The Pet Report 2015

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Welcome to the pet report 2015

After getting such a positive response to our first Pet Report last year, we decided to do it again – after all, our pets are central to our lives, year in, year out.

It’s well known that we're a nation of animal lovers, and it's great to see that we're passing this passion on to our children – so it seemed natural this year for us to look at our relationship with pets during childhood.

Pets can have a big impact on families' lives, and they can help children to learn a whole variety of skills. Add to those the emotional benefits, behavioural improvements and health advantages that the presence of an animal can bring, and it becomes clear that pets can have a lasting effect on our children.

At Pets at Home, we've witnessed a change in the types of pet we're keeping as families, as our lives become more hectic. It's great to see, in this detailed report, the range of animals our children now have as pets.

When choosing a family pet for the first time, there are so many questions to be considered – for example, what type of pet to purchase, where to get it from, and how having a pet will benefit the younger members of the family.

So, within this report, we've enlisted the help of our experts at Pets at Home – as well as speaking to a variety of specialists, including psychologists and leading charities –to help you. There's no doubt that pets can be good for families; read on to find out how!

Section 1. Pets and childhood: How our pets help us to learn life's lessons

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The role of pets in the modern family

Humans have kept pets for longer than you might expect – our best friend, the dog, was first domesticated 33,000 years ago. Today, almost half of all UK households (around 12 million) have pets, with a pet population of around 58 million, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association's Pet Population Report1 in 2015.

"Typically, there are five reasons why people tend to own pets," says Professor Lance Workman, a psychologist from the University of South Wales whose previous research has explored different aspects of animal behaviour. "A source of comfort comes high on the list, along with the fact that pets are aesthetically pleasing.

"They are also a valuable means of social interaction – if you have a pet, people are more likely to visit you, or to talk to you in public, and past research has revealed that more than half of the British public think that dog owners are friendlier than non-dog owners.

"The final reasons are security and as a status symbol. To my mind, the latter is not the best reason to keep a pet but people do." Certainly Pets at Home’s research discovered that keeping a pet increases your chances of happiness during childhood – particularly if you choose a dog.

Of the 2,438 respondents who had owned both a cat and a dog, 65% claimed that dogs had brought them most happiness overall, and 54% believed that dogs had brought them the most happiness as a child.

In Pets at Home’s survey2, children younger than five are being given responsibility for the day-to-day care of pets, with the average age being 7.5 – a year younger than their parents. Interestingly, responsibility for a pet is seldom taken on during the teenage years – perhaps that teenagers really do have too many other distractions!

"I firmly believe that pets provide an invaluable taster for adult life," says Professor Workman. "If you care for a pet, this helps you to develop compassion, and to realise that you have a responsibility towards others. And later on in life, we can transfer those skills to our relationships with friends and partners."

Read the full story in the report

Dr Maeve Moorcroft

Pets at Home's vet, Dr Maeve Moorcroft, on the life lessons pets can teach us in childhood

The passion for pet ownership spans every generation. Pet owners of all ages come through our doors at Pets at Home – people love to interact with pets and there is no age limit to that enjoyment.

In our survey, it was interesting to see that younger children are caring for pets on a daily basis. My sons, aged seven and ten, help me to look after our cat, dogs and chickens, and I try very hard to teach them how to look after our pets responsibly, so they are fully aware of the work and commitment involved.

Obviously, there always needs to be an adult in a supervisory role to ensure the pet's welfare is protected, but allowing children to become involved could help to teach them compassion and responsibility towards others. It could also help children to develop a balanced self-esteem, which reduces excessive self-focus.

One of the great things about a childhood pet is the strong bond that can develop. You can turn to them for comfort when you are upset or frightened, and the pet will never tease you or laugh at you or reveal your secrets – we all know how tough sibling rivalry can be! There will be no fights with your pets – just fun times and cuddles, or walks and endless ball throwing. I know my own childhood pets definitely helped to create positive childhood memories.

Finally, it's important that parents communicate to their children the five welfare needs of the family pet. These are: a safe and suitable place to live; a proper diet, including fresh water; the ability to express normal behaviour; housing with, or apart from, other animals as required; and protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease. If parents get these points across to their children, they are doing a good job.

Life's great companions

The Pets at Home's Pet Report survey3 has found that, when it comes to pet ownership, today's children are deemed more responsible than their parents were when they were children. The average age for children to provide day-to-day care of their pet is now seven and a half, compared with eight and a half a generation ago.

Sharing a home with pets from an early age taught Lynn about how to respect others, and it's something she was determined to teach her own children.

Lynn and her three children – Alfie, 15, Harvey, 13, and ten-year-old Matilda – are the owners of Stanley, an 11-month-old Boston terrier, three cats, Ted, Lulu and Denzel, five fish who are all called Bob, and Ben, the dwarf hamster.

Read the full story in the report

Trends are changing among UK pet owners, from the types of pets we choose, to the reasons we choose them

Today's pet owners are making more considered decisions when sourcing a family pet. Some 93% of the survey's adult respondents grew up with a pet. When they were children, 25% of all pets were acquired through 'someone they know'.

This has fallen to 15%, and today, 42% of all pets come from pet shops. Caged birds have declined in popularity in favour of dwarf hamsters, while keeping fish is now more popular. Dogs remain the most popular pet for children, with the UK's top breeds being Labrador, Jack Russell and Staffordshire bull terrier, although children today are less likely than their parents to be responsible for looking after a dog as their first pet.

The first pet that owners cared for when they were children vs. those their children care for4



The age of pet owners when they began daily pet care vs. the age that their children began pet care4



How long, in minutes, do pet owners’ children spend with their pet per day?5

Do children ever have more fun playing with their pets than they do with siblings or friends?5


  1. PFMA Pet Population Report 2015
  2. Survey conducted by Mustard Research on behalf of Pets at Home, June 2015 (sample: 4,321)
  3. Why the Wild Things Are: Animals in the Lives of Children by Gail F Melson, Harvard University Press, 2005.
  4. Survey conducted by Mustard Research on behalf of Pets at Home, June 2015 (Sample: 4,321)
  5. Children and pets survey conducted by One Poll on behalf of Havas, June 2015 (Sample: 2,000)

Section 2. Pets and health: how our pets help to keep us alert and active

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Owning a pet could be good for your child's health

With about 8.5 million1 dogs making up part of a family in the UK, we're certainly a nation of dog lovers. But, in addition to providing us with their love and affection, do dogs also give something back in terms of physical health benefits? And are these perks also seen in children?

Dr Carri Westgarth, Epidemiology and Population Health researcher at the University of Liverpool, certainly thinks so. "Generally, if you own a dog you are more physically active," she said. "And this goes for children as well, in terms of increased physical activity levels."

This is a trend that was also seen in a survey2 commissioned by Pets at Home – four out of five owners believe that having a dog has made at least one member of their household more fit and active in the last 12 months, with 11% of parents believing their child has lost weight as a result.

Dr Westgarth did, however, stress that, just owning a dog, it doesn’t guarantee improved health. "There is a clause in there that you have to walk your dog," she added. "It is more complex than just physical activity – it's a lot about nutrition as well, with pet ownership just one factor."

Studies3 have also found that exposure to dogs could also improve allergies and asthma, while the Pet Health Council has reported4 findings demonstrating that children who live with a cat or dog in the first years of life have a lower incidence of hay fever and asthma, and are also less likely to develop animal-related allergies.

This research matches the findings of the study commissioned by Pets at Home2, which show that more than a quarter (26.6%) of parents think that their child has grown up with fewer allergies as a result of having a pet, and 32% believe that their child's allergies have shown an improvement since owning an animal.

Whatever the case, it is clear that owning certain pets, such as cats and dogs, could have some amazing health benefits in addition to the love and company that they already provide.

Read the full story in the report

Mark Smith

Pets at Home's Mark Smith on why having a pet can be beneficial for your children

There are many perks to having pets around your children when they're growing up. Not only does it help to boost their understanding and appreciation of pets and nature but, if they take on certain responsibilities, it can also lead to health benefits, too.

Our survey2 showed that six out of ten children did exercise with their pets, be it playing with them or, if it was a dog, taking them out for a walk. This is a level of activity that wouldn't necessarily happen if the family home didn't have a pet, and you can therefore come to the conclusion that by owning a pooch you're helping your children stay fit and healthy.

But you do have to encourage your children to take an interest in the family pet for them to really see any health benefits – with studies3 showing that the more attached you are to your dog, the more likely you are to walk it and, as a result, get the exercise.

It's not just dogs that are great pets to have, though – even if they were top of our survey's wish list.

In addition, there are also studies4 that show that children who grow up around pets are less prone to allergies later in life. I myself own a whole host of animals – from a dog and two cats, to a snake – and I think it’s a great environment for my own two-year-old to be growing up in. She will hopefully get the benefits of growing up around animals, leaving her less likely to develop allergies and asthma for the rest of her life.

So there you have it. Pets are a brilliant way to get your children outside into the fresh air, and they could also boost their immune system and reduce allergies.

