PAW Report a decade on – the UK’s largest pet wellbeing survey marks milestone year

28 November 2020

PDSA warns of worrying rise in obesity and deepening behavioural problems in the face of Covid-19.

The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report* – the largest and most comprehensive report into the wellbeing of the UK’s pet dogs, cats and rabbits – has reached a milestone year, marking a decade of monitoring and analysing crucial trends in pet welfare.

Exclusive findings from the Report, which also offers unique early indictors into the impact the Coronavirus crisis is having on UK pets, reveal that owners are sadly still failing to meet some of their pet’s basic needs, leaving millions of companion animals stressed, overweight and misunderstood. In light of our warning, we are holding a free webinar in partnership with The Webinar Vet on 3 December at 12pm, to discuss significant trends and what they mean for the veterinary profession, featuring leading speakers from across the sector.

The PAW Report has monitored pet welfare issues across the UK over the last 10 years, surveying over 83,000 respondents in that time. Produced in conjunction with YouGov, the Report provides robust insight into the lives of pet dogs, cats and rabbits. Capturing the views of both pet owners and the veterinary professions, the landmark report – with survey results from before and after the Covid-19 lockdown in March – lifts the lid on some of the most concerning health and welfare issues facing the UK pet population.

Troublingly, the latest findings show a growing concern for the development of behavioural issues in dogs and cats as a direct result of the pandemic restrictions. One-in-five owners (1.9 million dogs) stated their dog has displayed a new behaviour during lockdown with 5% saying their dog had started showing signs of distress when left alone, raising concerns over the long-term impact of the crisis on separation-related behaviours.

The Report also revealed that nearly a quarter of cat owners (2.3 million cats) noticed new behaviours in their cat since the start of lockdown, with 15% saying their cat was spending more time outdoors and 6% saying their cat was vocalising more (equating to 590,000 cats). The Report also found that 20% of cats live with another cat they don’t get on with. This furthers concerns expressed by veterinary professionals for the welfare impact caused by multi-cat household stress.

Furthermore, the Report shows an association between lockdown and deepening rates of pet obesity, which, when set against a backdrop of an existing pet obesity epidemic, raises long-term concerns and implications for pets and the veterinary professions, warns the charity.

8% of owners stated their dog gained weight during lockdown - potentially affecting 790,000 dogs - while 6% of cat owners said their pet gained weight, with 17% overall admitting to giving their feline friends more treats. This worrying trend can also be seen in rabbit owners, with 14% confessing to feeding more treats in lockdown than before.


Reflecting on ten years of PAW

PDSA Director of Veterinary Services, Richard Hooker, said: “The tenth PAW Report is a milestone in PDSA’s ongoing mission to help improve pet wellbeing in the UK. Our continual assessment of the issues highlighted through PAW demonstrates our commitment to providing high-quality evidence and insight into how well the UK’s pet dogs, cats and rabbits are having their Five Welfare Needs met.

“As well as contributing to our long-term view of pet wellbeing, this unique Report has helped to provide early insight into how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting the UK pet population. The Report reflected the enormous positive impact that pets have on people’s lives, something which our vet teams see every day in our Pet Hospitals across the UK – with roughly half of owners surveyed (49%) agreeing that their pet has been “a lifeline” during these challenging times. Our pets play an invaluable role in providing companionship, alleviating stress and loneliness and helping safeguard owners’ health and wellbeing.

“However, PAW has also shown some worrying trends, especially relating to increased behavioural issues as a result of owners spending more time at home. Rising rates of obesity in dogs, cats and rabbits is also extremely concerning for the veterinary professions, when it is already estimated that up to half of UK pets** are overweight or obese.

Interestingly, the Report has not yet found a significant change in the percentage of UK adults owning a pet dog, cat or rabbit, despite media reports of impulse buying pets during lockdown. But purchasing pets from inappropriate sources is another major area of concern that the PAW Report has continued to monitor over the past ten years.

“A shocking 91% of veterinary professionals say they’ve seen an increase in imported pets over the last two years. Findings show that over a four-year period (between 2016 - 2020) there has been an eight-percentage point increase in the proportion of owners who would consider getting a pet from outside the UK, rising from 28% up to 36%. It is vital that we elevate the importance of pre-purchase research in potential owners’ minds and encourage education around safe and responsible ways to take on a new pet.”


Other findings and trends from the 2020 PAW Report include:

  • Vet professionals reported that obesity, exaggerated conformation in pedigree breeds and low awareness of ownership costs are the top three most concerning welfare issues for dogs.
  • Vet professionals reported that multi-cat households, delays in seeking veterinary care and obesity are the top three most concerning welfare issues for cats.
  • Fewer owners feel informed about how to provide for their pet’s need to express normal, natural behaviour (decreased from 94% in 2011 to 86% in 2020).
  • 3 million dogs (42%) are walked for 30 minutes a day or less
  • Dog owners weighing their dogs to help decide if they are correct weight increased from 24% in 2011 to 44% in 2020.
  • The proportion of pets who have been microchipped has increased for all species:
    • 92% of dogs are microchipped, compared to just 70% in 2011
    • 74% of cats are microchipped, compared to just 46% in 2011
    • 30% of rabbits are microchipped, compared to just 3% in 2011
  • Fewer rabbits are fed muesli as one of their main food types from 49% in 2011 down to 18% in 2020.
  • 26% of rabbits still live in inadequate housing, but on average are spending less time in their hutch in a 24-hour period going from 13 hours in 2017 compared to 11 hours in 2020.
  • Sadly 42% of rabbits still live alone, but has decreased by 67% in 2011.

Richard concluded: “While we can be encouraged by the areas of pet wellbeing that have improved, there is still much work to be done to ensure our pets receive the care they deserve to live healthy, happy lives. Our Report shows that the pandemic is already having an impact on the welfare of the UK’s pets. It’s been an incredibly challenging year across the profession and, like all practices, we too have had to adapt our ways of working. Sadly, for us this has meant pausing delivery of our preventative services while we provide the most urgent, life-saving treatment. During these challenging times we hope that veterinary professionals can continue to work together to drive positive change for our companion animals.”

We have partnered with The Webinar Vet to launch the tenth PAW Report online with a FREE Lunch and Learn webinar at 12pm on Thursday 3 December featuring keynote speakers from across the profession to discuss the key findings and trends in more detail, their impact on the veterinary profession and a Q&A panel. Sign up for the webinar here.

Join our launch webinar

We have partnered with The Webinar Vet to launch the tenth PAW Report online with a FREE Lunch and Learn webinar at 12pm on Thursday 3 December featuring keynote speakers from across the veterinary profession

Sign up here

PAW Report 2020

Read the latest findings about the trends in pet welfare across the country.

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