but the increasing popularity of so-called handbag dogs is one factor that has lead to a 250,000 dogs and cats being abandoned in the UK in a year.
The figure has been revealed after a nationwide survey that included 35 organisations across Scotland. The findings undermine the traditional perception of Britain as a nation of animal lovers.
About half of the abandoned 89,751 dogs and 156,826 cats had been given up by their owners, while a quarter were strays.
One factor being blamed for the problem is an increasing trend in pets being taken on as trendy "accessories" but then dumped when the owner cannot cope with normal animal behaviour.
The survey also revealed that about one in 10 animals is put to sleep after being taken into dog and cat rescue organisations.
The researchers warned the current economic situation is leading to increased pressures on shelters. One Scottish charity has reported a 30% increase in calls over the past five years from the public and other welfare organisations asking that dogs be rehomed.
Study lead author Jenny Stavisky, research fellow in shelter medicine at Nottingham University's veterinary medicine school, said some of those seeking help would be pet owners who had run into difficulties – such as losing their homes – and were devastated at having to give up their animals.
But she said more had to be done to educate people about what is involved in keeping pets, to reduce the number of "genuinely irresponsible" owners.
She said: "Some of the rescues have commented on people treating dogs and cats as disposable commodities, to be bought as accessories to look cute or tough, without recognising they are sentient animals with complex needs. They then get dumped when the owners can't cope with normal cat or dog behaviour.
"An example of this is an increase in these little 'handbag' dogs in shelters – people want a little dog, like Paris Hilton or in Towie (The Only Way Is Essex) but don't recognise that it won't just be happy being dressed in clothes and carried around."
The study, published this month in the journal BMC Veterinary Research, surveyed more than 1300 UK organisations during 2010.
About three-quarters of animals were rehomed, but just in excess of 10% of dogs and 14% of cats were put to sleep, the figures showed.
Stavisky said a proportion of those would have been ill, or otherwise unsuitable for rehoming, but added: "Clearly, though, some of these dogs and cats are put to sleep because there is simply overwhelming demand and there is no way to stem the incoming tide.
Leading animal welfare charities – which stressed they do not put healthy animals to sleep – said they were not surprised at the outcome of the research.
Scottish SPCA Deputy Chief Superintendent Tom Gatherer said 13,437 animals had been taken into the charity's centres during 2011, including 4055 dogs and 2765 cats.
He said: "The majority of animals arrive at our centres after being found injured or abandoned or when we have intervened because their owner was failing to provide them with the care they needed."
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