Pets by numbers: how pets are helping us to stay active

66% of dog and horse owners say their pet has helped them to be more active

36% of pet owners say that having a pet has helped them to lose weight

4m In the past 12 months, pet owners in the UK have collectively lost an estimated four million stones of weight thanks to the increased activity that comes with owning a pet

Of those who have lost weight in the past 12 months thanks to their pets:

Tilly keeps the whole family active

In an age where more and more children are spending their free time indoors looking at a screen of some kind, pets are an enormous incentive to get them outdoors and moving.

Erin, Ethan and Lewis Hamilton from Derby don their running shoes and explain how their dog, Tilly, has helped to keep them all healthy and happy as a family.

Ever since she was a puppy, Tilly has been very playful, which encourages all of the Hamiltons to take part in more active outdoor pursuits as a family.

Read the full story in the report


  1. PFMA pet population report 2015
  2. Survey conducted by Mustard Research on behalf of Pets at Home, June 2015 (Sample: 4,321) Westgarth et al, December 8, 2012
  3. 'Evolution of research into the mutual benefits of human-animal interaction', Sandra McCune et al, Animal Frontiers, 4 (3) 2014
  4. 'The benefits of pet ownership for children' The Pet Health Council

Section 3. Pets and behaviour: the role of pets in childhood development

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How pets can help children learn

Pets could help children improve their concentration in class and their behaviour at home, according to new research.

Pets in the home

According to a recent study commissioned by Pets At Home1, four out of five parents believe that the presence of a pet in the home has had a positive impact on their child's development. A third of parents also said that the death of a pet helped children come to terms with a family member or friend passing away, with 71% of families having experienced the death of a beloved animal.

Pets could also help children improve their social skills, according to the Pet Health Council, which reported2 that children who own pets are often less self-centred than those who don't.

Pets and learning

The presence of an animal in a room can not only help children concentrate and learn, but also help them overcome their anxiety, according to recent research3. A study found that, children were able to perform tasks faster with a dog present, without making any more mistakes. Children may also find it easier to read aloud with a dog in the room, as the animal helped them overcome their anxiety – in fact, 72% of parents said that owning a pet helps with their child's anxiety.

"Many children seem naturally comfortable in the presence of dogs," observes the CEO of charity Pets As Therapy, Cheryl Tissot. "This contact between dog and child encourages physical interaction, which helps to put the child at ease. The dog acts as a non-judgemental listener, and offers comfort to the child who may find reading difficult or stressful."

Helping children overcome challenges

Studies have shown that with the influence of a pet, children who find it difficult to interact socially with other people can make a considerable improvement. In one study4, 52% of parents with children on the autistic spectrum said that their child was more interested in attending school while there were guinea pigs in the classroom.

"Animal assisted therapy can be used to benefit a child's physical, emotional and psychosocial health, cognitive function and communication skills," says Tissot. "Interaction with our PAT dogs is proven to reduce stress and anxiety, and encourages confidence."

Read the full story in the report

Mark Smith

Pets at Home's Mark Smith on how pets can help children to learn about responsibility

Parents understand that having a pet can give children a sense of responsibility, can even give brothers and sisters a shared sense of responsibility – the statistics show that children say that they prefer their pets to their siblings, but in reality that's just sibling rivalry.

For parents, one of the most important things to do when your child asks for a pet is to involve them with the decision. Get them to do research about the pets they might like – attending one of our half term workshops could help them learn about the responsibility of caring for a pet.

Mum and dad should also drive the idea that pets must be cared for, that a dog (and of course any pet) is not just for Christmas. People often come into our stores having already done a lot of research to know how much time they will need to spend caring for each animal.

For example, even within the small furry category, a pygmy hedgehog actually needs very different care compared with a hamster or a guinea pig.

Crunch time helps Jack to progress

When Jack arrived at the Northumberland home of new foster carers Ann and Denis Dobson in September 2014, he was in a tricky situation. He had already lived with several other carers, had trouble at school, and was a very angry young man.

Early on in Jack's placement with Ann and Denis, he asked if he could have a lizard – a pet he had wanted to keep since he was a little boy.

Ann and Denis made an agreement with Jack. If he settled down at school, and if his foster placement continued to go well, then he could have a pet. Jack has since taken on full responsibility for Crunch, and his behaviour has changed dramatically – a transformation that he is happy to acknowledge himself.

Read the full story in the report

Pets by numbers: life lessons1,5

71% of parents said that their children had experienced the death of a pet.

58% believe that their child has become more responsible since having a pet.

32% of parents agreed that their child’s experience of a pet passing away had helped them come to terms with the death of a family member or friend.

66% of pet owners who have children with behavioural issues believe that their child has shown an improvement since owning a pet.


