Imagine returning to your house after a particularly toxic day in the office, to be greeted by a small creature who is so buzzing with excitement, he’s practically hovering above the ground. This might raise an affectionate smile for those who grew up with pets, but now, as adults, with bills to pay and less-than-spacious living arrangements, many of us might have surveyed our humble one-bed flats and thought we had no space for an animal in our lives.
But a number of new pet-pampering services mean your animal can get the care it needs, even when you’re busy. Country ‘retreats’ such as the Royvon Dog Hotel, which will taxi your dog from the outskirts of London to South Wales where it can roam the countryside, are booming. Daily boarding opportunities – including Borrow My Doggy, catsittingnow.co.uk and mydogbuddy.com – can help you find a pet-sitter at short notice and pay them online.
Add to this the fact that 20% of US businesses have introduced pet-friendly policies in their offices (and experts predict UK companies will follow suit). Owning a dog, cat or snake (if you’re so inclined) is suddenly very achievable.
Better yet, new research from Blue Cross reinforces what we already know: pets are really good for us. The animal charity recently found that 89% of healthcare professionals believe stroking an animal can lower blood pressure and reduce stress. Previous evidence including a 2011 report by the University of California also showed people with pets are half as likely to have depression – it would appear that we need pets as much as they need us.
You should, of course, think carefully about the commitment though – domestic animals can live up to two decades, need to be fed and watered daily, and you’ll have to plan holidays around your pet. Then there’s the space you live in; if you’ve got a top floor flat, how would you give your cat outside access? Are you willing to haul yourself off the sofa to take a dog out when it’s raining? “Not all pets need their own garden,” says SuiLi Weight, cattery team leader at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, “But they should have some sort of outside space – a communal garden, a grassy area nearby or, for a cat, access through a window.”
Even if we might not yet own the manor house we’re destined for, most pets are brilliantly adaptable. So with a little effort, you could soon be welcoming a new family member into your home. Here’s our guide to get you started.
Inner-city dog breeds
No space for a Great Dane? These pedigrees are more than happy in a slightly smaller home.
Average height: 23-30cm
Average healthy lifespan: 11-12 years
Food: half a cup of dry food a day
From the experts: “City dogs come up against a lot of trials – hustle and bustle, cars and people; easily stressed dogs wouldn’t cope,” says Maria Wickes from Dogs Trust. “But bichon frisés are laid-back. They also don’t need as much exercise as larger breeds – 20 minutes twice a day.”
Average height: 25-30cm
Average healthy lifespan: 12-15 years
Food: up to 2 cups of dry food a day
From the experts: “We wouldn’t recommend leaving a dog alone for a whole day, and some breeds – like hounds – will howl if they’re left on their own for even half an hour,” says Wickes. “While pugs need walks (20 minutes twice a day), they are also happy pottering about the house on their own.”
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Average height: 30-33cm
Average healthy lifespan: 9-14 years
Food: half to 1 cup of dry food a day
From the experts: “This is the perfect dog for families or groups,” says Wickes. “It’s compact and enjoys human interaction.” They’re also ideal housedogs as they don’t like to spend much time outside, though they will need 20 minutes’ walk twice a day.
Average height: 63-76cm
Average healthy lifespan: 9-11 years
Food: 2 cups of dry food daily
From the experts: “We think of greyhounds as energetic,” says Duncan Darcy-Howard, staff clinician at Beaumont Sainsbury Animal Hospital. “But with 30 minutes’ exercise twice a day, they’ll be happy to curl up on the sofa. That said, they’re also great dogs to take running – just like labradors.”
The finance bit
How to weigh up the costs of keeping a dog
- “A puppy will need to be vaccinated yearly (around £50) then wormed and treated for fleas every other month (roughly £30). We also encourage neutering at five months (£150-£200),” says Maria Wickes, Dogs Trust*
“From 2016 new laws will make it a legal requirement for owners to microchip their pets and they’ll also need to put them in a collar with an ID tag – this should cost about £10-£40 but some rehoming centres will do this for free,” says Jenny Brown, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.
The cost of feeding a dog varies depending on the breed, but it can cost up to £1,500 a year.
Pet insurance should cost up to £30 a month for a dog and £15 for cats and will cover all vets’ bills. Difference in breed size has a bearing on vets’ costs too. Antibiotics can cost twice as much as for a greyhound than a chihuahua because they’re bigger, for example.
The best cats for flats
They demand less attention and sleep for hours, meaning these four breeds are perfect for urban living
Moggies (non-pedigree cats) fit almost all situations and are seen as the most adaptable cats. With cross-breeds you also get ‘hybrid vigour’; a mix of all the good genes from each breed so they’re likely to have less health issues.
The British shorthair
These are known for adapting well to living in smaller houses and flats, as by nature they need less time outside hunting or exploring. They are quiet, friendly and hardy – perfect for first-time owners.
