Charities are warning of the impact the cost of living crisis is having on pet owners, with 460,311 people in Scotland having cut back on care for their pets in the last year due to the rising cost of living. 

This accounts for about 10% of people, according to new analysis by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) from polling conducted by YouGov. 

The charity is running a new campaign called “Worried this winter” which is encouraging people struggling with their finances to seek advice. CAS has already worked with people struggling to care for their pets, including one woman who had been struggling to feed her dog after her fish had already died when she couldn’t afford to heat its tank. 

There are not just concerns about animal welfare where people can’t afford to look after them, but also about owners who may prioritise their animals' needs over their own. 

Charity workers note this is of particular concern for vulnerable people who live alone and may depend on the companionship their pet provides them. 

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Louise Russel, founder of Give a Dog a Bone, a charity which matches elderly people with an animal companion as well as supporting people struggling with the cost of pets, told The Herald: “We’ve been running pet food banks for the past six years. We have seen a sharp increase in people accessing help over the last couple of years, especially since the cost of living crisis. 

“What we know is that some people will feed their pets before they feed themselves. So it’s important that services like ours exist so that both people and animals are looked after.”

At Rutherglen and Cambuslang food bank in the southside of Glasgow, demand for pet food has increased over the last year. 

Manager Katharina Nimmo says they have had to ask the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA), which supports the food bank, for more and more top-ups of dog and cat food. 

Having enough supply of pet food to give out is especially important when there are clients who may suffer from loneliness, Ms Nimmo says: “Some people will be willing to go without food themselves to feed their pet. Pets are hugely important for their mental health.”

The SSPCA says it is witnessing an impact from rising vet bills, and is working with CAS to help pet owners navigate the cost of living. 

Gilly Mendes Ferreira, Director of Innovation and Strategic relations at the SSPCA said: “People are cutting back on essential care for their pet because of financial issues, and we don’t want that to lead to serious animal welfare issues. With 88% of people reporting that the cost of caring for an animal has gone up, this is a widespread problem.

“For pet owners, animals are the heart and soul of the household and we don’t want them to be separated when times are tough. We offer a Pet Aid service, which provides essential supplies for dogs and cat owners, at 54 food banks and community projects across Scotland. Plus, our inspectors are directly supporting people in their own home to take care of their animals.”

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Emma Jackson, CAS Social Justice Spokesperson, said: “People are having to cut back on spending because of rising energy bills and the wider cost of living crisis, and that might mean less care for household pets.
“For many, particularly pensioners or people living alone, their dog or cat is their best friend and a source of comfort against loneliness and isolation.
“Cutting back on vet appointments or grooming to keep them clean and healthy could be a really distressing decision for people.

“The CAB network gets incredible results for people. Last year the average gain for someone who saw one after seeking advice was over £3,700. That can be absolutely life changing money this winter. We don’t judge, we just help.