FEWER FAMILIES are keeping domestic pets because of the pressures of modern life, according to research published this week. Many families have two full-time earners who work long hours and take frequent foreign holidays, leaving less time to exercise and care for animals.
Children, often preoccupied with electronic games, computers, mobile phones and television, are also less interested in pets, while working single people cannot devote time to animals because of day-to-day commitments.
Mintel, the consumer analyst, which conducted the survey, found that fewer than half of households (48 per cent) now have a pet compared with 55 per cent of households who had pets six years ago.
According to Mintel, there are two major influences are shaping the pet food and pet care market and apparently pulling it in opposite directions. Changes in consumer lifestyles, such as increasing numbers of working women and dual-income households, are making traditional pet owning more difficult as less time is spent in the home.
As the population continues to age and people seek more low maintenance pets, the number of dogs kept in the UK continues to drop, (by 16% in the last decade). Large dogs in particular are losing popularity while the cat and other small animals are growing in numbers.
Meanwhile our growing tendency to humanise pets and treat them as another child or member of the family is having a major impact on what and how much consumers are prepared to spend on their pets.
Responding to the report, the Pet Care Trust said that Britain may have fewer pets, but we are taking better care of them than ever before ownership.
The report, to which the PCT was a major contributor, found that pet ownership is falling, with 48% of households now owning a bird, fish or other animal, compared to 55% in 1999.
However, the research also found that the amount pet owners are willing to spend on their pets is at a new high.
Janet Nunn, CEO of the Pet Care Trust said: "The fact that fewer households now own pets is obviously disappointing. As the report sets out, this is largely due to changes in lifestyle and demographics. While dog ownership has fallen, the ownership of cats, which are better suited to those with time and space restrictions, has remained steady.
"What is particularly encouraging is that we as a nation are spending more than ever before on our pets, particularly in the pet care sector. The report found an increase in the pet food market, an increase in sales of pet accessories and a large increase in pet insurance coverage.
"These changes can only benefit animal welfare and animal enrichment, and ensure Britain's pets live healthier and more fulfilling lives than ever before."
Katy Child, of Mintel, said: "Many children nowadays have less freedom to go out on their own, making walking the dog an impossibility. More fundamentally, children are growing up in an age of gadgetry, with games consoles, computers, mobile phones, and even virtual pets, demanding their attention."
The research also found that women tend to pamper pets far more than men. Only 10 per cent of men would buy Christmas or birthday gifts for a dog or cat while 21 per cent of women would.
A spokesman for the Dogs Trust said: "The results of this survey appear to be encouraging - owners are showering their pets with affection but, more importantly, more people are getting pets for the right reasons, not as gifts."
* With thanks to Steve O’Malley, UK Pets