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New survey shows concerning rise in dog aggression following pandemic puppy boom

British Veterinary Association

4 min read Partner content

Half of vets in the UK have reported a rise in the number of clients concerned about their dogs’ increasingly aggressive behaviour over the last 12 months, a new survey of the veterinary profession shows. While vets in the survey were often unsure about the exact age of the dogs involved, in cases where the age was known, 87% of dogs were believed to be under three years of age, highlighting the longer-term impacts of the pandemic on puppies bought over lockdown. Almost 1 in 4 (24%) vets also reported an increase in the number of pets they had treated in the last 12 months who were injured as a result of aggressive behaviour by dogs.

The new statistics, released by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) ahead of the BVA Live conference in Birmingham today (11 May), add substance to vets’ concerns around the behavioural impact on puppies bought or bred over the Covid-19 lockdowns between 2020-2021. BVA is highlighting the importance always buying a puppy responsibly, properly socialising them, and talking to a vet if owners have any concerns over their pet’s behaviour.

It is estimated that around 3.2 million households in the UK acquired a pet in the first year of the pandemic*, with the proportion of people owning a dog increasing when compared to early 2020**. Pandemic puppy owners were more likely to be first-time dog owners, were less likely to seek out a breeder that performed health testing on their breeding dog(s), or view their puppy in-person.***

Vets are gathering today to gain insight into the issue at the BVA Live session on ‘Supporting Pandemic Puppies in Practice’, which will consider the emotional, cognitive and behavioural impact of the pandemic on puppies born and reared during lockdown periods. Sarah Heath, clinical director at Behavioural Referrals Veterinary Practice, will talk about the reasons behind these issues and approaches that vets should take to help make veterinary visits less stressful for the dogs, their owner and veterinary teams.

A 2022 Royal Veterinary College study, funded by BVA’s animal welfare charity Animal Welfare Foundation, had predicted the potential development of behavioural problems in some pandemic puppies bought during 2020 and had pinpointed the need for enhanced support from vets and particularly those specialising in animal behaviour to support owners of such dogs.

British Veterinary Association’s Senior Vice President Justine Shotton said:

“Whilst these new statistics are extremely worrying, they are not unexpected. Vets and animal charities have been raising concerns around the long-term impacts of the pandemic puppy boom, when owners were unable to access adequate training and socialisation opportunities that are so important for development in the first few months of their lives.

“At the British Veterinary Association, we urge pet owners who are concerned about their dog’s behaviour to talk to a vet, who will be able to check for any underlying medical issues that could be causing issues, give advice and refer to an ABTC-accredited veterinary behaviourist. Don’t delay seeking help, as poor behaviour can deteriorate and can become harder to deal with as a dog matures. 

”We also continue to urge the importance of always doing proper research and using the Puppy Contract to make sure you’re buying a healthy puppy from a responsible source. Make sure that your puppy has lots of positive opportunities for socialisation with humans of all ages, other animals, different environments, various noises and everyday experiences, including visits to your vet practice.”

Now in its second year, BVA Live is a unique conference and exhibition designed by CloserStill Media (organisers of the London Vet Show) and BVA, where veterinary professionals are invited to debate the latest topical issues within the profession, access exciting clinical and non-clinical CPD, and find opportunities for networking.

The BVA Live session on ‘Supporting Pandemic Puppies in Practice’ will take place on Thursday, 11 May at 1.30pm in Clinical Theatre 2 at NEC Birmingham. Email media@bva.co.uk for more information.

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