Top 10 most popular pets in the UK
Top 10 most popular pets in the UK

In the last three years, the proportion of UK households owning a pet has increased by 5%. Now almost half of us (45%) own a pet, ranging from cats and dogs to more exotic pets such as lizards, turtles and snakes.

So, the answer to “what is the most popular pet in the UK” is “Dogs” by a very slim margin. In order to know more about pets in the UK, browse this list of the most popular pets in the UK.

Pet ownership in the United Kingdom (UK)

The share of households owning a pet in the United Kingdom remained relatively stable between 2011/12 and 2017/18, hovering around an estimated percentage of 47 to 45 percent. However, pet ownership levels peaked to an unprecedented high of 59 percent in 2020/21, likely as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and increased time spent at home.

Pet ownership in the UK

With more than half of UK households owning at least one pet in 2020/21, dogs and cats were the most common household pets in that year, with an estimated 12 million dogs and 12 million cats living in homes. As of 2019, the United Kingdom was the second highest-ranking European country in terms of its dog population, preceded only by Germany.

Consumer spending on pets in the UK

As the pet population in the United Kingdom increased in size, so did consumer spending on pet food and pet-related products and services. Spending on pets and related products reached almost eight billion British pounds in 2020, a notable increase from a mere 2.9 billion British pounds in 2005. Among the most expensive pet-related expenditures are veterinary and pet services, which constituted almost four billion British pounds in 2020.

The List of top 10 most popular pets in the UK

10. Snakes

9. Domestic Fowl

8. Lizards

7. Tortoises and Turtles

6. Hamsters

5. Guinea Pigs

4. Birds | Most Popular Pets UK

3. Rabbits | Most Popular Pets UK

2. Cats | Most Popular Pets UK

1. Dogs | Most Popular Pets UK

What are the most popular pets in the UK?

10. Snakes - Most Popular Pets UK

Photo: Nerdynaut
Photo: Nerdynaut

For all the Brits who aren’t plagued with Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), snakes find themselves as pets in 0.4% of UK households. Common breeds that are popular with beginners include corn snakes and king & milk snakes. More experienced owners can be found with royal pythons and garter snakes.

There are approximately 2,500 different species of snakes. Several species are commonly kept as pets including king snakes, rat snakes, garter snakes, corn snakes, various pythons (particularly ball pythons), and various boa constrictors (especially the common boa constrictor). The needs of one species may differ from those of another, so be sure to discuss specific questions with a knowledgeable herpetologist (someone who studies reptiles and amphibians) or a veterinarian familiar with reptiles. The ball python will be used for this discussion, as it is one of the most commonly kept pet snakes. Most of the information concerning the ball python is applicable to other terrestrial snake species.

Most snakes sold as pets are easy to handle and are usually not aggressive. Although certain species of snakes commonly kept by serious reptile collectors have a naturally aggressive nature, these species tend not to show up often in the general pet trade, so they are not typically available in pet stores.

Some snakes, especially the ball python, may not eat for weeks to months after the stress of going to a new home and new environment. Lack of appetite can be a normal reaction to stress, but if prolonged, it may be a sign of a more serious problem that requires prompt veterinary attention.

9. Domestic Fowl - Most Popular Pets UK

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Close to half a million chickens are now kept as pets in the UK, with the popularity of fowl increasing in recent years. Taking care of them is pretty straightforward. All you need is a commercial feed, a clean, dry living space and clean water. What’s more, this pet will lay eggs for your breakfast!

Fowl are highly social and should never be housed singly without compelling veterinary or scientific justification. They will establish stable hierarchies if groups are formed when birds are juvenile and housing conditions are right, addressing all of the requirements set out below. Small groups of 5 to 20 birds are best and mixed-sex groups should contain few males, e.g. 1 male: 5 females. The risk of aggression will be minimised if the group is provided with sufficient space and a stimulating environment.

Foraging is impossible on a grid floor and fowl strongly prefer litter to a wire floor, so solid floors with appropriate litter material should always be provided to a depth of at least 5 cm. Foraging is extremely important to fowl – they will perform tasks to gain access to foraging substrate and will even forage to feed when alternative food is freely available. Solid floors with litter can also help to prevent feather pecking (see below). If there is compelling scientific justification for a grid area of floor, e.g. for faecal collection, at least a third of the floor should be solid with litter. Perches can be located over grid areas to maximise collection of faeces.

8. Lizards - Most Popular Pets UK

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Pet lizards in the UK are more common than you’d think. Lizards are often the first reptile that pet owners choose. Though a radical choice as a pet, lizards are one of the most popular pets UK. They don’t carry the innate fear that snakes bring to certain people and they can make great display animals. The bearded dragon, leopard gecko and blue-tongued skink are some of the most popular pet lizards in the UK.

Lizards for Beginners

Leopard geckos - The ultimate starter lizards, these are small, easy to handle, only need a small tank, and do not need special UVB lighting. Crested geckos and fat-tailed geckos have similar needs and are good choices too. Leopard geckos also come in a variety of colors.​​

Bearded dragons and frill-necked lizards - These are docile and easy to handle lizards but they need a relatively large tank and full spectrum UV lighting.

Blue-tongued skinks - Generally docile, blue-tongued skinks make great starter lizards but need a good sized tank and full spectrum UV lighting.

Green anoles - Anoles are small lizards that are readily available and don't need a huge tank but they do need full spectrum UV lighting and are not as easily handled as other beginner lizards.

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7. Tortoises and Turtles - Most Popular Pets UK

Tortoises and turtles can be a fascinating and fun pet, although they can be difficult to keep and require responsible ownership.

Keeping a turtle as a pet is a large undertaking as they can live for decades and they require very specific housing.

