Pets to have been the key to reducing stress, anxiety and loneliness for owners during lockdown
- 89 per cent of dog and cat owners have revealed that pets helped to support their emotional and mental wellbeing during lockdown
- 38 per cent think that both they and their pets came out of lockdown healthier
- 28 per cent of pet owners now believe their pets suffer from separation anxiety
- A dog owner from the Isle of Man believes her rescue dog got bored with just her for company and missed meeting friends as he was used to up to 40 music students visiting his home weekly
- 35 per cent of pet owners willing to make use of stay at home technology to connect with vets online in the future
New research from Direct Line Pet Insurance1 reveals that our furry friends have played a major role in supporting our mental and emotional wellbeing during the lockdown period. One in ten (89 per cent) of dog and cat owners across the country said that their pets not only provided emotional support to combat anxiety, stress and ease loneliness, but also kept owners grounded and gave them a new appreciation for life.
The findings revealed that cat owners especially believe this to be the case, with over a half (51 per cent) admitting that lockdown has made their bond with their cats – often referred to as notoriously independent - even stronger.
During lockdown Jacqui Smith who lives in Brighton with her cats Izzy and Elvis said: “I know they could sense the eeriness and quietness and lack of people. That's why they enjoyed the clapping for the NHS so much, because as soon as I stood outside my front door to clap, they would follow me out because they could hear people again which they loved. I feel it gave them a sense of well-being and the clapping was their coping mechanism.
“We have a lovely little community where I live, and now most neighbours are going out and coming to see them in the front garden again. Without my cats, lockdown would have been unbearably lonely, totally intolerable really, as I live alone.”
Dogs help mental health:
Tina Wylie lives in Yorkshire with her two dogs, Sapphie and Bonny said her dogs would sit by the door looking at their harness and leads, walking back and forth, chattering away, asking to go out.
As a result of the one-hour daily exercise guidance limiting their walking time, Tina says her dogs gained weight and she became more playful at home – an experience reported by over a third (39 per cent) of pet owners who played more games with their pet to keep them mentally stimulated.
Tina commented: “We did a lot in the garden and I had to do more mental stimulation with Sapphie and Bonny which helped me too, by having to think of games to play with them. We kept each other happy and ultimately kept our mental health healthy.
“Without my dogs, lockdown would have been detrimental to my mental health. My girls have kept me going with their individual characters, their love, understanding and those lovely Staffie licks and cuddles. There is nothing like unconditional love you get from your dogs.”
Mandy Griffin lives on the Isle of Man with her rescue dog, Fernando said: “I’m a singing teacher who mostly works from home, so he has lots interaction with other humans - he has his favourites and knows who will give him lots of strokes/treats, and he knows who isn’t so keen on giving him attention, so he tends to just stay in his bed next to the piano for those people.
“Then, suddenly, these people were no longer visiting. I was, fortunately, able to do a lot of my teaching online which meant I was still able to interact with other people, but Fernando wasn’t. I was also at home all the time whereas, previously, I would be at home during the day but often out in the evening at rehearsals for a few hours, so he would have a break from me. Suddenly, it was just me and him all the time.
“It really affected him - I wouldn’t go so far as to say he was depressed, but he was definitely bored of just having me to interact with and whereas ordinarily he would be in the room with me as much as possible, I noticed that he would take himself away to other rooms in the house. I presume to give himself a break from me!”
Will lockdown lead to a crisis for Britain’s pets?
Direct Line’s study highlighted that 38 per cent think that both they and their pets came out of lockdown healthier.
While some dogs, five per cent, gained weight, the majority of Britain’s pets weight remained the same. The bigger issue looming over dogs and cats across the country as they go back to normality is separation anxiety. This occurs when pets become attached to their owners and struggle when left at home. It can result in destructive behaviour, such as furniture being destroyed and beyond the financial implications of chewed furniture and personal belongings, pets can become emotionally distressed.
How pet owners can prepare pets for life after lockdown to avoid triggering behavioural issues
Over a quarter (28 per cent) of pet owners now believe their pets suffer from separation anxiety, with half (53 per cent) of London’s owners believing their pets struggle with anxiety, and concerns2 are growing that more cats and dogs may suffer when left alone, after spending an extended period of time with their owners.
During lockdown, nearly a third (28 per cent) of pet owners admitted that they spent more than five hours of one-on-one time daily. Breaking this down, a third (31 per cent) of dog owners spent more than five hours with their dog a day, while most cat owners believe they spent between two and three hours with their pet.
Madeline Pike, Veterinary Nurse at Direct Line added: “It is no surprise that owners have bonded considerably with their pets during lockdown. However, as lockdown continues to ease and people start to return to work some pets may be experiencing separation anxiety, having become used to having their owners around more than usual.”
Separation anxiety can affect dogs and cats of all ages; however it is particularly common in puppies and kittens.
Former professional dog trainer and K9 Magazine publisher Ryan O’Meara has trained over a thousand dogs. He offers this advice to dog owners to help dogs to beat post-lockdown blues:
“For dogs that have gotten used to the specific routine of having their owners around, it may be jarring for them when it suddenly and abruptly ends.
“Dogs love being with their family, so less time spent with their owners can make them sad. Re-establishing routine is the key component for making sure our dogs don’t suffer the post-lockdown blues.”
Lockdown may change how pet owners use traditional services, such as vets, in the future:
Since lockdown started, one in ten pet owners have found it difficult to book an appointment for their pet because veterinary clinics across the country were closed. As a result of Covid-19 vets are now operating much differently and consultations are being carried out by phone rather than in person.
This new experience of a virtual consultation leads a third (35 per cent) of pet owners to declare their interest in using an online veterinary service in the future, with research from Google Trends3 revealing a 98 per cent rise in April 2020 for searches for ‘online veterinary consultations’.
Dr Mark Boddy CEO of PawSquad, a UK based online veterinary advice service, comments, said: “We have seen a five-fold increase in monthly sign-ups to the PawSquad platform since lockdown. Consultations have increased across all conditions, but we have seen particularly marked increases in skin/ear conditions, joint/mobility problems and behaviour problems. This may be explained partly by pet owners simply spending more time with their pets during lockdown and noticing just how much they are struggling with these common chronic conditions.”
Notes to Editors
1 Direct Line Pet Insurance partnered up with K9 Magazine, a lifestyle magazine featuring a wide range of dog ownership topics. K9 Magazine issued a survey to its readers, to which 1,092 responded. Survey conducted from the 8th July 2020 to 16th July 2020
2 – Animal welfare organisation, the RSPCA, has been offering back to work advice for pet owners - https://www.rspca.org.uk/-/help-your-pet-adjust-when-you-go-back-to-work-after-lockdown
3 – Google Trends report, sourced 22nd July 2020, comparing online searches for March 2020 to April 2020.
(US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, (Website) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5645535/ “Oxytocin and Cortisol.