UK Pet Dog Population Project: Research

Our research to date on the UK Pet Dog Population Project

Smiling Collie

Project Lead: Dr Kirsten McMillian 

Key People: Dr Robert Christley, Dr Melissa Upjohn, Dr Xavier Harrison (external collaborator), Dr Rachel Casey 

Project background and summary

The high demand for dogs and the associated financial benefits for those selling puppies, has led to a number of practices that have a negative impact on dog welfare. These include the large-scale breeding and sale of puppies from environments that are unsuitable with regards to health and behavioural development (e.g., puppy farms), and the illegal international transportation of puppies with associated welfare and disease transmission risks (i.e., puppy smuggling). If we are to understand the UK pet dog ‘market’, including factors that influence supply and sources, we must first reliably quantify the UK pet dog population.

At present, the UK has limited knowledge regarding our pet dog population. Based on public surveys, previous estimates of population size have varied between 8.5 - 11.6 million. However, these surveys are costly, and as such, participant numbers remain constrained. This has led to significant knowledge gaps and potentially unreliable pet dog population estimates. In 2011, Dr Asher and colleagues approached this challenge from a fresh perspective. They enriched public survey data with existing datasets, such as: Kennel Club registrations, veterinary practice customer archives, and J. Sainsbury’s PLC pet insurance records. This provided a more robust population estimate of 9.4 million pet dogs within the UK. However, due to data constraints and limited project collaborators, they could only confidently suggest that the true figure fell somewhere between 3.6 million and 21.5 million (range = 17.9 million). This, in part, suggests that the commonly referenced PFMA estimate of 9 million, may be a substantial underestimate. Since then, no research group has built upon this imperative study.

Dogs Trust have obtained the cooperation of businesses, welfare and rehoming organisations, veterinary groups, university-led projects, and registration databases, in order to build the most comprehensive dataset to date, which will allow for the definitive estimation of the UK pet dog population.

The problem, and its context within Dogs Trust.

The UK has limited knowledge regarding our pet dog population. Without a population baseline and knowledge regarding the spatial density/distribution of pet dogs within the UK, we will not be able to gain a greater understanding of regional or national trends across time and/or predict the impact that future regulations may have on the supply of puppies.

In order to accurately estimate the UK pet dog population size, very rich data are required, along with advanced statistical techniques and significant computing power.

The research project will allow us to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Establish a population baseline, while providing a greater understanding of the dog population, including spatial density and distribution, demographics and regional trends.
  • Quantify and compare the supply of puppies online and offline, while assessing the way in which online sellers advertise breeds.
  • Provide estimates for the average life expectancies of UK pet dog breeds - see the separate Longevity of UK Dog Breeds Project 

These outcomes will provide significant analytical benefits to welfare, epidemiological and business corporations alike, as it will allow for the development of targeted strategies, while providing a greater understanding of the dog population as a whole, including age and breed demographics.



The poster was presented at the Genetics of Health in Dogs meeting in Edinburgh in May 2018, and at the Dogs Trust Training and Behaviour Conference, 2019.

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UK Pet Dog Population Project Poster