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Pandemic Pets: How Covid-19 Affected Pet Sales And Pricing In 2020

To say that 2020 has been a weird year would be a little like saying that puppies are a bit cute; and the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant and often unpredictable impact on all of our lives.

The pet trade and the supply and demand of popular pets have all been affected by the pandemic, just like most industries; but in some fairly surprising ways in many cases, which even economists and pet industry experts would have struggled to predict in advance.

So, how has Covid-19 affected the UK pet trade and what does this mean for pet buyers or would-be pet buyers? Read on to get the facts from Pets4Homes first State of the UK Pet Rehoming Report, along with some exclusive insights into the future of pet sales in the UK.

Link to full report: The State of the Pet Industry No. 1 - The Impact of COVID-19 on the UK Pet Landscape

Pandemic pets at a glance

  • Demand for puppies for sale rose by 104% compared to the prior year at the peak of lockdown in May 2020.
  • If you thought that the job market was competitive, wait until you try to buy a puppy… For every available pup offered for sale in May 2020, there were 420 prospective buyers competing to take them home.
  • As you might expect, this had an acute effect on the average asking price of pets for sale: The average price of puppies for sale in 2020 is £1,875, compared to £808 in 2019! That’s an increase of 131% in just one year.
  • The most in-demand pandemic pup is the Cavapoo, which saw a whopping 1,882 buyers competing for each available puppy in 2020; compared to 769 buyers per puppy the previous year.
  • The most popular rodent of the pandemic was the Guinea pig, with 4,179 Guinea pigs sold since April of this year.
  • However, a whole new breed of online scams arose during the pandemic, designed to take advantage of unwary would-be pet buyers; over a quarter of a million pounds was lost to puppy sale-related scammers in March and April of 2020 alone.

Supply and demand for pets during the pandemic

Demand for pets reached an all-time high in May 2020, when we were well into the throes of our first lockdown and many of us felt anxious, isolated and in need of a friend. 

A University of York study conducted in April and May of 2020 indicated that 87% of pet owners felt that their pets helped them to cope with the realities of the pandemic; and lots of would-be pet owners were keen to get that same feeling of support.

At the height of lockdown in May 2020, demand for puppies for sale was up 104% on the prior year, and seven million people searched Pets4Homes to try to find their perfect pet; that’s over 10% of the UK population!

Across the board, this resulted in there being 420 would-be buyers for each pet offered for sale at this time, and puppies were the most in-demand pet of all.

Pandemic puppy popularity and pricing

That’s enough “P’s” for now… As you can imagine, given the sheer level of demand for each pet and particularly, puppy for sale coupled with the fact that breeders couldn’t simply pop down to the wholesaler and restock, the average price for each puppy offered for sale during lockdown increased sharply!

Even if breeders sought to instigate mating matches to produce more litters to meet this demand, this can’t happen overnight. Lockdown restrictions meant that breeders that didn’t own both the sire and dam of any theoretical litter would not be able to arrange a mating match, and even the results of successful matings take months to come to fruition.

Additionally, limited access to veterinary care during lockdown and the restriction to essential, urgent and emergency care only meant that for many breeders, producing litters during lockdown itself was simply unviable.

So, how much does the average available puppy cost to buy now as a result of the pandemic effect? £1,912 as of September 2020, compared to £817 in September of 2019; an increase of 134%. Unfortunately, the average person’s wages haven’t increased accordingly! Oh well…

Are puppy prices likely to stay this high going forwards?

Whilst there is still a huge gap between supply and demand for puppies in the UK right now, the gap is gradually closing as breeders have consequently bred additional litters (or more litters have been produced as the year has gone on for any number of reasons) to meet demand.

The gap between the number of buyers visiting Pets4Homes compared to the number of pets advertised within any given timeframe has fallen from a high of over 400 buyers per pet on average in May down to just over 200 buyers per pet at the start of July, and the numbers have hovered around that figure ever since.

The closing gap is due to a combination of both an increase in the number of puppies available, and a drop in the number of people seeking to buy a pet as lockdown restrictions eased at the start of July. Ergo, pricing is unlikely to remain at its current consistent high for the long term.

That said, this is still very much a seller’s market, and the number of pets (particularly puppies) available to buy remains far lower than the number of people who would like to purchase them.

Enter the scammers

Where there’s money to be made, con-artists and scammers naturally follow; particularly when a highly unique and unfamiliar situation such as lockdown makes their jobs that much easier.

The sheer level of demand for lockdown puppies and other pets and the sort of figures being commanded by sellers who could meet this demand meant a whole underground industry of fakes and fraudsters quickly sprung up on the edges of the legitimate pet trade, seeking to rip off the unprepared.

They had a reasonable degree of success in doing so too, and lockdown made their lives far easier than normal when it came to convincing unwary would-be buyers to part with their funds.

