Rise of lockdown 'starter pet' could lead to increase in neglect

Rise of lockdown 'starter pet' could lead to increase in neglect

We're warning about a rise in the interest of 'starter pets' during lockdown could lead to an increase in neglect due to their complex needs.

Rabbits Holly, Poppy and Bluebell © RSPCA

Figures for people searching on Google for small pets to buy during lockdown soared compared to the year before, with:

  • 'rabbits for sale' searches more than tripling from 18,000 in July 2019 to 65,000 in July 2020
  • 'hamsters for sale' searches tripled from 10,000 in July 2019 to 30,000 in July 2020
  • and 'guinea pigs for sale' searches doubled from 19,000 to 40,000.

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

Small furries mislabeled as 'starter pets'

We're releasing the stats as we shine a light on small furries during the final week of Adoptober - a rehoming drive encouraging animal-lovers to adopt, don't shop.

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

Dr Jane Tyson, from our 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's a misconception that they're easy to look after, but they actually have quite complex needs.

"For example, rabbits need to live in pairs as they're 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's a risk that not enough research is being done and we're 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."

Hundreds of degus in our care after owners struggled to care for them

We have hundreds of small furries currently looking for new homes. Recently, we rescued 298 degus which came into our care after their owners were no longer able to look after them. Officers worked with the owners to remove 298 degus from the property before finding them places at our centres and branches across the country and other charities who also kindly offered to help.

One of the 298 degus rescued © RSPCA

Our London Chief Inspector Imara O'Niocail said:

"When we were asked to help, I must admit I didn't quite expect to be dealing with so many degus!

"All the degus were signed over into our care, and have been moved to our centres and branches across the country.

"We're now looking to find loving new homes for all of them and anyone interested in wanting to rehome some should look on our Find A Pet for more information.

Our centres' homing Degus include:

  • Danaher Animal Home
  • RSPCA Cornwall Branch
  • Blackberry Animal Farm
  • RSPCA Southridge Animal Centre
  • RSPCA West Hatch Animal Centre
  • The Stubbington Ark Animal Shelter and Rehoming Centre
  • RSPCA Gonsal Farm Animal Centre
  • Bryn-y-maen Animal Centre
  • RSPCA Isle of White Branch
  • Leybourne Animal Centre


Under the current Covid rehoming protocols anyone interested in fostering or adopting an animal from us should 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're receiving and the impact of Covid on our staffing levels, please bear with us as our centres are very busy at this time. For further information on Covid and pets please see our Coronavirus page.

To offer one of our rescue small furries a new home please visit our Find a Pet 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: