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The pandemic has made us puppy-mad

2020 saw a huge increase in pet ownership... and also pet costs and pet crimes.

Although Covid restrictions have shut down large swathes of the UK economy, some sectors are booming. One such sector? Pets. One in ten British households have got themselves a new pet during the pandemic. Those numbers are even higher amongst Londoners (1 in 5) and younger adults (1 in 3). It’s not hard to see the reasons: working from home and being inside all day make it much easier to care for a pet, whilst the loneliness and isolation of lockdown has made many people crave the company of a furry friend.

From an economic and social perspective, there are benefits to increased pet ownership. Animals, especially dogs, have been shown to help a variety of mental and physical health issues and generally improve people’s wellbeing. Having this counterbalance to the surge in stress, anxiety, depression and other illnesses since the onset of the pandemic could help people and the economy in several ways. It could reduce the number of days people take off work, for example, or ease some pressure off the NHS and other government services. And of course it will line the pockets of anyone financially connected to the pet economy - breeders, trainers, dog walkers, vets, pet shops etc.

However, there is a flip side to this equation. It generally holds true that the more popular something is, the harder it is to get hold of and the more expensive it becomes. This has happened with dogs in Britain: shelters are emptier than ever while the average price of a puppy has doubled. That makes them less accessible to lower-income folk, and it’s also fueling a 170 percent rise in dog-snatching. Having your beloved pet stolen away from you is a particularly devastating crime to become a victim of.

Economic theory says that these negative side effects of increased demand should eventually even out as sellers respond by increasing supply (i.e. breeding more puppies). However that poses its own problems if demand subsequently falls - as it may well do when the pandemic ends and people go back to their offices and social lives. The UK could then be left with a glut of unwanted pups. Which, of course, is heartbreaking in a way surpluses of regular types of property are not.

Read our explainer on: behavioural economics

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