The number of Scots giving up pets has tripled in a year, a leading animal charity has warned as it said shelters were struggling to cope.
There were 1,725 cases of people calling the Scottish SPCA to relinquish their pets between January and June – compared to just 542 in the same period last year.
It comes as households grapple with soaring food and energy bills and rising inflation, with higher mortgage payments on the horizon.
Mike Flynn, chief superintendent of the Scottish SPCA, said the charity was hearing from many pensioners who live alone and can no longer afford to keep their cat or dog.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he told STV News. “We’re seeing many older people who genuinely love their animals, but now can’t afford to heat or eat as well as feed their pet. The neighbour of one man said he was going without food to make sure his dog was fed.
“We find older people are more reluctant to reach out for help as they are very proud. I hate to think about how many are suffering. For many, it’s their only pal on a day-to-day basis.
“There are also fewer people looking to adopt pets due to the rising costs. During lockdown we couldn’t keep up with demand because it was through the roof. It’s having a real knock-on effect.”
According to the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, the lifetime costs of owning a dog are estimated to be between £5,700 and £30,800, depending on the breed and the amount of food it needs.
Meanwhile, the cost of owning a cat is approximately between £12,000 and £24,000 over a lifetime.
A recent survey of 4,000 people carried out for the RSPCA found that more than three-quarters of pet owners think the cost-of-living crisis will have a negative impact on their animals.
Around 68% said they were concerned that care costs were already on the rise, with 19% feeling worried about how they would afford to feed their pets.
Figures from the charity show the number of dogs being handed into the shelter has more than tripled to 700 – compared with 194 in the same six months last year.
Mr Flynn explained that being given to a shelter can have a damaging impact on animals, especially on dogs.
“A change in circumstances can have a major effect on them,” he said. “They can become introverted, put off their food, whining or shaking, wondering where their mum and dad is. Everything it has known all its life is gone.”
Mr Flynn, who owns a cat and a dog himself, said the amount he spends on pet food has increased by around a third in the last six months.
“If you’re on a pension, that’s extortionate,” he added. “Especially when you’re looking at your gas and electricity bills.
“Many people have to buy specialist food that suits their cat or dog and the costs of importing that from Europe and changing it could upset their stomach.”
‘Exotic pets take their toll’
While much fewer in number, the cost of keeping exotic pets is also starting to take its toll on enthusiasts.
Snakes and lizards require a certain temperature, level of humidity and lighting in their terrarium as well as specialist food usually imported from countries such as Lithuania.
In the first six months of 2021, just six Scots wanted to get rid of their snake, the Scottish SPCA said – rising to 21 in the same period this year.
Insurance and vet
The rising cost of pet insurance and going to the vet can also be prohibitively expensive for pet owners.
The average pet insurance premium is £271 a year, with an average payout of £822, according to the Association of British Insurers.
Going without insurance can be financially crippling and varies widely across practices, but surgery can ring into several thousand pounds for cats and dogs.
“It’s putting people off – vets are expensive, but it’s a legal requirement to keep your pet healthy,” Mr Flynn said.
Thousands seek home
The Scottish SPCA provided essential food supplies for animals through a network of food banks across most of Scotland as part of its Pet Aid scheme.
Scots looking for a pet are asked to go to a rehoming centre as their first point of call as there are thousands of animals searching for a loving home.
“Don’t go to the pet trade, come to ourselves or the Dogs Trust and become an adopter or a fosterer. But please be prepared for the questions,” Mr Flynn said.
“We’re not trying to be intrusive by asking if you can afford it, it’s quite justified.
“Ask yourself if your pet suits your lifestyle. There’s a huge difference between a chihuahua and a Dalmatian, which requires four hours of exercise a day and plenty of food. You need to take all that into consideration.
“Ultimately, we want to keep animals with their loving owners wherever possible.”