Should You Stay Together for Your Pet?

How much do you love your pet? Enough to ensure they get a walk every day, despite the often dismal weather? Enough to put ensure they eat nothing but the finest dog food while you make do with food that’s on special offer? How about enough to put their happiness before your own? Do you love your furry friend enough to go to the greatest length of all – and stay with a partner purely for the wellbeing of your pet?

While it may seem like an extreme scenario for many, as a nation of pet lovers, a whopping 15% of pet owners admit to having only stayed with a partner to keep their shared pet happy, while 14% of pets are prescribed medication following a couples’ break up. This comes from a new study from pet insurers MORE TH>N, who discovered that more than one in 10 pet owners in Britain have contemplated breaking up with a spouse, only to reconcile the relationship to avoid any negative impact on their pet and keep their four legged friend content.

As with all break-ups, there are many factors to take into account when deciding the logistics of the split, and shared ownership or ‘custody’ of a pet only adds to such considerations. Topping the list of people’s apprehensions that led them to reluctantly staying with a partner who they shared a pet with was that of being unable to decide who should take custody of the animal (36%), followed closely by not wanting to take the pet to a rescue centre (25%). Concerns around the potential emotional repercussions for the pet were also revealed, with 14% saying it came down to feeling guilty about how the animal would feel post break-up, resulting in them staying with their partner just to preserve their pet’s emotional welfare.

Unlike children, under English laws, pets are considered property of the owners – much like a car or a handbag – and therefore their welfare isn’t considered like that of an offspring, despite the fact that many are viewed as an integral parts of the family.

And while staying together for the sake of you pet may seem like a worthy notion; the reality can in fact be worse, when taking into account the fact that you may be forcing your pet to live in a hostile environment.

John Ellenger, head of pet insurance at MORE TH>N said: “It is true that our beloved pets have never played a more important role in our day-to-day lives. As our study reveals, a number of pet owners will remain in a relationship with a partner in order to prevent their shared pet from experiencing any negative effects from a breakup. It is testament to the lengths we’ll go to protect our pets’ emotional wellbeing – even if it means making sacrifices of our own. That said, if couples do decide to split and they share an animal, it remains important to keep the pet’s best interests at heart when arranging its future living arrangements, as a means of minimising the stress of lifestyle changes as much as possible.”

Top Tips for managing a separation with pets:

  • Avoid arguments: much like when parents are going through a divorce and children are involved, it’s important to retain a sense of peace and avoid a tug-of-war with your partner which may effect your pet.
  • Stick to the facts: try and steer clear of getting too emotional when discussing the logistics of who keeps your four legged friend. Did the pet belong to one of you prior to the relationship? Or was one person responsible for bringing the pet into the relationship? Answering these questions honestly may help when it comes to deciding who should keep the pet post-break up.
  • Most important of all is to consider which of you can best look after your pet as a solo parent. Do you work 9-5 or do you work from home? Who can provide more space and a regular routine for your pup? Such factors are hugely important when it comes to agreeing on who your pet should live with post break-up.
  • Finally, make an agreement and stick to it. Once you’ve decided who should have the pet on a more permanent basis and what (if any) visiting rights the other partner should have, ensure that both parties agree to maintain the set rules for the wellbeing of your pet.

Have you separated from your pet’s other ‘parent’? Share your experience and advice in the comments below. 

Lucy is a Sydney-based book and travel writer, formerly from the UK. She grew up with three sisters and a house full of pets, including a beloved black Labrador. Since moving to Australia she likes nothing more than dog-sitting for friends, and heading out to explore the city's many walks with a furry companion in tow.

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