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For many, their pets have proven to be positive companions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that a more “normal” life resumes on the trail after lockdown, new research has been released investigating whether owners ‘mental health has affected their pets’ welfare.
A study led by researchers from the Universities of York and Lincoln in the UK looked at reported changes in pet welfare and behavior. The study examined the relationship between these changes and the variations in daily living, behavior, and mental health of their owners.
One unexpected finding was that a higher proportion of cat owners said their pet was more affectionate during the lockdown period compared to owners of other species.
Study participants also reported more positive changes in cats compared to dogs, while there were more negative changes in dogs compared to cats.
Professor Daniel Mills, a specialist in animal behavior at the University of Lincoln, said, “While it has long been known that pets can enrich human lives, a pet’s well-being is greatly influenced by the behavior of its owners, as well as their physical and social environment .
“During lockdown, changes in our pets may have resulted in owners being around longer for vacation or work, changes in their daily routines, and limited access to pet-related services such as training or veterinary care.”
During last year’s lockdown, the research team conducted a survey of more than 5,000 pet owners in the UK to learn more about mental health, human-animal relationships and reported changes in animal welfare and behavior.
In the survey, 67.3% of pet owners said that the welfare and behavior of their animals changed during the initial lockdown phase. These reported changes were statistically grouped into separate positive and negative welfare scales.
Analysis of the responses showed that owners of pets with poorer mental health scores prior to lockdown reported fewer negative changes in welfare and behavior. However, pet owners with poorer mental health scores since lockdown reported more positive and negative changes in animal welfare and behavior.
Dr. Emily Shoesmith of the University of York said, “Our findings suggest that poorer mental health can increase awareness for one’s pet, and empathic engagement can lead to both positive and negative changes in reported animal welfare and behavior become. “
Overall, it was reported that about a third of cats and dogs were unaffected by initial lockdown, compared to about 40% of the other species, and many animals appeared to have improved wellbeing as a result.
Between 10-15% of all owners reported that their pet appeared more energetic and playful, and 20-30% reported that their pet appeared more relaxed, with at least three times as many owners reporting improvements rather than deterioration in their pet’s physical condition.
Professor Mills said, “Our results extend previous knowledge of perceived welfare and behavioral changes in a very limited number of species to a much wider range of domestic animal species. The mental health of the owners has a clear impact on pet welfare and behavior and is clearly something that we must consider when trying to do what is best for the animals we care for. ”
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Emily Shoesmith et al., The Perceived Impact of The First UK COVID-19 Lockdown on Companion Animal Wealfare and Behavior: A Mixed-Method Study of Associations with Owner Mental Health, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (2021). DOI: 10.3390 / ijerph18116171 Provided by the University of Lincoln
Quote: Did cats become more affectionate in lockdown? New research shows the effects of the pandemic on pets (2021, June 28), accessed July 2, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-06-cats-affectionate-lockdown-impact-pandemic.html
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