Cost of Living
Over the past 18 months, the UK has experienced a significant increase in the cost of living, with prices rising rapidly on a range of goods and services, from grocery shopping to fuel and mortgage rates6.
The resulting fall in disposable income for many people has led to concerns about the potential impact on pet welfare. Rehoming charities including RSPCA7, Cats Protection8 and Dogs Trust9 have reported an increase in the number of people calling their helplines and citing rising costs as a factor in the need to rehome their pets. At the same time, many organisations are reporting a drop in the number of people coming forward to rehome pets10. These concerns are reflected in our findings as 83% of owners told us they were concerned that the cost of living crisis would have a negative effect on the welfare of pets in the UK.
Unsurprisingly, given the rising price of goods and services, 86% of owners told us that the cost of owning their pet has increased, and 33% said that owning a pet was more expensive than they expected. This was higher for rabbit owners (46%) than for either dog (34%) or cat owners (29%). It is possible that people may view owning rabbits as a cheaper option to other species, especially if choosing a rabbit as a pet for their children, and therefore do not understand the true cost of rabbit ownership. Our data show that a significant proportion of all owners (60%) underestimate the minimum monthly cost of owning a pet, and this is higher for cat owners (78%) than rabbit (62%) or dog (45%) owners. It is essential that people understand the need to fully research the financial commitment of pet ownership before taking on a new pet.
22% of pet owners, equating to 5 million people, told us that the cost-of-living crisis has affected how they care for their pets, with 9% swapping to a cheaper brand of pet food and 5% heating their home less to pay for their pet’s food, vet bills etc. Worryingly, 2% (equating to 370,000 pets) have considered giving human medicine to their pet to avoid the cost of vet bills, and 28% of veterinary professionals say that owners are attempting to use human medications on pets as a result of the cost of living crisis. Many human medicines can be dangerous if administered to other species, or require significantly different doses, and should never be given without veterinary advice. In addition, 1% of owners said they were having their pet put to sleep (230,000 pets), and a further 1% said they were giving them up for rehoming (140,000 pets) as a result of the crisis.
Pets are still a priority when it comes to how owners spend their money. 34% of owners have made personal cost saving decisions so they can continue to care for their pet – a higher proportion of dog owners (35%) than cat (32%) or rabbit (29%) owners. These decisions include 18% who are making savings on their weekly food shop, 17% who are giving up personal luxuries and 16% who are reducing energy consumption. A further 11% are reducing or stopping giving to charities, and 3% (equating to 770,000 owners) are going without necessities (e.g. skipping meals).
We also found that a higher proportion of owners had not had their pet neutered because it was too expensive - in 2019, 7% of pet owners told us this, compared to 10% in 2023. The proportion of owners citing expense as the reason for not providing their pet with regular boosters has not changed between 2022 and 2023 (18% in 2023). However, the proportion of owners who say they haven't currently registered their pet with a vet because it's too expensive has increased in 2023 (17%) compared to February 2020 (11%), although this is unchanged from 2022 (16%). 39% of pet owners who haven’t insured their pet say it’s because it’s too expensive, which is unchanged from 2022. 46% of veterinary professionals say that more clients can't afford preventive healthcare such as vaccinations and 33% that owners are cancelling their pet insurance, both as a result of the cost of living crisis.
9% of owners told us that they had delayed taking their pet to the vet when they were ill because of the cost. This is an increase from 6% in 2019, 5% in 2020 and 7% in 2022. When faced with an unexpected vet bill, 30% of owners would use pet insurance as the main way to pay, 26% would go into debt*, 22% would use their savings, and 16% would use their income or current account as the main way to pay.
56% of veterinary professionals say that more of their clients are not able to afford unexpected veterinary bills because of the cost of living crisis and 52% say that more clients are delaying bringing their pet to a vet when ill.
The cost of living crisis is also impacting veterinary practices, with 25% saying that fewer clients are attending their veterinary practice as a result. There is also concern that the long-term impacts could affect veterinary services, with 34% of veterinary professionals concerned that their practice may have to reduce or limit the range of services offered, and 25% that their practice may have to limit or reduce its size or the number of vets due to the cost of living crisis. 63% stated that charity veterinary care might not be able to cope with the demand for services. Only 4% of veterinary professionals didn’t think there would be any long-term impacts of the cost of living crisis on their practice.
PDSA continues to be a lifeline for many owners struggling with the rising cost of living, providing veterinary care to those experiencing financial hardship. 93% of pet owners say that a pet’s health and wellbeing should not suffer due to owners’ financial hardship, and 88% of pet owners say that a charity providing free and reduced cost veterinary treatment to the most vulnerable in society is important in helping people and pets in times of financial hardship.
“With over a third of owners making cost saving decisions in order to be able to continue to care for their pet, and 86% saying that the cost of owning their pet has increased, this year’s PAW Report has clearly demonstrated the cost of living crisis is impacting pet owners, and potentially their pets. This highlights the need for an organisation like PDSA, who has provided a safety net for UK pet owners in times of financial hardship and crisis for over 100 years. Our free and low cost veterinary care helps keep pets and people together, and we’ll continue to do so for those that need us most."
Steven Howard MRCVS, Head of Clinical Services, PDSA
* Pet owners who said that the main way they would pay for an unexpected vet bill would be by borrowing from family / friends, using a credit card, loan or overdraft, or through a payment plan with their vet practice.
6 Harari, D., Bolton, P., Francis-Devine, B & Keep, M. (2023) Rising cost of living in the UK https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-9428/CBP-9428.pdf
8 Waiting lists for cats soar amid cost-of-living crisis
9 Cost of living crises hits dog owners across the UK | Dogs Trust
10 Costoflivingimpactsurvey-briefing-for-Members.pdf (adch.org.uk)