The UK's 10 most popular pets

Information about the UK's most popular pets which is sure to inspire some great classroom activities in National Pet Month

Puppy love: is man's best friend `top dog' in the list of the UK's most popular pets? Picture by
Puppy love: is man's best friend `top dog' in the list of the UK's most popular pets? Picture by
  • Puppy love: is man's best friend `top dog' in the list of the UK's most popular pets? Picture by
    Puppy love: is man's best friend `top dog' in the list of the UK's most popular pets? Picture by
    Puppy love: is man's best friend `top dog' in the list of the UK's most popular pets? Picture by
    Puppy love: is man's best friend `top dog' in the list of the UK's most popular pets? Picture by

National Pet Month takes place from 7th April to 7th May 2012 and is a fine time for schools to undertake pet projects.

The National Pet Month website has lots of great information about how pets can be kept in the classroom in order to benefit schools and pupils – a concept which gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘teachers’ pet’.

There are lots of super activities that kids can tackle during National Pet Month – studying pets can become part of science, history and arts and crafts lessons. Yellow Moon has all the craft essentials children need to make some fabulous pet-related art.

Pets can also feature in mathematics lessons – teachers can collect information about which pupils own which pets at home. Children can then use the statistics to find out which is the most popular class pet and present the information in graph form.

Perhaps the results of this classroom exercise will mirror the results of a survey conducted by the Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association in 2011. The research discovered the identity of the top ten most popular pets in the UK.

The results, in reverse order, are listed below:

10. Tortoises/Turtles (around 0.3 million)

Tortoises have more in common with humans than you would think – their lifespan is generally the same as ours. However, no human has ever lived as long as the oldest-ever tortoise, ‘King Malila’ who was thought to be 188-years-old before he died in 1965. What a life he must have had since being presented as a gift to the Tongan royal family by Captain Cook in 1777!  

9. Horses/Ponies (around 0.3 million)

Historians believe that horses were first domesticated on the wild grasslands of eastern Ukraine around 5,000 years ago (goats, sheep and cattle were domesticated long before this). Originally horses were herded for meat and skins and it is thought that the practice of attaching carts to them was introduced before anyone had the idea of riding them.

8. Hamsters (around 0.5 million)

When a squeaking box of hamsters was shipped to the UK from Syria in 1931 it was to have massive consequences for the pet trade. The hamsters were the offspring of one female wild golden hamster and were collected by Jewish zoologist Israel Aharoni. Hamsters were first found in pet shops in 1945 and quickly became one of the UK’s most popular (and cuddly) pets.

7. Domestic fowl (over 0.5 million)

When we think of pets we generally think of animals which reside in our houses. But chickens, geese and ducks all live happily in many gardens – and are still regarded as beloved pets by those who own them.

6. Guinea pigs (around 1 million)

In the guinea pig’s native South American regions, this furry animal is seen as an important source of food and is also sometimes used in folk medicine. Luckily, we treat guinea pigs rather better in the UK – many pet-owners have much reason to thank Spanish soldiers for introducing these adorable animals to Europe when they returned from their conquest of Inca territories.

5. Birds (1.0 million)

Budgerigars and parrots spring to mind when thinking of pet birds. Budgerigars are native to Australia and are the most popular pet bird in the world. Parrots were highly prized by wealthy Roman households, who gave the job of teaching the bird to speak to their slaves.

4. Rabbits (1.0 million)

The Romans certainly liked their pets – it was they who first introduced domestic rabbits to Britain. There are many differences between wild rabbits (‘cotton tails’) and domestic rabbits. Cotton tails have longer legs, slimmer ears and a more narrow face than their domestic cousins. I’ve always thought that wild rabbits look cuter than domestic ones, surely it should be the other way round?

3. Dogs (8.3 million)

When wolves entered Northern Hemisphere villages to desperately search for food 12,000 years ago many of them never returned to the wild forests from where they came. The humans they found in the villages often gave them food but it came at a price as some wolves were expected to guard, to hunt and to herd for their new owners. These wolves evolved into the domesticated dogs we know and love today.

2. Cats (8.6 million)

Cyprus has never had a wild cat population but the country did become home to the world’s first-ever substantial domesticated cat population; thought to have been introduced by early settlers 8,000 years ago.

Pet cats have flourished ever since – give or take the odd couple of hundred years in the medieval period when they were associated with witchcraft and became persecuted.

1.     Fish

Fish are easily the UK’s most popular pet – there are over 40 million of them providing pleasure to their owners. However, cats and dogs might be rather aggrieved that the poll counted both indoor and outdoor fish as being pets.

Goldfish can be considered as being both indoor and outdoor pets; at first they were kept in outside ponds and were not housed in indoor goldfish bowls in the UK until the late 1800s.

Will dogs catch up with cats?

It would be a large surprise if fish ever lose their position as being Britain’s most popular pet. However, dogs are expected to overtake cats in terms of popularity in 2012.

Do children prefer cats or dogs – it’s an issue which is sure to spark a lively classroom debate!