A sharp increase in the number of dogs imported with cropped ears and cats that have been declawed has been highlighted in the latest PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report.
The 2022 report also shows a fall in the number of animals adopted from rescue centers and a big rise during the pandemic in the amount of UK pet owners with no prior experience of owning a pet as an adult.
Published continuously since 2011, the PAW Report is the largest study of its kind and reflects responses from more than 93,000 pet owners and veterinary professionals.
Recent reports have highlighted growing problems with behavior and obesity, and while these issues remain a concern, it is the number of pets bought from overseas that has raised the most red flags in the PDSA’s latest update on the welfare of the UK’s pet dogs, cats and rabbits.
It shows that the proportion of imported dogs has risen from 4% in 2020 to 6% in 2022 (or 640,000 dogs) – and of these almost 4% (or 26,000 dogs) were imported with cropped ears.
Of the owners who imported cats from abroad, 5% (equating to 31,000 cats) did so because they wanted the animal declawed.
Social media influencers
Senior veterinary surgeon at PDSA Sean Wensley described the findings as a “wake-up call” and added that the rise in social media influencers may be “normalising” these mutilations to the pet-owning public.
He said: “One of the real benefits of the PAW Report is that it gives us that longitudinal data, and with that, the ability to scan the horizon and spot these emerging issues.
“And these are genuine emerging issues – particularly the coupling of the apparent increase of pet acquisition from abroad with the percentage of owners that want to do that to obtain animals that have had cosmetic surgeries and mutilations that are illegal in this country.
“The number of cats being acquired from abroad was particularly surprising, and the number of those who did so because they wanted those cats declawed is shocking and a real wake-up call.
“We think a lot of it may be down to social media activity and influencers normalizing animals with these mutilations, and goes to show that, while the profession has never rested on its laurels on these issues, it will always be an ongoing battle against these forces in wider society.”
No significant rise
Despite predictions to the contrary, the latest report showed no significant rise in the UK’s estimated population of dogs, cats and rabbits since the pandemic hit, but there has been an increase in the number of new owners.
A total of 24% of all owners acquired their pet in the past two years, equating to 5.4 million pets since the start of the pandemic, with more than a third of these owners (36%) having no prior experience of owning that species of a pet nor an adult.
The report also found that these first-time buyers were more likely to purchase from a private seller or breeder than an experienced owner.
However, the number of owners acquiring a pet from a UK rescue center has fallen significantly, with the proportion of dogs acquired in this way falling from 18% in 2020 to 14% in 2022 and the number of cats falling from 35% in 2020 to 27% two years later.
The total number of rabbit rescues has also reduced to 14% in 2022.
Behavioral issues were also highlighted, with the report showing the proportion of dogs left alone for an hour or more during a typical day has increased from 53% in 2020 at the height of the pandemic to 63% in 2022, and that 1.5 million dogs ( 15%) are left alone for five or more hours.
Findings also showed that dogs owned for less than two years showed higher levels of separation-related behaviors affecting 360,000 dogs, (14%) compared to those owned for more than five years (9%). PAW 2022 also showed that nearly half of all rabbits (46%) still live alone, equating to nearly 460,000 rabbits.
Behavioral problems 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 behaviors towards unfamiliar dogs.
In total, 44% of cats are showing behaviors that may be indicative of stress, with 30% afraid of traveling in the car and 25% afraid of themselves.
The full report is published on July 1 and PDSA is hosting a free webinar at 7pm on July 6, titled “The PAW Report 2022 – how healthy and happy are our post-pandemic pets?” hosted by Dr Wensley and featuring Justine Shotton, Sarah Heath, Alex German, Richard Saunders and Sam Gaines.
To sign up, visit www.pdsa.org.uk/paw-webinar-2022