need to ensure that potential pet owners are aware of the full implications of pet ownership and the significant responsibility that comes with a new family member.
“Pets are wonderful additions to the family, but it is a huge responsibility and people need to do their research. As we have highlighted in our research findings, the burden is too great for some people. To address this, the pet industry is working together to educate as many new owners and potential new owners as possible.”