PAW Report reveals new pet ownership challenges emerging post-pandemic

30 June 2022

Vet charity PDSA warns of concerning changes in pet acquisition and behaviour.

The 2022 PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report has been released, analysing the impact of two turbulent years of the COVID-19 pandemic on the UK’s pets.

Highlighting the changing picture of UK pet ownership, the Report shows a worrying shift in pet acquisition behaviour, as more owners choose to acquire pets from abroad, as well as a drop in the number of animals adopted from rescue centres. A significant number of these new pets are displaying concerning signs, which include separation-related distress, fearful and anxious behaviours – as owners transition back towards pre-pandemic work and social habits.

The PAW Report is the largest and most comprehensive analysis into the welfare of the UK’s pet dogs, cats and rabbits. In view of the findings, PDSA is hosting a free webinar at 7pm on Wednesday 6 July, titled ‘The PAW Report 2022 – How healthy and happy are our post-pandemic pets?’ Hosted by PDSA Senior Vet Sean Wensley, expert speakers from the veterinary and animal welfare sector – Dr Justine Shotton, Dr Sarah Heath, Dr Alex German, Dr Richard Saunders and Dr Sam Gaines – will discuss the findings and take live questions from the audience to explore implications for pet wellbeing in the UK today. Sign up here.

Now in its twelfth year, the PAW Report, produced in conjunction with YouGov, provides an accurate and reliable barometer for how owners are providing for their pets’ welfare needs in the UK, and has reflected the views of over 93,000 pet owners and veterinary professionals since 2011.


Pet Acquisition

While the estimated population of dogs, cats and rabbits remain similar to pre-pandemic levels, 24% of all owners acquired their pet in the last two years, equating to 5.4 million pets acquired since the start of pandemic in March 2020. 2022 findings show more than a third (36%) of all owners are new**, with no prior experience of owning that species of a pet as an adult. First-time owners were more likely to purchase from a private seller or breeder than an experienced owner. However, the number of animals acquired from UK rehoming centres has dropped, with the proportion of cats acquired from this source decreasing from 35% in 2020*** to 27% in 2022.

More concerning is the increase in pets imported from abroad, some due to their owner’s preference for a pet who has undergone cosmetic surgeries that are illegal in the UK, such as ear cropping, tail docking or de-clawing. The proportion of imported dogs has risen from 4% in 2020*** to 6% (equating to 640,000 dogs) in 2022 and of these, almost 4% (equating to 26,000 dogs) were imported for their cropped ears, a demand that is likely being fuelled by celebrity and social media influencers. 5% of owners who acquired their cats from abroad (equating to 31,000 cats) did so because they wanted them to be declawed, a procedure which deprives them of the ability to demonstrate natural behaviour as well as potentially leaving them with long-term pain issues.


Pet Behaviour and Companionship

The amount of time that dogs spend with their owners appears to be returning to pre-pandemic levels, with the proportion of dogs left alone for an hour or more during a typical day increasing from 53% in 2020*** at the height of the pandemic, to 63% in 2022, and 1.5 million dogs (15%) left alone for five or more hours. Findings also showed that dogs owned for less than two years showed higher levels of separation-related behaviours^ affecting 360,000 dogs, (14%) compared to those owned for more than five years (9%) – suggesting those bought during the pandemic could be struggling to adjust to longer periods of time away from their owners, as people spend less time at home.

Owners reported feeling less lonely (84%) thanks to their pets and agreed that owning a pet improves their mental health (84%). However, while 95% felt their pet was happy, 7% stated that their pet was lonely, including a quarter (26%) of all rabbit owners.

Almost half of all rabbits (46%) sadly live alone (nearly 460,000 rabbits). Worryingly, the proportion of rabbits living alone has shown no improvement over recent years, representing a large population of pets whose basic needs for companionship are still not being met.

Behavioural problems, potentially due to a lack of socialisation opportunities when young, remain a concern, with 1.6 million dogs (16%) showing signs of fear, growling or biting, and a further 1.3 million (13%) displaying these behaviours towards unfamiliar dogs. 44% of cats are showing behaviours that may be indicative of stress. 30% of cats are afraid of travelling in the car and 25% are afraid of the vet.


Rising Costs

As the cost of living crisis starts to bite, figures show that an alarming 20% of owners did no prior research before taking on a pet, and just 18% of all owners investigated the costs associated with pet ownership.

The need to help owners fully understand and prepare for the costs surrounding pet ownership is expected to become ever more important as the financial squeeze tightens. Already, 13% of owners whose pets are unvaccinated and 8% of those who haven’t had their pets neutered cite cost as the reason. Similarly, just under a third of all dog (29%), cat (31%) and rabbit (28%) owners are worried about paying for unexpected vet bills if their pet falls ill or gets injured.


Reaction to the PDSA PAW Report 2022 Findings

PDSA Director of Veterinary Services, Richard Hooker, said: “There have been serious impacts on human wellbeing over the past two years, initially through the COVID-19 pandemic and now due to the cost of living crisis and other worldwide events. It is absolutely vital that during these challenging times, we continue to monitor and report on pet welfare, to ensure that we don’t lose any progress we have made, to identify and track emerging concerns.  Which in turn will allow us to ensure PDSA’s charitable funds are used in the most effective way possible to help people in need and target the most pressing issues facing vulnerable pets in the UK.

“The 2022 PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report provides us with a timely review of the state of the welfare of the nation’s pets. The findings provide a robust evidence-base, and impact measure, for any activities or initiatives that tackle these issues, both for PDSA and those organisations we work with, from the veterinary professions and across the animal welfare sector, to local, devolved and central Government.

“Sadly, many of the welfare concerns that have been highlighted by the PAW Report over the last 12 years remain, demonstrating a worrying lack of owners understanding of the needs of their pets. Alongside this, we are seeing emerging issues such as behavioural problems potentially related to a lack of socialisation opportunities during the pandemic.

“Pet owners need support - it is essential that we continue to work towards understanding and overcoming the barriers owners may have to understanding and providing the care that pets require, especially at a time with so many competing voices. The veterinary professions and the wider animal welfare community have a vital role to play in using both empathy and evidence-based information to guide owners to help them improve their pet’s wellbeing. PDSA will continue to play a key role in this work, through producing the PAW Report to provide essential annual surveillance, and through our vital work helping people and pets in need across the UK.”

View the full 2022 PAW Report here. Sign up to the free webinar on 6 July.

Find out about the state of pet wellbeing in the UK

The 2022 PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report has been released, analysing the impact of two turbulent years of the COVID-19 pandemic on the UK’s pets.

Read the PAW report

Sign up to the PAW Webinar

The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report webinar is back for 2022. This year, a panel of expert speakers will discuss the findings and take live questions from the audience to explore what the implications are for pet wellbeing in the UK today.

Sign up here