  1. Survey conducted by Mustard Research on behalf of Pets At Home, June 2015 (sample: 4,321)
  2. 'Health Benefits of Pets', Pet Health Council, 2007
  3. 'Evolution of research into the mutual benefits of human-animal interaction', Sandra McCune et al, Animal Frontiers, 4 (3) 2014
  4. 'Effects of Classroom Animal-Assisted Activities on Social Functioning in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder', Marguerite E O'Haire et al The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 20 (3), 2014
  5. Children and Pets Survey conducted by One Poll on behalf of Havas, June 2015 (sample: 2,000)

Section 4. Pets and education: how pets could help with schoolwork

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Pet contact helps students to focus

Classroom pets have been many people's introduction to the rewarding world of looking after animals, especially for children who don't have pets in the home.

From instilling a sense of responsibility and empathy, to ironing out behavioural problems1 and alleviating stress2, there is a growing body of evidence that points to the beneficial effect that snuggling up with a dog or guinea pig can have on young people. Dogs have even been shown to help children pay more attention to the teacher when present in the classroom3.

Despite all this, the majority of UK schools don't keep animals. In a recent survey4 by Pets at Home, only 22% of parents reported that their children's school had pets, with the most popular being small furries: guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits make up 60% of all school pets. But parents are broadly supportive of pets in schools – a majority of 55% would like their child's school to have pets, rising to 68% among parents aged 25-344.

Research found that 73% of parents want to see pet care included in the national curriculum. At present there's no statutory requirement for teaching pet care in England and Wales. The Kennel Club estimates that only 16% of children receive lessons in pet care at school5.

However, expert opinion on the question of pets in schools is divided – some seeing clear educational benefits, and others voicing concerns over animal welfare. The RSPCA maintains that schools can be noisy and frightening places for animals, and that it's difficult to look after any animal's needs properly in a classroom6.

Schools also need to be aware of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which places a legal obligation on anyone responsible for an animal to ensure that its needs are met, and this obligation doesn't end when the school day is over; it extends to weekends and holidays.

A careful balance has to be struck between the need to educate people about animal care, and the welfare needs of pets. Any school planning to introduce pets should think carefully not only about the potential benefits to the children, but also about whether they’ll be able to provide the best possible life for the animal. And who can argue with that?

Read the full story in the report

Shelley Robinson

Shelley Robinson explains how Pets at Home is encouraging responsible pet care

At Pets at Home, we see every day how much kids love being around animals. But the needs of pets come first for us, so it's just as important that animals love being around kids. This means that teaching people how to be responsible pet owners is a big part of what we do.

As part of our drive to get responsible pet ownership into schools, last year we teamed up with the RSPCA to create the My Pet Pals Academy. This website gives primary teachers everything they need to educate their class in looking after animals. Based around the Five Welfare Needs of Animals, the programme features five downloadable lesson plans that teachers can hand out to pupils.

To make learning fun, kids can also go head-to-head in an online classroom quiz designed to test how much they know about animal welfare.

The quiz can be used by teachers to assess how much their class has learned from the programme. And because we know not all children have pets, My Pet Pals Academy covers wildlife in the garden and wildbirds, too.

For outside of term time, Pets at Home runs regular school holiday pet workshops in our stores. Under the guidance of our fully-trained store colleagues, kids can meet their favourite pets, and learn about how to look after them. Workshops cover small furry animals, cats and dogs, reptiles and fish, and kids get a fun activity booklet and stickers to take away with them.

We're also happy to organise tours of our stores for groups. Whether it's for a school outing, the Children’s University, Brownies, Scouts, or any other youth group, we’d love to help young people learn about their favourite pets while earning their badges.

We know that school trips can be time-consuming to organise so, in some cases, we can also arrange for our store colleagues to visit schools instead. Get in touch with your local store manager to find out more.

The welfare of pets is our top priority. That’s why we think educating children about responsible pet ownership is so important. Together, we can make sure the next generation of pet owners has the knowledge to care for animals properly.

Pet friends that help with homework

It's not unusual for many children to be a little reluctant when it comes to doing their homework, so imagine Carly Wilkinson and Stuart Carey's delight when their 11-year-old daughter, Emma, began to happily get stuck in to hers with her pet dog at her side.

Stuart and Carly's observations of improved focus are backed up by the Pet Report's findings, which revealed that one in ten pet owners with kids have noticed a boost in their child's school work, which they believe is down to an animal companion. This highlights the social and behavioural benefits our companions could have on our early development.

