Throughout the Covid crisis with its various lockdowns some new trends in pet ownership have emerged nationally, a few of which are quite worrying in terms of animal welfare. As people have been (and are still) stuck at home, the demand for pets has never been higher. Pet ownership can help with mental health and help to ease boredom during a lockdown – but what about later, when life returns to normal?
Due to lockdown there are far fewer dogs or cats than usual in rescue shelters across the country, and an unprecedented number of people are now competing to adopt each one. As a result many people with lovely homes waiting for a dog or cat have been waiting for a very long time, unable to adopt. We’ve seen the price of dogs from private breeders skyrocket, and dog theft is on the rise as a result of this.
Pet shops are still selling smaller animals, and many people have seen this as an easy alternative; while it may be very difficult to get a cat or dog, you can easily walk into a shop and buy a rabbit or rodent for a few pounds. As a rescue organisation we think this could have disastrous consequences – rescues could be inundated with so many animals after lockdowns are ended. We already have many rabbits at our rescue centre which were bought during the first lockdown a year ago – we are now full to capacity with rabbits and have a long waiting list of rabbits waiting to come in.
Our message to everyone thinking that a rabbit or other small animal will make a great pet during lockdown is this: please do your research first. Rabbits live for 8-12 years. They are highly social creatures with complex care needs, and are not the easy pets for children that you might expect. They need the right diet or they suffer from many health complaints. They need lots of room to exercise and you need to have two to keep each other company. Please research rabbits’ welfare needs thoroughly before purchasing one – you can find out more about rabbit welfare on our website here and at the Rabbit Welfare Association website here.
67,000 rabbits every year go into rescue in the UK every year, because they were not what people expected when they bought them. This year and next it could be much higher.
When buying pets it’s also worth considering that those for sale in shops are often mass-bred for the pet market with no great concern for the health or genetics of the lines being bred; many suffer from chronic lifelong health conditions as a result.
Rats – the next “must-have” pets?
We saw a worrying article in a newspaper this week suggesting that rats are set to be the next “must-have” pet in the UK. Like rabbits, you can buy a rat easily in a pet shop – and also like rabbits, rats are specialist pets – far from being the easy pets you might think, they are highly social animals with complex care needs. You cannot keep one alone and they thrive better in groups. Rats need a very specific environment to meet their welfare needs and like rabbits, being stuck in a cage is not enough. Rats are prone to a very high number of serious health issues – this is usually very expensive at the vets – and you may have to travel to find a vet with any real knowledge of rats to give them the correct treatment. A huge amount of research is needed first. You can find out more about rat care at Isamu Rats here and at the Rat Guide here.
There are fewer rescue organisations who will take rodents so a situation where even more rats than usual need to be rehomed could present a big problem. We don’t have the facilities any more to take rats at Animals in Distress. In the past we have found rats dumped in our carpark and outside our shops and we’ve helped them anyway – and we really hope not to see a repeat of this.
Adopt, don’t shop
On the plus side, rabbits and rats can both make fantastic pets, if they are thoroughly researched first and the new owner is prepared to undertake the serious commitment of meeting their welfare needs – and has the time and financial resources to be able to devote to them. If you are thinking of bringing either of these species into your family as pets, please do your research and please consider adopting from a rescue rather than buying from a pet shop. We have lots of lovely bunnies at our rescue centre, all hoping to find loving new homes! Click here to view our rabbits looking for homes.
What to do if you can no longer care for your pets
If you took on pets during lockdown for all the best reasons, but are now finding you can no longer care for them – that is why rescues like Animals in Distress exist. We’re here for you, so please give us a call on 01803 812121 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org for a chat about how we can help, and how quickly we can take your animal in. We offer a free and completely non-judgmental service and will always do all we can to help you with no questions asked.
Please never release pets into the wild – they will not survive and will suffer greatly as they are not adapted to life in the wild.