The coronavirus pandemic led to thousands of people “panic buying pets for company”, a leading animal welfare charity has warned.
Battersea, which rehomes dogs and cats across London and the Home Counties, said it had concerns about the long-term impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the animal world, after research suggested nearly one-third of new pet owners bought an animal “on impulse” in or around lockdown.
In its report – The Impact of Covid-19 on Companion Animal Welfare in the UK – Battersea chief executive Claire Horton warned: “The animal welfare implications resulting from this year of extreme challenge could be profound.”
The charity found that 31% of 2,000 dog and cat owners polled acquired a new animal during the national lockdown, despite having not considered doing so previously.
As in some areas, lockdown restrictions will be lifted and we spend more time outside of our homes, our canine friends can struggle with being separated from their favourite humans. Read our advice on helping your pet through this 👉 https://t.co/SYSJAUuGBepic.twitter.com/CHAS9JFVob
— Battersea (@Battersea_) November 28, 2020
And it also predicted that the number of unwanted dogs abandoned as strays over the next five years could increase by around 27%, based on data from previous economic recessions.
The report said: “The impulse buying of pets under lockdown conditions is likely to create long-term welfare problems for these animals.
“Concerns include behavioural issues arising from limited opportunities for socialisation during lockdown, post-lockdown regrets about buying a puppy and more unscrupulous selling of underage and poorly bred puppies leading to serious health problems in the future.
“Many in this cohort are likely to be given up or abandoned as their owners become unable to cope – particularly as a result of behavioural issues that develop after periods of lockdown.”
The report also raised concerns about the lack of income for such charities during the pandemic, and the potential it would have on animal welfare in the future.
Ms Horton said the Government “needs to recognise the potential catastrophe the UK faces if these rescues, which are here for dogs and cats with nowhere else to go, are forced to close”.
She added: “This, combined with the looming economic crisis and the fact so many puppies and kittens were bought on impulse during lockdown by people who may later struggle to care for them, could create a perfect storm.”