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Buying Pets Without Proper Thought is Adding to Pet Welfare Crisis

24 November 2015
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UK - Millions of pets are being taken on with little or no research into what they need to live healthy and happy lives. And this lack of knowledge can result in stressed, lonely, obese and aggressive pets, according to the UK’s leading vet charity.

Findings from the fifth annual PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report, the largest, most comprehensive insight into the state of our pet nation, lead PDSA to suggest that pets are still suffering in silence.

Produced by PDSA in conjunction with YouGov, the PAW Report is the biggest-ever annual survey of pet owners and veterinary professionals, uncovering the truth about pet wellbeing in the UK.

A ‘want it now’ consumer culture is evident in pet purchasing with over 4.5 million owners doing no research at all before getting a pet.

Familiarity with the Animal Welfare Act has decreased significantly over the last five years, with less than one third (31 per cent) of pet owners stating they are familiar with their responsibility as a pet owner as detailed in this legislation which outlines the basic welfare needs of our pets.

Commenting on the worrying findings, PDSA Head of Pet Health and Welfare, and vet, Nicola Martin, said: “PDSA’s research shows that as a nation, we’re still in love with the idea of pet ownership with over half of UK households owning a pet and 88 per cent of pet owners believing that owning a pet improves their lives. But impulse acquisitions and busy lifestyles mean some people are totally unprepared for the realities, and the effort, that owning a happy, healthy pet entails.

“Sadly, too many people are continuing to underestimate the financial cost and the importance of choosing the right pet for their lifestyle before taking on a new pet. Ultimately, this is contributing to the suffering of millions of pets.”

Five years on from the inaugural PAW Report, millions of dogs are still being left alone for long periods of time, with owners vastly underestimating the lifetime costs of their pets. In dogs, this can be up to fifty times more than owners expect.

Alongside this nearly a quarter (22 per cent) of pet owners would still consider getting a dog from a puppy farm; an intensive establishment where dogs are bred in high volumes for profit, with little or no consideration for the health or welfare of puppies or breeding bitches.

“This needs to change and we all need to stop and think whether we are providing everything that our pets need to live healthy and happy lives,” added Nicola Martin.

#PawsFirst campaign launched to tackle the welfare issues

To tackle these serious welfare issues, PDSA is launching #PawsFirst - a campaign which highlights the problem of rushing into getting a pet without understanding their needs.

“Our #PawsFirst initiative encourages prospective pet owners to ask themselves if they are prepared for every aspect of pet ownership, challenging a developing culture of ‘click and collect’ for buying pets,” said Nicola.

“PDSA wants to help turn public affection for pets into positive action by helping them find all the relevant information before making a decision.”

"PDSA’s new Get PetWise quiz provides practical information to help people understand if pets are suitable for them and their lifestyle. We would also encourage people to speak to their local vet practice for more advice, or to visit a reputable online resource, such as PDSA’s website, which contains extensive expert information about popular pets and what’s involved in their care.”

Findings from this year’s PAW Report, which surveyed over 33,000 pet owners and veterinary professionals, exposes the alarming reality of how millions of UK pets are living:

Dogs

  • 2.3 million dogs (25per cent of the UK dog population) are routinely left alone for five hours or more, while advice suggests that four hours should be the maximum time.
  • 28per cent of dog owners believe it’s acceptable to regularly leave a dog home alone on a typical day for SIX to TEN hours.
  • 465,000 dogs (5per cent) are never taken for a walk (on the lead for ten minutes or more)**** despite daily walks and socialisation with other dogs being essential for a dog’s physical and mental health.
  • 465,000 dogs (5per cent) show aggression towards other pets every week.

Cats

  • 2.6 million cats (24per cent of the UK cat population) live indoors all the time, which could be causing stress and contributing to feline obesity.
  • 4.8 million cats (44per cent) live in multi-cat households and of these 58per cent have to share their food and water bowls and 50per cent their litter tray, which can be source of significant stress for cats.
  • 2.8 million cats (26per cent) have never been vaccinated, leaving them susceptible to fatal diseases.

Rabbits

  • Nearly 700,000 rabbits (57per cent of the UK rabbit population) live alone, potentially causing mental suffering for the highly-social animals.
  • 29per cent of rabbit owners feed rabbit muesli, despite this leading to painful dental disease and poor nutrition.
  • 29per cent of rabbits are provided with less than the recommended amount of hay, which is an amount equivalent to their body size or more every day.

The charity says that by working together with pet owners, the veterinary profession, other animal welfare organisations and the Government, positive change can be achieved and these serious issues can be tackled.

Sean Wensley, President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), the UK’s leading representative body for vets, said: “We’re a nation of pet lovers yet the PDSA Animal Wellbeing report shines a spotlight on the reality of many pets’ lives in the UK. We agree with PDSA that this isn’t about pointing the finger of blame; vets and vet nurses are here to give information and guidance to the one in three people who are currently unaware of their legal responsibilities to ensure their pets’ health and welfare.

“Animal welfare problems – such as malnourished rabbits, dogs routinely left home alone for over twice as long as is acceptable and millions of unvaccinated cats – must be understood and addressed if we are to claim that we are treating our companion animals fairly. Improving animal welfare is a priority for BVA and we offer support to our members across the UK to help address and treat the very concerning issues revealed here."

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