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Rise of lockdown ‘starter pet’ could lead to increase in neglect, RSPCA warns

The RSPCA dealt with 171 incidents involving small furry pets - including rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters - in Cheshire last year.

A rise in interest of ‘starter pets’ during lockdown could lead to an increase in neglect due to their complex needs, the RSPCA has warned.

Nationally, figures for people searching on Google for small pets to buy during lockdown soared compared to the year before, with searches for ‘rabbits for sale’ more than tripling from 18,000 in July 2019 to 65, 0000 in July 2020.Searches for ‘hamsters for sale’ tripled from 10,000 in July 2019 to 30,000 in July 2020 and ‘guinea pigs for sale’ doubled from 19,000 to 40,000.

The RSPCA rescue teams also took nearly 240 rabbits into its care during lockdown (23 March- 31 August) due to cruelty, neglect and abandonment.

The charity is releasing the stats as it shines a light on small furries during the final week of Adoptober - a rehoming drive encouraging animal-lovers to adopt, don’t shop.

Last year, the RSPCA dealt with 9,277 incidents involving small furries* - around 25 a day.

This includes 171 incidents in Cheshire.

Dr Jane Tyson, from the RSPCA’s Companion Animals Department, said: “Small furries can be fantastic pets to have, however they have a reputation as a good ‘starter pet’ for children as there is a misconception that they are easy to look after, but they actually have quite complex needs.

“For example, rabbits need to live in pairs as they are sociable animals - and need a much bigger space to explore and exercise in than just a hutch.

“During lockdown there seems to have been an increase in interest for starter pets, which may be because parents were at home with their children and so thought it was a good time to bring a new pet into the family.

“While we believe many people buy a rabbit, guinea pig, hamster or other small furry with good intentions, and many will also do their research, there is a risk that not enough research is being done and we are concerned that this could lead to an increase in neglect of small furries in the months to come.

“Adopting small furries from the RSPCA, either from our national centres or any of our branches around the country, will mean you will have all the information and advice you need to ensure your new pets are happy and healthy.”

The RSPCA has hundreds of small furries currently looking for new homes, including…


Name: Phoebe

Age: Six months

Breed: Tan Syrian hamster

Where: RSPCA Cheshire (Altrincham) Branch

A bit about: Phoebe is a friendly girl, she is a little hand shy initially but once scooped up she is happy to sit in your hands.

Why he’s so special: Little Phoebe came into our care after originally living in a home with almost 100 other animals.

More information: If you are interested in offering Phoebe a home please visit her Find a Pet page on the RSPCA website.


Under the current Covid rehoming protocols anyone interested in fostering or adopting an animal from the RSPCA should visit the website to see which animals are available near you and should check with their local centre for the current process applicable in that area.   

Due to the amount of interest we are receiving and the impact of Covid on our staffing levels, please bear with us as our centres are very busy at this time. To find out more please visit www.rspca.org.uk/coronavirus

To offer an RSPCA rescue small furry a new home please visit www.rspca.org.uk/findapet to find your perfect match. 

If you’re not in a position to give a pet a home this October, you can still help thousands of animals in our care by donating at www.rspca.org.uk/adoptober, sponsoring a dog kennel or cat pod for just £1.50 a week, or supporting the work of your local RSPCA here.

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