Hypocritical humans: most people agree that pets should be properly looked after, yet most pets suffer because of human negligence

As my colleague Cat has written in a recent blog here, hundreds of thousands of children plead with their parents for a pet at Christmas, only to lose interest in them a few weeks later when the novelty wears off. Dogs Trust and other animal welfare groups continue to work to change this attitude of pets as “fun objects”, reminding us that they are living creatures that need a lifetime of care.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that 91% of people agree that it’s important to care for pets properly, there’s a mismatch between this aspiration and the reality. The once-yearly survey on pet welfare in the UK, by leading pet charity PDSA and YouGov shows that a high proportion of the UK’s pets are badly neglected. As a direct consequence of human action (or inaction), many pets suffer from illness, loneliness, obesity and stress (which can lead in turn to aggressive behaviour).

The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report delivers a useful annual insight into pet health and well-being. This is the third year the report has been published: it’s become a good way of benchmarking the progress (or lack of progress) in animal welfare in this country. Some of the key findings in the latest report are worth highlighting.

The overall picture

The Animal Welfare Act has been in place since 2006, placing an obligation on owners to provide adequately for their pets in five key areas: environment, behaviour, health, diet and companionship. Yet only 38% of owners are familiar with the laws that govern pet ownership – a decrease of 7% (940,000 pet owning households) since the first report in 2011.


  • Fewer dogs than ever before are getting enough exercise with 2.7 million (35%) not getting daily off-the-lead exercise – an increase of around 600,000 dogs since 2011.
  • Pet nutrition is also a problem area, with 53% of pets being given human food leftovers as treats. This combination of low levels of exercise combined with over-indulging in food has resulted in around a third of the UK’s dog population being classified as “obese” – a serious animal welfare issue.
  • People tend to blame pets for “bad behaviour”, but we humans are the ones who are responsible for the stress and boredom in our pets that lead to this. The proportion of dogs left alone for five hours or more on a regular basis has increased significantly from 18% to 25% – leaving around 1.9 million UK dogs home alone for longer than recommended. Excessive barking and destructive behaviour are the direct consequence..
  • It’s now accepted as standard good practice that young dogs should attend dog training classes, yet around 4.5 million (58%) of dogs don’t do this in the first six months of life. A lack of training and little or no socialisation can lead to inappropriate or aggressive behaviour later in life. Perhaps unsurprisingly, around two thirds (63%) of pet owners have been frightened or concerned by another dog’s behaviour.


  • We already knew that around one in four cats are overweight: now we know why. The survey shows that a tiny 5% of owners take their pet’s body shape and weight into account before deciding how much to feed.
  • Simple preventive treatments such as vaccinations and neutering can help prevent cats from developing many life-threatening conditions, yet 25% of cats never receive a vaccination and 7% are not spayed or neutered. These cats are unlikely to live as long and healthy lives as they deserve.


  • 650,000 (65%) UK rabbits live on their own: rabbits are a highly social species, enjoying the company of other rabbits, so this level of “rabbit loneliness” is shockingly high.
  • 18% of rabbits (180,000) have no opportunity for daily exercise. This figure has risen dramatically since 2011 (4%) which means 140,000 more rabbits are not getting the daily exercise they need to stay fit and healthy.

What about you? 

How do you measure up on the care of pets in your home? The PDSA charity is calling on animal lovers everywhere to take part in the PDSA Big Pet Check by visiting www.abetterlifeforpets.org.uk. Take the test, and come back here after, to let us know how you get on.



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