The Nation’s Pets: The Silent Sufferers of the UK’s Pandemic Years


Journalism Internship student Meg Phillips investigates how our dogs are faring post-Covid:

Rescue centres are at bursting point due to the effects of the pandemic. The issue set to be exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis, with 19% of the country worried about feeding their pets according to recent figures by the RSPCA.

The UK’s pets have been a lifeline to our nation in combating the loneliness felt during lockdowns. Butnow that things have started to return to normality, these pets are being left behind, resulting in rescue centres being inundated. An immense increase in the number of people purchasing pets was observed during lockdowns. However, according to the Worcestershire based Forest Dog Rescue, “lockdown puppies” are not the primary dogs being admitted.

Prior to the pandemic, an incomprehensible quantity of dogs experienced behavioural problems that, with appropriate time committed to training, could have been helped. Lockdown therefore proved itself to be a perfect opportunity for dog owners to commit to their pets. But it has become evident that this didn’t always happen.

Irresponsible dog owners used the pandemic as an excuse not to train and socialise their dogs, resulting in innumerable dogs with unfixed behavioural problems. With lockdowns lifted and the country returned to daily routines, these dog owners have found that these behavioural problems have resurfaced, emerging more prominently than before because they’ve stayed uncorrected for so long.

As a result, these animals get cast away when the owners cannot commit themselves to their pets; “it’s just easier for them to pass the dog on when it becomes hard work and let someone else sort out the problem,” says Forest Dog Rescue. They have further informed us that 60% of the dogs in their care are experiencing behavioural problems, illustrating the extent of these dogs being the innocent sufferers of their owners’ idleness.

Additionally, the pandemic didn’t help with another reason for dogs being handed over to rescue centres. We have seen a shocking correlation between lockdown and cases of domestic violence, a relation of which by extension has affected the pets of the household where domestic violence is present. Forest Dog Rescue has seen the number of dogs being surrendered into their care due to domestic violence double this year, corresponding with the statistics of an increase in domestic violence that arose during the pandemic.

In addition, the evolving economic crisis has intensified the problems being presented to the nation’s pets. With inflation soaring and household bills rising at an extraordinary rate, pet owners are not exempt from the financial strain. For those struggling with paying everyday bills and feeding their families, being able to afford to feed their pets places an extra burden on their financial troubles, with 19% of the UK being worried about providing for their animal companions.

This added difficulty placed on dog owners could mean a further increase in animals being abandoned or handed into rescue centres. However, the shame that people can feel regarding their financial situation means that although rescue centres think the cost-of-living crisis will have an impact on the number of admissions, “it will be difficult to get definite figures as many people will be too embarrassed to admit to that reason,” says Forest Dog Rescue.

Consequently, some pet owners are resorting to self-medicating their dogs to evade being faced with vast vet bills, resulting in dogs receiving insufficient medical attention. Since 2019, there has been a 153% rise in people searching online for “can I give my dog paracetamol”. This could be because of the nation cutting down on expenses in anyways that they see possible, including on pet insurance.

However, when a pet’s illness presents itself and owners are confronted with enormous vet bills, they cannot afford it. Some pet owners have resorted to crowd funding to pay for larger medical expenses like surgeries for their pets. But for much of the UK, the financial struggle of keeping a pet is insurmountable.

With the situation of the country ever changing and presenting new challenges, the nation’s pets are greatly affected, with pressures piling up on rescue centres and many pets being left untreated. Rescue centres are advising to keep your pet insured to evade being faced with uncovered vet bills, but with inflation at its current rate, this simply is not an option for those struggling the most. The lifeline of our nation is suffering, and they are powerless to address their worsening situation.