How Dogs & Cats Survive In Austerity Britain:

You’re probably not aware of this – but it’s “National Pet Month” (April 1st – May 6th) in the UK. Although this “celebration of life with companion animals” has received scant attention from the national media, the organisers themselves clearly take the event extremely seriously. In order to “promote responsible pet ownership” and “make people aware of the mutual benefits of living with pets”, they have organised “fun activities” such as “special veterinary open days, sponsored dog walks, pet fashion parades and special church services for animals and their owners”. A survey carried out in 2012 by the PFMA (Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association) “proves beyond doubt (declares the NPM website) how much we British love our pets”. The PFMA’s statistics indicate that almost 50% (13 million) UK homes have at least one pet, 23% of them have at least one dog and 19% of them at least one cat.

Labradors (14%) are the most popular of the estimated 8 million dogs in the country, followed by Jack Russells (10%) and Staffordshire Bull Terriers (8%). Ownership of German Shepherds, Greyhounds and Rottweilers is at 3% each. Britain’s cat population is also calculated to be around 8 million, with the favourite breeds being Persian (17%) and the “British Short Hair” – among whom feature the country’s ubiquitous “tabbies”, described on the The “Polesden Breeders” website as having “chubby cheeks, a short broad nose, pronounced whisker pads and rounded ears”. Siamese & Burmese cat ownership is at 8% and Bengalese 7%.

These 16 million cats & dogs, however, represent just a fraction of the UK’s combined total of 67 million pets. According to the PFMA, 20-25 million fish are kept indoors in tanks and a similar number outdoors in ponds. Other species treated as pets are: Rabbits (one million), caged birds (one million), guinea pigs (one million), hamsters (over half a million), lizards (300,000), frogs & toads (200,000), newts & salamanders (100,000), tortoises & turtles (200,000), gerbils (100,000), horses & ponies (100,000) and pigeons (100,000). There are evidently also quite a few people who are happy to share their domiciles with snakes (200,00), rats (200,000) and even insects & mice (“less than 100,000 each”), though exactly why they do so does not form part of the PFMA analysis.

What the PFMA does point out, however, is that – although, due to the economic recession, many pet owners have been reducing their personal expenditure not only on “luxuries” such as eating out (minus 36%), new clothes (-25%), holidays (-24%), entertainments (-20%) but also on “essentials” such food (-16%), petrol (-15%) and heating their houses (-12%)  –  “only 6% have cut back on extra delicacies for their pets, 4% on their pet’s food and 3% on their pet’s health and veterinary visits.”

Online & print media journalists – despite mostly ignoring “National Pet Month” – have occasionally attempted to assess the cost of having a pet. Lee Boyce on “This Is Money” has conjectured that “the average annual outlay for owning a dog is £1,183 and for a cat £1.028: This consists of pet food (£399 for a dog, £418 for a cat), toys & presents (£121 dogs / £96 cats), pet sitters (£126 dogs / £131 cats), grooming (£244 dogs / £167 cats); veterinary fees & medical treatment (£177 dogs; £133 cats;  kennels / catteries (£116 dogs / £83 cats).These figures are likely to “ increase with inflation and don’t take into consideration either the initial purchase price for the animal or the fact that (as reported by Sainsbury’s Pet Insurance) veterinary fees are escalating dramatically by 15% per annum”.

The “Whippet” (so the Mail Online columnist, Marianne Powers has asserted) is apparently the most expensive dog to maintain. Its lifespan can be more than 14 years – therefore, if the annual bill for its care is (as she claims) £4,631.90, the potential total will be £66,236.00. At Number 2 is the “Basset Hound” (£4,380.01 pa for up to 12 years = £56,064.12); No 4: The “Chihuahua” (£2,370.70 pa, 13 years= £30,819.88); No. 6: The Dachshund (£2,324 pa, 12 years = £28,357.56); No. 7: The Poodle (£2,268, 11 years = £24,952.62); No. 9: Doberman Pinscher (£2,245.88, 9 years = £22,009.62). Pet food manufacturers (as the “Pet Food Review” has commented) have taken note of current concerns about pet obesity, health & hygiene and consequently launched products “aimed at boosting pet paws, claws, eyes, coats, skin, teeth and even brain power”. This also explains “why some pet food brands are so expensive” – often rather more (especially in local “convenience stores”) than the “one 80p tin of dog food daily and one 60p tin of cat food daily” specified by “The Independent” newspaper. Moreover, cats (unlike most dogs) can be quite fussy and may refuse to eat whatever is put into their dish (even if they happily consumed the same flavour the previous evening) – which means that alternatives have to be bought and made available.

Meanwhile: A University of Bristol study (quoted in the “Daily Telegraph”) has inferred that “people with cats are more likely to have university degrees than those with dogs”. Dr. Jane Murray, the University’s “Cat Protection Lecturer in Feline Epidemiology”, has also suggested that “Cats require less time per day than a dog, so are more popular with people who work late and have long commutes”.

Following the bite by Liverpool’s Luis Suarez on the arm of Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic during their teams’ football match on 21st April, “The Guardian” published the most recent data regarding dog bites on humans: 6,447 people were admitted to hospital for this reason in 2011/12 – a 5.2% rise on the previous twelve months and 551% more than in 1989/90. The UK Parliament’s Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee has warned that “current dangerous dog laws have comprehensively failed to tackle irresponsible dog ownership” and that the latest government proposals to remedy a situation of great concern to the public are “woefully inadequate”.



Filed under: Society | Posted on May 1st, 2013 by Colin D Gordon

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