As people remain stuck at home, the demand for adopting or fostering pets, particularly dogs, has risen worldwide, from Canada to India. Between March and September 2020, the number of foster pets in U.S. homes increased by 8 percent, according to PetPoint, which collects industry data on pet adoption.
Some pet owners are noticing behavioral changes in their animals, while also worrying more about their animal’s well-being during lo.c.kd.own, new research shows.
While the health benefits of having a pet are well known—from lowering blood pressure to reducing stress—the relationship is complex, and how pet owners and their pets are coping amid lengthy lo.c.kd.owns is an open question.
In April 2020, Jon Bowen, a behavior consultant at the Royal Veterinary College in London, asked 1,297 dog and cat owners in Spain questions about their feelings toward their pets and their animals’ recent behavior. Most owners said their pets had provided “substantial support” during the p.ande.mic , yet 62 percent of respondents said they thought their pet’s quality of life had decreased. About 41 percent also reported observing behavioral changes in their animals during the p.ande.mic , particularly dogs that had experienced behavioral problems in the past.
Plenty of research shows that dogs have emotions and can absorb what their owners are feeling—particularly if an owner is emotionally dependent on them, says Bowen, whose study appeared in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior in May 2020.
In April and June 2020, Elena Ratschen, a senior lecturer at England’s University of York, asked 5,926 people in the U.K. about their mental health, well-being, and loneliness, as well as their bonds and interactions with their pets.
The survey, published in the journal PLOS ONE in September 2020, included any companion animals, such as fish, birds, dogs, cats, and small mammals. Most respondents—including 91 percent of dog owners, 89 percent of cat owners, and 95 percent of horse and farm animal owners—said that their pets “constituted an important source of emotional support,” Ratschen says.
People who self-reported being more vu.lne.rable to mental health problems pre-lo.c.kd.own responded that they were experiencing stronger bonds with their animal during the p.ande.mic .
In addition, pet owners overall reported feeling less lonely and is.ola.ted than those who did not own pets. This may be due to a “buffering effect”: Pets can’t replace our social interactions with other humans, but they can help fill that gap, she says.
Studies noted new fears among pet owners, including whether their dog is getting enough exercise, the ability to buy pet food, obtaining access to veterinary care, figuring out who would care for the animal if they got sick, and the uncertainty of how their pet will adapt to post-p.ande.mic life.
Looking ahead, McCobb says, “It would be nice to see if we could keep some of the lifestyle changes we’ve had to make because of the p.ande.mic ,” such as eating lunch at home or spending more time walking our dogs.
“The positives are few and far between,” she says, “so we have to keep them if we can.”
Emily McCobb, a clinical associate professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University says “It would be nice to see if we could keep some of the lifestyle changes we’ve had to make because of the p.ande.mic ,” such as eating lunch at home or spending more time walking our dogs.