This is an easy-going and affectionate breed that has a relatively placid demeanour – a good fit if you live in a flat and need to keep it indoors. However, they don’t like it if their owner is away a lot. They also require daily grooming.
The Devon Rex
The Devon Rex has a coat of soft, downy hair and sheds very little of it, so it’s completely carpet-friendly. It’s also easily trainable, the best way to give it the daily mental stimulation it needs.
All creatures great and small
Average lifespan: 9-12 years
Diet: hay, grass and pellets “Try to keep same-sex rabbits in pairs as they are social. You’ll need space for them to roam either outside in a run (at least 6ft by 2ft) or in the house.”
Average lifespan: 2-3 years
Diet: rat food mix “Rats don’t need much handling so are good for the time-stretched. Nutrition and cage temperature can be tricky to get right so ask a vet for tips.”
Average lifespan: 4-5 years
Diet: hay and pellets “Guinea pigs are relatively easy to keep. They’re good with children but need regular handling and will need a 2ft by 4ft hutch indoors or outdoors.”
Average lifespan: 15-20 years
Diet: fruit flies, mealworms and pellets from the pet shop “Lizards, snakes and tortoises can be easy to maintain as long as you get their tank conditions right – such as humidity.”
Can’t commit permanently? There are other ways to get your animal fix
Borrow a dog
Help out time-stretched dog-owners by taking on their pet on a temporary basis. Borrowmydoggy.com works a bit like a canine Tinder; scroll through the profiles to find your perfect dog based on availability and location, then offer whatever help you can manage – from the occasional walk, to full-time care when its owners go on holiday.
Foster an animal
For pet-lovers short on space and time, fostering may be the answer. Dogs and cats – and even small animals like gerbils and lizards – are always in need of temporary placement while a permanent home is found, as rescue homes are often short on space. If you’re feeling really ambitious you can even host a pregnant cat; then care for her kittens as they grow.
Get down to the farm
City farms throughout the UK allow you to get up close and personal with a range of farm and domestic animals. Most offer the chance to pet, feed and learn about anything from pigs and goats to rabbits and chickens. Acorn Farm in Merseyside (acornfarm.co.uk) even offers incubator hire so you can hatch your own chicks at home.
Have coffee with cats
Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium in Shoreditch is London’s first cat cafe, offering stressed urbanites the chance to unwind with furry friends. And it’s not just humans who benefit; the cats are all rescue animals, and the £6 booking fee goes towards their care.
For more info also visit volunteeringwithanimals.co.uk and battersea.org.uk
Dogs currently looking for a home in the UK
Dogs Trust currently have 963 dogs in centres across the UK needing new homes. Meet a few of them below...
Centre: Dogs Trust Merseyside
Breed: Terrier Cross
Age: 3 years old
Lionel is a very happy dog who loves nothing more than chasing a ball around and getting plenty of attention from his carers. Lionel could live in an urban environment as long as he still got all the exercise he needs, but he requires an owner who will continue his training and socialisation as at the moment, he can be a bit picky with his canine pals. He would like to be the only dog in the home, and he could live with children aged 10 and above.
Centre: Dogs Trust West Calder
Breed: Jack Russell Terrier
Age: 4 years old
Tiny is a lovely little dog, with a very big character. He is an absolute ladies man, and will make a very loyal and loving companion, but can sometimes be frightened of men. Very clever and always eager to please, Tiny does enjoy learning new things, especially if there is a tasty treat involved. Tiny is house-trained, very happy to travel in the car and can be left on his own for a few hours each day. Tiny would prefer to be the only dog in the home, and isn’t a massive fan of other dogs when on his walks.
Centre: Dogs Trust Newbury
Breed: Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Age: Two years old
Babe is a friendly, playful animal who gets on well with other dogs. She is an affectionate dog with a sweet nature and has already won the hearts of staff at the rehoming centre. Babe likes plenty of outdoor play, so she is best suited to an active home with owners who could devote time to playing with her. As she likes to be out and about, she is well suited to city life and would prefer to be the only pet in the home.
Centre: Dogs Trust Bridgend
Breed: Jack Russell Terrier
Bo was left heartbroken when she was handed in through no fault of her own by her male owner on Valentine’s Day two years ago. She is a sweet dog who is always civil to her lady carers but as soon as she sees her male carers her tail won’t stop wagging; it is clear she adores them. Bo is a cheeky, fun girl and will make a loyal companion in the right home.
Meet Mack & Sally
Centre: Dogs Trust Snetterton
Ages: Mack, 3 & Sally 5
Mack & Sally are two sweet-natured and loving lurchers who ideally need to be re-homed together as they are the very best of friends. Mack is playful; he enjoys the company of people and other dogs and loves lots of fuss and attention. Sally is a little shyer and often gets nervous of new things but Mack makes her much more confident. Both dogs are house trained and get on well with other dogs. They need an owner who can be around for most of the time at first whilst they settle in to their new home.