Read the full story in the report

Pets by numbers: Pupil's pals

11% of parents surveyed think school grades have improved as a result of having a pet

26% of parents surveyed think that their child’s behaviour has improved as a result of having a pet

What pets do our schools have?4


  1. 'Effects of Animal-Assisted Activities with Guinea Pigs in the Primary School Classroom', ME O’Haire et al, Anthrozoös. 26 (3)
  2. 'Pet Ownership, but Not ACE Inhibitor Therapy, Blunts Home Blood Pressure Responses to Mental Stress’' Karen Allen et al, Hypertension 2001
  3. 'Evolution of research into the mutual benefits of human-animal interaction', Sandra McCune et al, Animal Frontiers, 4 (3) 2014
  4. Survey conducted by Mustard Research on behalf of Pets at Home, June 2015 (sample: 4,321)
  5. 'Animal welfare education in the national curriculum', The Kennel Club, 2013

Section 5. Finding a pet: how to prepare for pet ownership

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How to prepare for owning a pet

From modest beginnings in 1924, Wood Green, The Animals Charity has grown to become one of the leading animal welfare organisations in the UK, taking in animals of all shapes and sizes. As well as cats and dogs, it finds loving new homes for chickens, rabbits, mice, guinea pigs, goats, sheep, ferrets and more. Wendy Kruger, dog training and welfare consultant at Wood Green, The Animals Charity offers her advice on sourcing pets responsibly.

What is the most suitable pet for a child under 10?

Probably the best pets that engage well with children are domesticated pet rats or guinea pigs. Rats are calm, good to handle, and live in the house so are inside with you when the weather is bad, while guinea pigs are hugely entertaining and, once socialised, enjoy interacting with their owners.

Where would you recommend getting a first pet from?

I would always recommend a rescue centre that gives information about that pet – what it needs in terms of housing, attention and company, how to handle him or her, how long the pet might live, what owning this pet might cost, and health issues to look out for. I would also strongly favour an organisation that provides ongoing support and advice about how to care for your pet.

What are the main things that people should consider before sourcing a pet?

You should think about where the pet will live, and if they have enough room to live a contented life. Many species need social company of their own type, so consider this when choosing your pet. Remember that a contented animal will be a joy to care for and make a much better pet than a lonely or frustrated animal. How long has the child wanted a pet? Have they researched how to care for it and, having discovered the less desirable elements such as cleaning accommodation, are they still as enthusiastic? Do the adults want the pet? In many cases it will be the adult that does a lot of the caring. How much time does that pet type need, and how much time do you or your family have spare to give the pet? Can you afford the care and vet visits, and have you looked into pet insurance?

Do you give advice to potential pet owners on which pet to choose for their lifestyle?

Wood Green gives owners lots of advice and support during the rehoming process. Our aim is for our customers to rehome a pet that suits their lifestyle.

Read the full story in the report

Pebble's now purring after a rocky start

"I love Pebble," says 12-year-old Maïna from south London, stroking her purring black tomcat. "He makes me feel loved because he's always kissing us and licking our noses and I find it really funny."

The pair are clearly close, so it’s hard to believe that when Pebble arrived aged three months in September 2011, he was so unsettled that despite having previous experience of owning rescue cats, Marie-Alice almost returned him.

Although they’d made all the preparations – bed, food and litter tray – when Pebble came home after his first injections, he was clearly unhappy. "We tried to find the right place for Pebble to eat so he'd be less anxious and settle more," says Marie-Alice. "I think he missed his mum. He was hiding in different places and he didn’t eat for five days," she says. "I called the RSPCA and said, 'I don't know if I can have him here.'"

However, Pebble must have realised he was in the last-chance saloon. Marie-Alice and Maïna went to visit friends for the day and when they returned, they were amazed to find Pebble transformed. He was happy to be handled, and was even purring. "I couldn't believe it," says Marie-Alice. "From that day on he has just followed us everywhere. I think he knew that it was his last chance!" The three have since settled into a happy life together.

Read the full story in the report

Buying a pet: the essentials

Do Take your time to decide on which pet you would like to purchase.

Don't Purchase a pet on an impulse, or for someone else as a present.

Do Make sure you source your pet from a responsible breeder or licensed pet shop – animal charities and organisations such as the RSPCA recommend sourcing from a rehoming centre, reputable breeder or retailer.

Don't Acquire a pet if your living situation is likely to change dramatically in a short period of time. This will prevent you from devoting time, energy and care for your pet needs.

Do Avoid buying through newspaper and online ads.

Don't Place an importance on achieving the cheapest price or a 'deal' for your pet. Expect to pay a fair price.

Where we source our pets1


  1. Survey conducted by Mustard Research on behalf of Pets at Home, June 2015 (Sample: 4,321)