Pandemic Pet Owners Facing Unprecedented Challenges
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our lives has been undoubtedly profound. Our ways of working, the economic pressures we face, and our new lifestyle habits – to name just a few – have been substantial, with some changes more permanent than others. But against this backdrop, there has been another key change to many of our lives: the introduction of a ‘pandemic pet’.
Recent research commissioned by Kantar and animal health association, NOAH, sought to find out more about the new cats and dogs joining households since the start of COVID-19, following reports of rising pet populations during the pandemic.
The study found that approximately 3 in 10 cat/dog owners welcomed a new pet during the pandemic – of whom a third were first-time pet owners. Within these new owners, the study found that the most likely demographics to have acquired a cat or dog during the pandemic are young adults (18-34-year-olds) and parents with children under 10.
The leading motivation behind taking in a new pet was found to be ‘companionship’ – with more than 80% of both cat and dog owners stating this as their main reason for adopting their new pet.
As a result of various national lockdowns, followed by ongoing restrictions on our travel and group gatherings, the UK reported a substantial increase in levels of loneliness since March 2020 according to data from the Office of National Statistics. It is well-understood that pets can alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation, and therefore the introduction of a new pet during this challenging period is not surprising – in fact, a substantial 81% cat/dog owners who acquired a pet during the pandemic said that their pet supported their mental health, whilst 85% of dog owners said their dog kept them physically active.
However, despite 92% of new cat and dog owners agreeing that their pet is now part of their family, these new owners are now struggling to adapt as we continue to return to something closer to pre-pandemic life.
Although the study found fewer than 1 in 5 respondents on average expressed concerns about their ability to cope with their pet, rates were notably higher among owners who acquired their pet during the pandemic, with dog owners particularly reporting stress, worry or fear.
In particular, the study found that 15% and 27% of new cat and dog owners respectively, are more likely to experience behavioural issues in their animal now that their lifestyle has changed; whilst 13% of cat and 27% of dog owners state they are struggling to look after their pet now that they are out of the house more often. A worrying 31% of new cat/dog owners even fear they may have to give up their pet as a result of the various challenges they are now facing.
Dawn Howard, NOAH Chief Executive said:
“Our pets have provided us with so much support during the darkest days of the pandemic – our survey shows how they have helped our mental health and encouraged us to exercise. With our lives starting to open up again comes new challenges; both for new dog and cat owners who have to juggle the responsibilities that come with keeping a happy healthy pet, and for pets that are having to adjust to changing times.
“For example, pets that have not experienced life outside lockdown are more likely to suffer from separation anxiety as a result of their owners being away from the home, simply as the pet is not used to being in this scenario. Their owners then suffer the consequences of their pet’s anxiety – typically displayed by unwanted behaviours.
“As the new generation of pet owners seek to restore their pre-pandemic life, whilst balancing the needs of their new pandemic pet, there is help out there. Pet owners are already choosing their vet for pet advice with 70% trusting their vet most, followed by only 34% choosing ‘Dr Google’. The veterinary team can give excellent advice and can recommend experts to help with behavioural issues. We can help make this transition smoother for us and our pets - it’s all part of the readjustment process for us all. As 89% of our dog and cat owners agreed – pets are a big commitment – but it’s worth it.”