A new study suggests that the extra time they are pampered by their humans during lockdown makes many cats appear more affectionate. This may come as a surprise to some, as cats often have an unfair reputation for being aloof.
Many of us know firsthand how valuable our pets were during the weirdness and stress of the pandemic and the lockdowns that came with it. Studies have confirmed this and show that pets are stress reliever and reduce loneliness, no matter what species they belong to.
“I have two rescue cats – one was very shy, but it is much calmer now that I am at home every day,” said one study participant.
A team led by researchers from the Universities of York and Lincoln in the UK surveyed 5,323 people with pets, including horses, reptiles, birds and fish, along with the usual suspects – cats and dogs – to see what effect the massive changes had made on people have routines have had on them.
Over 65 percent of participants reported behavior changes in their pets during their first lockdown in 2020. Participants answered several questions about their animals, their own mental health and relationships. You were also asked to leave additional comments.
Overall, many owners reported improvements in their pets, but of all species, dogs showed the most negative changes.
“My dog has become much more needy and howls when I leave the house without him, even if it’s just gardening and he can see me,” explains another pet owner. “Coming back to work will be very tough for him.”
Roughly 10 percent of dog, cat, and horse owners said their pets were unsettled by the changes, but up to 30 percent found them appeared more relaxed and up to 15 percent saw their pets were more energetic and playful. About a third of owners, mostly the pet parents of dogs and cats, noticed that their animal companions followed them more than usual.
A major problem that dog owners identified was changes in exercise routines and socialization.
“My dog misses the company; he doesn’t understand what happened,” said one respondent. “He’s a very friendly Labrador and doesn’t understand why people don’t make a big fuss about him anymore, people cross the street to avoid him.”
There were also some cats that lacked their usual interactions.
“My cat is a registered therapy cat. We miss our visits; we look forward to visiting his fans again. He misses all of his adoration and excitement.”
University of York health scientist Emily Shoesmith and her colleagues also looked at the owners’ mental health before and during the lockdown to see if this was linked to the changes.
“Our results suggest that poorer mental health can increase awareness for your pet,” said Shoesmith.
“Empathetic engagement can increase reporting on positive and negative changes in animal welfare and behavior.”
Interestingly, pets with owners who had poorer mental health scores prior to lockdown did not see as many changes in their pets during lockdown as those who found their mental health decreased during lockdown.
“The owner’s mental health has a clear impact on pet welfare and behavior,” said Daniel Mills, animal behaviorist at the University of Lincoln. “[It’s] This is clearly something that we must take into account when trying to do what is best for the animals we care about. “
The team suggested that the perceptions of increased affection seen in 35.9 percent of cats may be due to changes in owner behavior, with people seeking more company and closer physical contact. This might have encouraged cats to seek more treats and other resources from their owners, they suggest.
Shoemakers and colleagues point out that survey studies like this have many limitations; for example, self-reported responses mean that they may reflect the owner’s state of mind rather than an objective response. The respondents do not exactly represent the UK population either – by far the majority of respondents were female.
However, this latest study adds to others who also suggest that changes in our habits have a significant impact on the animals we share our lives with. It also shows the value of spending more time with our beloved pets – they clearly appreciate it too!
This research was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.