As the economy rollercoasters through new highs and lows, and people attempt to go back to work, many are looking for ways to permanently work at home to keep their pets company. In fact, this has been one of the most positive spin-offs of this pandemic for pets that will hopefully remain and generally improve their lives in future.
While it’s been really tough for people to stay locked away from their usual activities, for their pets, the concept of more quality time with their favorite people has been wonderful. On the other side of the coin, for many singles living alone, having a pet has helped to really bring into focus the power of pets and the wonderful companionship they offer.
To try and capture a snapshot of these unprecedented times, Zoetis PetCare conducted to survey and discovered that 72 per cent of pet owners said they wouldn’t have been able to get through the pandemic without their pet. 81 per cent said the quarantine period has brought them even closer to their pet and 56 per cent of the respondents admitted to looking to ways of spending more time with their pets and that included working from home.
The Shelters – More Changes on The Way
“When the pandemic hit, many shelters implemented changes to move animals out of cages and kennels and into foster homes. This is actually so much better for them, as shelters can be challenging environments for dogs and cats,” explained Cindi D. Delany, DVM, KPA-CTP of the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California in Davis, Calif. “Many shelters are now moving to transition long-term to a model that is more de-institutionalized – fewer dogs and cats kept in cages and kennels and more of them in home environments wherever possible.
“We’ve also seen a movement toward really trying to keep animals from ever entering shelters by helping people who find lost animals to use technology – shelter websites and social media – to find and return the animal to their owner without ever having it impounded in an animal shelter. This is so beneficial and works really well as members of the community work together to help get a lost pet home.” she added.
“Further, the shelter world is moving toward a greater focus on our communities and how animal shelters can act more along the lines of human social services. Rather than waiting for owners to get to the point where they need to give up their pets, or when pets need new homes when they lost and the owner elects not to come to the shelter to redeem them, the goal would be to provide support to animals in their current homes so that they don’t need to end up in shelters. This requires a new focus on community outreach and support by providing a “safety net” for owned animals to prevent shelter surrenders,” she explained.
Currently, many shelters are working to meet these new goals by providing supplies such as food, water, medical supplies to owners as well as medical services like vaccinations, microchipping, parasite control, spay/neuter services and, whenever possible, also providing behavior and training support.
Endorsing this move to ensure a forever home is indeed, forever, Dr. Gary Weitzman president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society, points out the benefits of adoption over purchasing a pet.
“Adoption is much more affordable, he stated. “Also, you know you’re getting an animal who has been assessed behaviorally and medically by professional shelter staff. And, when you adopt a pet from somewhere such as San Diego Humane Society, we are your resource for the entire lifespan of your pet. Whether you need training advice, pet supplies or educational resources, we are here to support pet owners well beyond the point of adoption.
“If you are not entirely sure you are ready to adopt, fostering is a great way to test the idea,” he adds. “Unquestionably, the best animal to adopt is the one you already have in your home. You’ve already cared for that dog or cat, know some of his/her behaviors, and, probably have already fallen in love.”
Big Changes for Community Cats
The welfare of free-roaming outdoor cats remains an issue in every community and Delany says that the pandemic has also helped to confirm that animal welfare workers can, in fact, do a better job of caring for such cat colonies.
“We’ve known for years that many cats live fully or partially outdoors and have one or more dedicated caretakers providing them with food (or otherwise have found an abundant food source for themselves). Cats entering shelters are much less likely than dogs to have an owner or caretaker realize they are missing quickly and think to go to the shelter to look for them. And, as a result, there’s a much lower redemption rates of felines.
“The model we’ve been moving toward is to reserve official shelter impoundment and rehoming for cats that are truly in need and needing a new home – sick, injured, truly orphaned kittens with no mom, cats whose owners are unable to keep them, cats who are victims of cruelty or who are otherwise at risk. Our regular, free-roaming outdoor or indoor/cats who are healthy and in good condition are typically not in need of shelter intervention. For those healthy and happy cats, removing them from their outdoor homes and attempting to find them new homes isn’t really in their best interests and puts them at risk of euthanasia when shelters go over their capacity to provide care and find adopters.
“As a whole, the industry has been moving toward not impounding cats who don’t require help and instead, are going the TRN route — spaying/neutering and returning them to their familiar locations.
“Programs like the Million Cat Challenge that the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program launched in 2014 with shelters across the country offers positive alternatives to keep cats in the home or community when admission to a shelter is not the best choice. It has helped many shelters to drastically improve how they interact with cats and greatly decrease cat shelter euthanasia numbers,” explained Delany.
In fact, to date, the Million Cat Challenge has already saved the lives of 2,818,403 cats.
A Prescription for Good Human Health is Good News for Pets
For years, the Human Animal Bond Institute has been re-enforcing the many ways pets are good for our health, from reducing blood pressure to helping those suffering from PTSD. Now, in his new book Pet Nation — The Love Affair That Changed America, author Mark Cushing outlines why pets are an excellent prescription to overall better human health.
