The RSPCA is urging the public to consider adopting a pet instead of buying - as with its rescue centres full, the number of animals in private boarding has soared, costing the charity in the region of £500,000 a month.

The charity - the oldest of its kind, and celebrating its 200th anniversary this year - says the cost of living crisis has left rescue centres facing an ‘animal welfare crisis’ as animals are coming into its care faster than they are being adopted. Currently, there are more than 1,400 animals waiting in private boarding centres because RSPCA centres are full.

In the first four months of this year*, it cost the RSPCA an eye-watering £2.1 million to provide care for hundreds of animals in private boarding centres because its own centres are already at capacity. Of that total, almost £1.2 million went on kennelling hundreds of dogs because there wasn’t any space left in any of the RSPCA’s own dedicated centres and branches**.

The animal welfare charity is increasingly having to rely on private boarding to look after animals in need, and that comes at a huge cost. The RSPCA currently has 1,441 animals*** in private boarding, costing in the region of £500,000 a month - or approximately £125,000 per week.

That includes 503 dogs - costing more than £50,000 each week - as well as 126 rabbits, 201 cats, 285 horses, 58 exotic animals and 126 farm animals. Karen Colman, Head of Animal Logistics and Welfare Oversight at the RSPCA, said: “As we celebrate our 200th birthday this year, it’s incredible to see how far animal welfare has come since our founding in 1824.

“But the sad reality is that there’s still so much to do, and we’re currently facing an animal welfare crisis. Our rescue and rehoming centres are at breaking point with the number of animals coming in versus the number being rehomed.

“We currently have 503 dogs waiting to come into our rehoming centres and, while they wait, they’re being cared for by an amazing network of private boarding kennels - but, amid the cost-of-living crisis, many of these have also had to increase their prices, making it a growing expense for us. The bills we’re facing are mounting every month.

“Sadly, more animals in need are coming into us all the time - many who have been the victims of awful cruelty, abuse and neglect - and rehoming rates have struggled in recent years as many families feel the pinch of the cost-of-living crisis and make the decision not to take on a pet. We’re launching an urgent appeal to those families who do feel they commit to the cost and responsibility of a pet to please consider adopting a rescue instead of buying from a breeder or a pet shop.

“We have hundreds of animals in our care with so much love to give, they just need a chance.” The RSPCA has 503 dogs in private boarding centres; more than 200 of these are waiting to be rehomed - but need spaces freed up in RSPCA rehoming centres so they can begin their training and rehabilitation as they start the search for a new home.

The RSPCA’s national centres cannot rehome animals directly from private kennels. Three-year-old German Shepherd cross Jackson [pictured] was rescued by the RSPCA in November 2023 after he was found by police lying beside the body of his owner in his home in East Yorkshire. He was taken to a local vet before being moved 200 miles to a private boarding kennel, in Surrey, that had space for him.

As soon as a suitable space becomes available in an RSPCA rehoming centre, he can start his journey to a new beginning. The cost-of-living crisis is seriously impacting pet owners as well as animal rescue organisations.

Dr Samantha Gaines, Head of the RSPCA Companion Animals Team, added: “Sadly we’re seeing more animals coming into our care and more pet owners turning to us for help because of the increasing costs of owning a pet, including the cost of food and vet bills. 

“The cost of living has also led to a reduction in the number of people who are willing to take on an animal as they try to save money, and a recent RSPCA survey**** found 72% of people were not planning to get a new pet. But the crisis is also hitting animal rescue organisations, like the RSPCA. Our food bills have soared, our energy bills to keep the lights and heating on in our centres have also rocketed, and animals are staying with us for longer as fewer people are adopting, which means spaces in our centres are becoming available less often and we need more and more private boarding spaces.

“It’s quickly becoming a serious welfare crisis.” The RSPCA has a clear policy that it will not put healthy, rehomeable animals to sleep and euthanasia is only carried out, on advice of a vet, to prevent further physical or mental suffering to an animal.

The charity goes to great lengths to find the animals in its care loving homes, whether that takes weeks or months - but that means that animals are staying for longer and spaces are opening up less frequently. RSPCA Macclesfield, South East Cheshire and Buxton Branch has a long waiting list of owners who want to give up their pets, but is also prioritising taking in animals who have been the victims of cruelty and neglect rescued by RSPCA inspectors.

Carmen Cole said: “We have more than 180 owners who have enquired with us as they want to give up their pet, including 55 people with one or more dogs, 50 with cats, and 72 people who can no longer keep their rabbits.

“We’re a small branch of the RSPCA and we’re run entirely by volunteers. We already have 34 animals in our care - some taking up centre spaces and others with fosterers - and we work incredibly hard to help as many animals as possible but, at the moment, the situation is dire and we just don’t have space to help all of the animals who need us.”

  • The RSPCA has launched a Cost of Living Hub with lots of advice to help pet owners who may be struggling with the cost of caring for their pets, as well as a dedicated telephone helpline.
  • Anyone who feels they’re able to rehome a pet can see all of the animals ready to find love on Find A Pet.
  • To support the RSPCA in our vital work rescuing animals from cruelty and neglect, rehabilitating and rehoming, please donate online.

*1 January - 30 April 2024: the RSPCA was invoiced £2.1 million for private boarding; £1.2 million on dogs alone.

**We have capacity for 1,500 animals across our 14 national animal rehoming centres and thousands more across the 45 animal centres run by our 139 branches which are separately registered charities who provide capacity figures on a voluntary basis, meaning we don’t have up-to-date figures for these.

***This is the national waiting list and doesn’t include the individual waiting lists at our local branches.

****YouGov Profiles, 12 months ended 24/09/2023, GB Nat Rep (n=17,000).