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Blue Cross calls on government not to ignore warnings of a possible pet crisis

The long-term impact of COVID-19 on animal welfare will not be seen immediately

24 July 2020, at 12:00pm

National pet charity, Blue Cross, has released a report to MPs demonstrating that the UK could face crisis in areas of pet welfare if warning signs are not addressed early.

These include:

  • Financial pressures on pet owners leading to a spike in abandonment.
  • Delayed veterinary treatments, such as vaccinations, leading to outbreaks of disease.
  • Irresponsible breeding, online sales and transfers of pets from within the UK, and illegally imported puppies.
  • Closure of centres and sanctuaries as the loss of revenue takes effect means no support for pets in need.

At a time when less rehoming can take place, and while demand is so high, many animals are being bought online without owners necessarily considering long term costs or commitments. Despite lockdown, there remains a high number of puppies available to buy online with over 400 adverts placed daily. The market for puppies remains strong: the prices of popular breeds like French bulldogs have risen over 40 percent, from an average of £1,750 in 2018, compared to staggering prices today of an average of £2,500.

Head of Public Affairs, Becky Thwaites, said: “Lockdown has been a time where many responsible breeders have not been producing and selling litters, due to the inability to breed safely and within government guidelines. This has provided a real opportunity for irresponsible breeders and sellers to take advantage, listing pets for sale and delivering them to homes or pick up points where buyers have not been able to see the mum or assess the health of their new puppy. We need the Government to determine the impact COVID-19 has had on puppy farming, smuggling and unlawful selling of puppies and kittens.”

Blue Cross is additionally concerned that a number of animal rescues could be forced to close, therefore placing further pressure on the remaining rescues to step in and care for those animals, each of whom will be trying to manage in a tighter financial position than before.

In a survey of rescue and rehoming organisations carried out by the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes, 52 percent of members said they had three months of income and reserves remaining, whilst 32 percent had less than three months. Blue Cross urges the government to bring in the long-promised legislation to regulate animal sanctuaries and to target investment in the sector to allow crucial support to be provided.

Demand for the sector’s services is expected to as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and given the economic pressures facing the country, are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. The demand will be directly related to the worsening economic situation with higher levels of abandonment of animals and an increasing need for low-cost veterinary services. There are historical precedents for this: following the 2008 banking crisis Blue Cross saw a 27 percent rise in abandoned or stray cats and a Blue Cross YouGov poll showed that among pet owners, receiving universal credit, 13 percent said they, or someone in their household, started to claim this since the COVID-19 crisis began.

Blue Cross provides low cost and free veterinary treatment for those on means tested benefits across its four hospitals and has remained open within government guidelines throughout the lockdown period for emergency treatments and remote consultations.

Head of Veterinary Services, Alison Thomas, said: “COVID-19 has created many problems for animal welfare, but we will not be able to see the long-term impact immediately. There are significant concerns about the number of vaccinations and neutering procedures that were delayed during lockdown. As the number of unvaccinated animals in the population rise, we may see outbreaks of fatal diseases such as parvovirus. A spike in unwanted pregnancies is also a very real threat for animal charities who already have stretched resources.”

Blue Cross recommends that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs work in partnership with the devolved administrations to undertake a thorough and wide-ranging assessment of the impact of the outbreak on animal welfare across the United Kingdom.

Another issue covered in the report is the need for many owners to receive behavioural help for pets in the home; the Blue Cross behaviour help line has received over 200 calls from concerned owners seeking advice. A Blue Cross YouGov poll has also revealed that 56 percent of dog owners reported an increase in separation anxiety within lockdown.

The full report and range of recommendations can be read online.