(last updated July 2019)
The performance of the pet boarding industry in the UK is closely linked to:
- the cat and dog populations
- the number of holidays people take - particularly overseas trips
- the average fees charged by kennels
- competition from pet-friendly holiday accommodation providers and non-traditional boarding businesses
According to industry estimates, there are between 8 and 9 million dogs and 7 and 8 million cats in the UK. People's attitudes towards their pets have changed over the years and in many households they're treated like one of the family.
The number of overseas holidays taken by British people increased considerably during the first half of the 2000s as people found they had more money to spend and travel got cheaper. The number of foreign holidays taken by people in the UK then crashed at the end of the 2000s as the economy slumped and remained at a historically low level during the early 2010s.
The mid 2010s (2015 in particular) saw the number of overseas holidays recover but the substantial drop in the value of the pound following the vote in June 2016 to leave the EU led to a fall in the number of overseas holidays and an increase in the number of families holidaying in the UK. The number of holidays taken abroad recovered in 2017 as consumers started to favour expenditure on experiences over spending on consumer durables. Despite the rising cost of overseas holidays and pressure on consumer expenditure due to increasing inflation and subdued earnings growth, the number of holidays taken abroad rose again in 2018. After two very good years for domestic holidays, the prospects for domestic tourism in the UK also look strong for 2018.
Although a foreign holiday still remains a key trigger for pet owners to board their animals, the introduction (and subsequent relaxation) of the pet travel rules to allow owners to take their animals abroad with them has had a small negative impact on demand with around 170,000 pets being taken abroad each year.
A trend that hasn't been so good for the pet boarding industry is an increase in the popularity of taking short breaks and holidays in the UK. While cat owners might still board their animals (although many just ask friends and family to look after them for a few days), dog owners tend to choose 'pet friendly' accommodation and bring their pet with them.
Pet home boarding and pet sitting have become popular alternatives to using a boarding kennels and these types of business are a growing source of competition for the kennels and cattery sector. Home boarding services for pets must be licensed to trade but pet sitters don't need a licence.
It seems that many traditional pet boarding establishments have found it difficult to raise their charges in recent years. However, some pet owners increasingly seem prepared to spend considerable amounts of money on pampering their pets and this has allowed some boarding kennels to move upmarket and offer an expensive 'luxury' pet boarding service.
Welfare and other legislation
The Animal Welfare Act was implemented in April 2007. The Act both streamlined and strengthened the legislation to ensure greater protection for all animals under human care or supervision. It extended existing powers to introduce secondary welfare legislation leading to new licensing conditions for dog and cat boarding establishments. Under the new regulations, which came into effect in October 2018, dog and cat boarding establishments must obtain an animal activities licence to be allowed to carry on their business. Guidance notes for local authorities explaining the new regulations and how to apply them can be found on the Gov.uk website.
Changes made to the Dangerous Dogs Act in 2014 mean that a person in charge of a dog is committing a criminal offence if it is 'dangerously out of control' not just in a public place but also in a private space such as a home or garden. The RSPCA provides a guide to the Dangerous Dogs Act on its website.
Keeping up to date with developments
Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up with developments in your industry. The Pet Industry Federation (PIF), which includes the UK Kennel and Cattery Association, represents the sector and their website includes a large amount of useful information.
Subscribing to a trade journal is another good way of staying up to date. Probably the best known journal for the pet boarding industry is Kennel & Cattery Management, which is published every two months.