Cushing spent years working as an advocate and advisor to the pet world, in both corporate America and government circles, lobbying for pet causes. Consequently, his book is a very comprehensive and, at the same time, entertaining account of the state of the America’s pet nation.
“First of all, you must appreciate that it’s mutual, not a one-way street of cats and dogs making people feel better,” says Cushing. “Research confirms that oxytocin levels rise for pets just like people when we’re engaged with each other. This reduces stress and improves cardio performance and general well-being. Second, engagement with pets helps people with major medical, psychological and social challenges. And, there’s science to back this up,” confirmed Cushing. “A large majority of doctors even indicate that they would be prepared to write prescriptions for patients to get a pet.”
Cushing also points out that as a result of the pandemic, people are been adding pets to already pet-friendly households.
“Pet Nation has already grown as a result of Covid. Some say by five per cent to date,” said Cushing. “I’ll bet a fortune that many of the 65 per cent of Americans who have spent more time with Rover and Mittens during this pandemic than ever before are making plans to get another one. Looking back, folks will wonder how they could have coped with Covid and other social crises without their furry friends,” he added.
Cushing believes that this is going to pave the way for more community changes as a whole to accommodate more households with pets.
“Many of my fights are for improving access for Americans to pets, removing barriers to pets in urban apartments. ‘No Pets Allowed’ signs should become relics of the past when our society had no clue of what we were missing. We need to incentivize pet ownership by opening apartments to pets with responsible owners and fund programs for people in need like returning veterans to have their pets by their side during treatment,” he says.
Changes to Veterinary Medicine
The pandemic has also made huge changes to veterinary medicine with the introduction of veterinary telehealth calls. While it’s difficult for a veterinarian to diagnose over a computer screen, such appointments are great for check-ups and general pet health questions. With waiting rooms closed, and pets having to wait in a vehicle before being ushered into the exam room has alleviated the stress and anxiety many pets experience sitting and waiting in close proximity to other pets. This fear-free approach to vet visits is what Dr. Mary Becker has been advocating with his ongoing Fear- Free pet’s campaign for years.
The Zoetis Petcare survey also detailed how people have become more aware of behavioral and health issues their pets may be experiencing simply by being able to spend more time observing them.
According to the survey, 64 per cent say they’ve noticed more symptoms of their pet being unhealthy than before the pandemic began. Other changes included:
- 36 per cent noticed pets being much more active.
- 27per cent noticed pets struggling to go up and down the stairs.
- 24 per cent noted that their pets appeared anxious or stressed.
“In essence, the survey reinforced what we already knew, namely, we really need our pets in our lives,” said Dr. Daniel Edge DVM, director of medical affairs for Zoetis Petcare. “And it’s great to see people paying attention to their pets and their behavior and seeing different changes whether they are being more active, or needier, which can result when you are home more and paying additional attention.
“And, by paying more attention, they are realizing, often for the first-time, issues that they were not aware of such as seeing a dog having great difficulty going up and down stairs,” he said.
And, this in turn, is opening new opportunities to educate and raise awareness. And possibly more vet visits …
Grooming at Home
There’s no question that pets get stressed in veterinary waiting rooms and also while waiting in a cage at the groomer. This pandemic has resulted in more pet parents grooming their pets themselves, or, making appointments with a mobile groomer coming to their home. Again, this alleviates the stress and tensions that many pets face associated with a “spa day”.
Free Cookies at the Pet Store
The one thing many dogs may lose out on during this pandemic are trips to the local pet store and getting a free cookie while their pet parents stocks up on supplies. The pandemic has crowned e-commerce king in shopping for pet supplies.
“It’s well documented how the pandemic and accompanying lockdowns and quarantines have driven even more consumers to buy online, including their pet food,” says Debbie Phillips Donaldson, editor-in-chief of Petfood Industry magazine.
“A key takeaway from Packaged Facts’ April/May 2020 survey of pet owners is that 70 per cent of dog and cat owners reported shopping in brick-and-mortar stores less, while at the same time, 65 per cent reported buying online more as a result of the coronavirus. In addition, 64 pet cent of survey respondents agreed that more of their everyday spending was being done online, and 73 per cent said they feel safer buying things online as opposed to in a store.
“That could actually be a boon to pet specialty retailers, including independents, that have been able to adopt omnichannel strategies offering online ordering, plus home delivery and/or curbside pickup, to augment their brick-and-mortar locations. A certain portion of U.S consumers – 79 per cent of dog and cat owners, according to another Packaged Facts survey – said that, due to the coronavirus, they believed it was especially important to buy from local, independent merchants, so they may stay loyal to those retailers if they can.
“Yet financial realities often end up dictating purchasing decisions. The lower prices typically offered by e-commerce giants like Amazon and Chewy may well win out if indeed some pet owners have to start cutting back on their pet food spending,” she adds.
Looking forward, the goal beyond the pandemic is to continue the increase in pet adoptions and keep America’s pet nation growing. And, if many of the changes implemented during the pandemic become permanent, the future looks brighter for pets.