Whilst in normal times, requesting a deposit or even the full sale amount for a puppy or any pet sight unseen would trigger warning bells in even the most naïve of buyers, this not only became more plausible during the pandemic, but was also the sales model being used by any number of genuine sellers and breeders.

Travel restrictions and the need for social distancing convinced a huge number of prospective buyers to part with funds to reserve or secure a puppy based only on images or videos of them; puppies that in most cases, didn’t exist or were not genuinely for sale at all.

This resulted in the loss of £282,686 to puppy sales-related frauds in just March and April of 2020 alone, according to reports made to Action Fraud by disillusioned buyers.

As a direct response to this and to help to keep pet buyers safe from rip-off merchants, Pets4Homes introduced our Safe Deposit Service earlier on this year to help to build trust and safety within the pet community.

What was the most popular pandemic puppy?

The most popular dog breed in the UK overall is the French bulldog; both in terms of the number of new puppies of the breed registered with the Kennel Club each year and also in terms of the number of French bulldogs offered for sale each year here on Pets4Homes. 

This hasn’t changed, but the dog breed (or rather, dog type) that saw the greatest spike in demand and interest during the pandemic was the Cavapoo; a hybrid or cross-breed achieved by crossing the Cavalier King Charles spaniel with the poodle.

This is particularly interesting as the Cavapoo isn’t even one of the top ten most popular dogs overall; they’re 18th. But during the pandemic, the Cavapoo really stole the show as “dog type that buyers most wanted to spend the pandemic with,” leading the pack with a total number of 1,882 prospective buyers for each puppy, compared to 769 per pup pre-Covid-19.

What about demand for other types of pets during the pandemic?

Demand for cats and kittens rose during the pandemic too, although not as steeply as demand for dogs. An increase of 281% compared to 2019 in the number of searches for kittens for sale is the most notable pandemic-related change on the cat side of things.

Interestingly, supply of kittens for sale has been increasing along a steady curve for several years now, and so there was not such a huge imbalance between supply and demand during lockdown as there was for dogs.

Consequently, while the average price for kittens for sale did increase during lockdown, the increase was far less dramatic; a 42% price increase like for like compared to 2019, rather than well over 100% and then some as was the case for dogs.

When it comes to small furry pets like ferrets, rats, rabbits and Guinea pigs, demand for these rose during lockdown too; although as is the case for cats, supply of such pets has been increasing gradually for several years already.

This, coupled with the far lower average sale costs of such pets compared to cats and particularly, dogs, meant a less acute shortage and subsequent less acute average price increase per pet too.

Between April and October 2020, 125,000 cats have been sold or rehomed via Pets4Homes, alongside of 51,000 rabbits, and 35,000 small rodents.

How well prepared for pet ownership was the average lockdown pet buyer? 

An awful lot has been said online and in the media recently about how woefully unprepared many lockdown pet buyers were for the realities of pet ownership, particularly when it came to those buying puppies.

Concern naturally followed regarding how this might impact upon the welfare of lockdown puppies as they get older, and the odds of them later being surrendered for rehoming.

However, while a disappointing 8% of pandemic pet buyers spent less than a week researching their purchasing decision, over 70% of buyers spent at least a month doing their homework, and most significantly more. 86% of pet buyers also read the Pets4Homes safe rehoming checklist incorporated into every advert we showcase on the site before proceeding too.

Also, whilst it is still early days, Pets4Homes can reveal that the number of dogs being offered up for adoption via our platform has actually declined to date, rather than increased, which is a really positive sign for the future.

Is 2020 a good time to buy a pet?

If you bought or were hoping to buy a pet (particularly a puppy) during 2020, one unavoidable fact of pandemic pet buying is that you‘d need deep pockets!

Making the commitment to buy a pet isn’t a decision to take lightly at any time, but it is something that you need to give even more serious consideration to at present, given the variables, unknowns, and overall upheaval and restrictions that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic brings.

If you are considering buying a pet over the next few weeks or months, ensure that you research things properly and really think it through. You need to consider how pet ownership will work out for you long term, and not just while you’re at home a lot more or have a lot of free time due to the pandemic.

Consider the long term financial implications of pet ownership too, as well as the initial purchase price of the pet; such as how you would be able to afford to care for your pet if your situation changed.

We’re living in uncertain times right now, and many businesses and individuals are struggling to make ends meet, facing an uncertain financial future due to Covid-19 and all that it entails.

Ensure that you take pains to make good decisions over your purchase too, and don’t get caught out by scammers; remember, a puppy (or kitten, rabbit, rodent or any other animal) is for life, not just for the pandemic.

Link to full report: The State of the Pet Industry No. 1 - The Impact of COVID-19 on the UK Pet Landscape

 


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