Over three million UK households have bought a pet during the pandemic, a new report has revealed.
According to annual population data released by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA), 59 per cent of new pet owners during this period are aged 16-34, and 56 per cent have children in their household.
Almost three quarters of people said their pet has helped their mental health during the pandemic but but 17 per cent of families with children said that training their new pet was harder than expected, and 38 per cent of new owners said it was like having a new baby.
Five per cent of new owners had already given up their pet, a figure which rose to 11 per cent among families.
The figures are based on a survey of a representative sample of over 5,000 UK adults.
The report raised animal safety concerns and Dr Samantha Gaines, a pet welfare expert for the RSPCA, said the organisation had "real concerns" about animals having to adjust to a new routine and the reality of seeing their owners less post-lockdown.
She said: "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."
The UK’s total pet population now stands at 34 million, including 12 million cats, 12 million dogs, five million aquaria, 3.2 million small mammals, three million birds and 1.5 million reptiles. This means 17 million households have at least one pet.
Just 15 per cent of respondents said their office was pet-friendly but only one in 10 owners were worried about going back to work and spending less time with their pet.
PFMA’s deputy CEO Nicole Paley said the body was "reassured" by the survey’s mental health findings for owners but warned that people "need to consider the welfare of these new pets".
She said: "As our survey highlights, introducing a pet to a household in Covid times can have repercussions or create some unexpected difficulties.”
Battersea’s canine behaviourist and training manager Janine Pemberthy warned that "a whole generation of dogs" believe that lockdown life is the norm.
As a result, she said owners will have to help their dogs acclimatise to meeting new people and other dogs, as well as deal with separation anxiety.
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