Maintaining and enhancing the human–pet bond when family finances are stretched

02 February 2023
3 mins read
Volume 14 · Issue 1


As press headlines focus on the inability of charities to help the increasing number of pet owners whose finances dictate that they relinquish their companions, could an increase in behavioural support from veterinary practices be one of the solutions?

As we settle into 2023, the trend for dogs and cats that were acquired during the COVID-19 pandemic adding to the already full-to-capacity burden of rehoming shelters, continues. In addition, the number of conversations with desperate clients who can no longer cope with the emotional and/or financial responsibility of caring for their family pet, yet are unable to find re-homing charities that can accommodate their cat or dog, increases.

As family desperation increases, it is inevitable that the bond between pet and owner diminishes, making owners increasingly sensitive to the minor inconveniences associated with pet ownership. Inconvenient behaviour by pets is the main factor leading to pet relinquishment and requests for euthanasia; unless some radical intervention occurs, the current financial climate will only increase this trend.

Such outcomes are tragedies for both owner and pet, but they are also financially significant for practice income. Yet the key to avoiding these catastrophes may lie in the hands of the veterinary profession.

Many animals whose owners approach behaviour clinics for support will have already been identified as struggling to cope in the veterinary clinic environment during their presentation for their primary vaccination course. The medical notes of many puppies record that the owner has been advised to take advantage of practice-based resources that are designed to support such pets. Puppy classes and kitten chat evenings are well recognised as effective methods of bonding clients to the practice and ensuring that the development of the human–pet bond receives early practice-based support.

However, many puppies attending puppy classes are already struggling to cope with the complexities that they meet both inside and outside their homes. Many such puppies do not benefit from attendance at puppy class but may suffer emotional harm from the experience. In addition, their distress and subsequent behaviour may reduce the benefits of the class for other attendees.

Persuading clients who own cats, particularly those with previous experience of cat ownership, to attend practice-based kitten information sessions can prove tricky, reducing the potential for cat owners to gain access to recent, science-based support for their new companion.

As a result, there appears to be a substantial cohort of young companion animals who are not truly benefiting from the resources that practices regularly offer.

Yet, through careful use of observation and listening skills, vets and nurses can spot many of the young animals who will struggle to develop the neurological plasticity to become resilient to, and relaxed within, their domestic environment, during early encounters – particularly the initial vaccination visits. Extra support is likely to be appropriate for families caring for:

  • Those from environments that are clearly suboptimal, such as imported pups and kittens, those that have undergone physical mutilations (e.g. to ears or tails) or that are suspected of having been bred in ‘farmed’ environments
  • Those bred in restricted environments, such as rural areas or quiet homes, whose breeders have not provided evidence of extensive efforts to introduce social and environmental stimuli
  • Those whose entry into their new home is later than would be optimal, i.e. later than 8 weeks of age
  • Those whose vaccinations, or entry into the outdoor environment, has been delayed by illness
  • Those breeds that will experience extra challenges when engaging with everyday, emotionally arousing events as a result of breed-related respiratory impairment or other physiological challenges
  • Those joining large, busy families.

Even if the young animal does not fit into these categories that may need additional support, there can be tell-tale signs that help in the identification of individuals (and owners) who will require extra support. These include:

  • Kittens and puppies that are spending considerable periods of their time not just resting but actively avoiding family activity
  • Kitten owners exhibiting bite or scratch wounds to their hands, arms or other body areas
  • Kitten owners reporting damage to soft furnishings – behaviours likely to result in inadvertent but inappropriate owner responses
  • Puppy owners who mention that their children are becoming nervous of the puppy's biting or who mention their puppy's tendency to steal or chew items – creating opportunities for inappropriate learning about human behaviour
  • Puppy owners who mention their puppy's reticence to enthusiastically engage with novelty met both within and outside the home – particularly if the puppy is avoiding stimuli or lying down and expressing unwillingness to progress during introductory walks.

If implemented in a timely fashion, support can be effective and far less expensive than future behavioural intervention; it will save clients the misery of trying to live with a companion whose emotional welfare is impaired and whose subsequent behaviour is impacted, possibly to the extent that may lead to relinquishment.

If restrictions upon staff time or expertise prevent immediate and early intervention in the welfare of emotionally vulnerable patients, the Animal Behaviour and Training Council ( registers animal behaviour technicians who are trained to offer preventative advice to support the emotional welfare of young animals. The Register of Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourists held by the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour ( and the Fellowship of Animal Behaviour Clinicians ( also carry details of clinical animal behaviourists with species specialism in developing and maintaining the emotional welfare of young companion animals.

Specialist intervention, at the earliest possible indication of depleted emotional health, is by far the best method of supporting the owner–companion animal bond and, in so doing, securing a longstanding client–practice relationship.