Tortoises and Turtles are fascinating pets, although they can be difficult to keep and require responsible ownership. Getting a turtle as a pet is a huge commitment as they can live for decades and require very specific housing. Take a look at the picture to know the difference between a turtle and a tortoise.

Photo: Just Keep Thinking
Photo: Just Keep Thinking

6. Hamsters - Most Popular Pets UK

Photo: Omlet
Photo: Omlet

Research shows that 1% of us own a hamster. There are 24 different species of hamster, and among the most popular pets are the Syrian, the Russian dwarf Campbell and the Roborovski.

Hamsters are rodents (order Rodentia) belonging to the subfamily Cricetinae, which contains 19 species classified in seven genera. They have become established as popular small pets. The best-known species of hamster is the golden or Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus), which is the type most commonly kept as pets. Other hamster species commonly kept as pets are the three species of dwarf hamster, Campbell's dwarf hamster (Phodopus campbelli), the winter white dwarf hamster (Phodopus sungorus) and the Roborovski hamster (Phodopus roborovskii).

Hamsters are more crepuscular than nocturnal and, in the wild, remain underground during the day to avoid being caught by predators. They feed primarily on seeds, fruits, and vegetation, and will occasionally eat burrowing insects. Physically, they are stout-bodied with distinguishing features that include elongated cheek pouches extending to their shoulders, which they use to carry food back to their burrows, as well as a short tail and fur-covered feet.

5. Guinea Pigs - Most Popular Pets UK

Photo: The Spruce Pets
Photo: The Spruce Pets

Guinea pigs are particularly popular with families.

They live for around four to eight years, so their care is a long-term commitment. They can live indoors or outdoors and thrive in same-sex groups or in pairs.

Guinea pigs are herbivores. To keep them healthy and happy, they need:

  • a constant source of good quality fresh grass or grass hay, such as Meadow, Oaten, Pasture, Ryegrass, Timothy or Wheaten hays. This is important for wearing down their continuously growing teeth.
  • fresh, leafy green vegetables and herbs every day, such as broccoli, cabbage (in small amounts), celery, endives, Brussel sprouts, bok choy and other Asian greens, and dark-leafed lettuce varieties; and herbs such as basil, coriander, dandelion, dill, mint and parsley. Remember that carrot tops should only be given as an occasional treat.
  • small quantities of high-quality guinea pig pellets. These should have a minimum fibre content of 16 per cent.
  • a daily source of vitamin C, such as small amounts of citrus and kiwi fruits
  • a constant source of clean, fresh water

Guinea pigs need lots of space to exercise – the more the better. She should exercise every day in a large, grassy area, free and safe from predators.

You could also provide your guinea pig with a chewing log made of untreated wood to wear down her teeth, and overturned boxes to hide in.

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4. Birds - Most Popular Pets UK

Photo: The Spruce
Photo: The Spruce

Birds are the 4th most popular pets in the UK because they thrive in small living spaces, eat cheap food and make great companions. Pets birds in the UK can range from small budgies up to the largest parrots. A huge plus about birds is that they have a very long life span, with many bird species living more than 100 years.

Feathered pets like parrots can be fascinating additions to the family. Recent estimates say that over 5 million households in the United States have pet birds. Bird owners should be aware that although their pets might be highly intelligent and fun companions, they can sometimes carry germs that can make people sick.

How to house pet birds

  • Provide a safe, sturdy enclosure or cage for your bird. Keep pet birds from interacting with all wild animals and insects such as mosquitoes. These animals and insects can carry diseases that can be spread to your pet birds.
  • Do not allow your birds to fly or roam around the house without supervision. They could get accidentally trapped or hurt.
  • Avoid housing pet birds in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens or dining rooms.
  • Closely supervise any interaction of your birds with children or other pets to reduce the chance of injuries.

3. Rabbits - Most Popular Pets UK

Photo: CNN
Photo: CNN

Rabbits make great pets. In general rabbits need appropriate housing, exercise, socialisation and a specific diet for good welfare. Some breeds of rabbits, particularly the longer haired rabbits, may require daily grooming. It is important that you understand all the requirements for caring for a rabbit before you buy one.

Rabbits generally live for 5 to 8 years depending on their environment and breed, but they can live for as long as 12 years. If you decide to purchase a rabbit, make sure you are prepared to care for them that long.

Rabbits are playful and inquisitive and require the stimulation of other rabbits or humans and their environment. They are active animals that need to exercise and play regularly. Ensuring your rabbit is adequately stimulated is an important aspect of caring for your rabbit. This can be achieved through environmental enrichment.

Rabbits are most active during the early morning, late afternoon and evening. This is the best time for you to interact with your rabbit.

2. Cats - Most Popular Pets UK

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Second only to “Man’s Best Friend”, cats enjoy immense popularity in the UK. They are one of the most popular pets in the UK with an estimated 8 million cats spread across 5 million UK households. What’s more interesting is that, out of those households, 40% have more than one cat. There are many cats in the UK but the most popular ones are British shorthairs, Bengals and Siamese cats.

Cats make affectionate and playful pets and thrive best when they're cared for considering their dietary, environmental and health and welfare needs. Cats will need space to be active, with regular interaction with people and other animals (cats don't really like to be left alone for long periods during the day). They will also need access to clean water, meat-based cat food and regular grooming as well as private access to a litter tray which should ideally be replaced once a week.

1. Dogs - Most Popular Pets UK

Photo: Be Chewy
Photo: Be Chewy

No prizes for guessing the most popular pets UK. Dogs, owned by approximately 25% of Brits in the UK are immensely popular pets. An estimated 9 million dogs live in the UK. The popularity of dogs is evident even on a global scale with 33% of pet owners choosing a dog as their preferred pet. The most common dog breeds in the UK are –

Labrador Retrievers

Cocker Spaniels

Springer Spaniels

German Shepherds

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