Over the last 12 years, the annual PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report has surveyed a nationally representative sample of the UK’s dog, cat and rabbit owners to find out how they are providing for their pet’s welfare needs and reliably estimate pet populations. Robust methodology, consistently applied, enables accurate comparison of data and identification of trends.
With data from February 2020, just before the UK entered the first of the COVID-19 lockdowns, and with further data collection through the pandemic, we have been able to provide an unrivalled source of information about the changes in the welfare of our pets. In 2022, we continue to track the effects of the last 2 years, and assess the impact of developing issues such as the growing cost of living crisis.
While pet populations have not risen dramatically as predicted by some, we have found an increase in both the estimated dog population and the proportion of adults owning dogs. Additionally, we are seeing a continued high level of pet acquisition by new owners, i.e. those who have not owned that species of pet before as an adult. This expansion of the pet owning population should be cautiously welcomed as pet ownership can lead to increasing awareness of and public concern for animal welfare and so help to protect their wellbeing. However, it is imperative that inexperienced owners are supported to ensure they understand how to provide for the needs of their pets.
There are some worrying trends emerging from the data, including the increased number of pets acquired from abroad. These pets may undergo great stress during transport, sometimes in the important formative weeks of their early life. While many integrate into families with no concerns, our data found that a significant number suffer with behavioural issues. In these situations, post adoption support is invaluable, which may not be readily available if those pets have come from overseas. Additionally, the number of people specifically seeking their pets from abroad in order to obtain animals that have undergone cosmetic mutilation surgeries such as ear cropping is extremely concerning. We’ve also seen that many dogs acquired during the pandemic years seem to be struggling with separation related behaviours, and will need support as owners continue to spend more time away from their home.
On a more positive note, while preventive healthcare provision has not fully returned to pre-pandemic levels across all healthcare options, uptake is largely unchanged from 2021. We’ve also found that the proportion of rabbits living alone (46%) is now no different compared to immediately prior to the pandemic (42% in February 2020) which is reassuring given that the 2021 figure (48%) was higher, although improvements are still needed.
The PAW Report continues to be the benchmark for gaining insight into how UK owners provide for the needs of their pets and comply with the Animal Welfare Act, shining a light on the state of the health and welfare of the nation’s pets, and enabling informed, targeted interventions to the areas most in need of improvement.
Read the full report here