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Facts & figures – pet ownership

It’s been well documented that pet ownership levels rocketed during the pandemic – but while we know that to be true, what’s the real extent and what has the impact been? In this review, long-time funders of the Veterinary sector – Braemar Finance – dig a little deeper and share some interesting and not very well-known insights…

Market size

The share of households owning a pet in the UK remained relatively stable between 2011/12 and 2019/20, hovering around 45%; however, this changed significantly during the pandemic, which saw a rise to an unprecedented high of 59% in 2020/21.

Dogs and cats are the most common household pets, with an estimated 12 million dogs and 12 million cats living in homes.

In terms of pets owned, dogs are the most common pet in UK households, with the share of households reporting dog ownership at 33%. The second most common house pet among UK households were cats, with around 27% of respondents stating their ownership.

As of 2019, the UK was the second highest-ranking European country in terms of its dog population, preceded only by Germany.

A 2020 survey asked dog owners to state their reasons for owning a dog and all linked their ownership to either improving their happiness and/or providing companionship. Happiness was the most common response, with 51% stating ‘because they make me happy’; 47% said their dogs provided ‘love/affection’ and 35% stated their dogs provided ‘companionship’.

Despite the spike in pet ownership in 2020, it is still well down on 2013’s peak of 71 million.

Expenditure on pets

As the pet population in the UK increased in size, so did consumer spending on pet food and pet-related products and services, reaching almost £8bn in 2020, a notable increase of 170% from £2.9bn in 2005. Among the most expensive pet-related expenditures are veterinary and pet services, which constituted almost £4bn of the spending in 2020.

Expenditure on veterinary and pet services in the United Kingdom 2005-2020

Between 2005 (£1.43bn) and the peak of 2018 (£4.83bn), the amount spent on veterinary services rose annually before falling away in 2019 (£4.5bn) and 2020 (£4bn).   

According to the results of an annual survey on pets and pet wellbeing in the UK, the estimated minimum monthly cost of pets varied between £35 for rabbits and £70 (each) for dogs and cats.

Since 2017, the number of individuals with pet insurance has decreased from approximately 3.8m to 3.4m in 2019. Dogs and cats accounted for 96% of pet insurance policies taken out.

The value of claims rose from £452m in 2012 to £815m in 2019, equating to more than £2.2m being paid out by pet insurers every day in the UK. The average pet insurance claim made increased from £679 in 2014 to £822 in 2019.


The UK cat population is estimated to reach 12.2 million in 2020/21, the highest recorded figure on record, but trails the rest of the EU, in particular Romania, Latvia, and Hungary, who have the highest share of households with cats.

The three primary reasons cited for cat ownership are:

  1. Happiness
  2. Love / affection
  3. Had one before

Among UK pet owners, more younger people were feeling less lonely thanks to owning cats, according to the results of an annual survey conducted in 2019; 70% of those surveyed in the age group 65 and above also agreed that owning cats made them feel less lonely.


In 2010/11, 22% of UK households were dog owners, which remained stable until 2020/21, when it jumped to 33%.

Similar levels of increase were seen in the dog population – since 2010 it’s increased from 7.6m to 12.5m today.

In terms of research efforts before committing to pet ownership, most people turned to the internet for advice, followed by people relying on personal experience, and then advice from friends / family.

Other pets

Among ‘other’ pets, indoor birds are popular, along with domestic fowl and rabbits.

Impact of Covid

Veterinary services have been severely impacted by Covid-19 with millions of missed appointments during this period, and there can be no doubt the sector will require significant support on its roadmap to recovery. 

Braemar Finance has supported the Veterinary profession for almost 30 years and will continue to do so during these challenging times.