Pets seem to have benefited from the pandemic overall, and cats may have benefited the most

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The lockdown appears to have made cats more loving as pets, a new study unexpectedly reports.

Image via Pixabay.

Being locked in definitely has an impact on the mental health and overall wellbeing of many people. As we return to our more normal ways, researchers are working hard to study how this experience has affected all of us. And some of them are also investigating how this has affected our pets.

One such study from the Universities of York and Lincoln in the UK looked at the changes people perceived in the welfare and behavior of their companion during lockdown. In addition, an association between these changes and variations in daily life, behavior and the reported mental health of the owners was examined. Of all the pet species involved in this study, cats appeared to have become more affectionate than the others, as measured by the percentage of owners who reported this change in their pet. Cats also appeared to show more positive changes in wellbeing and behavior than dogs.

Cat good

“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 and their physical and social environment,” said Professor Daniel Mills, animal behavior specialist at the University of Lincoln and a correspondent author of the paper.

“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.”

The survey included over 5,000 reports from UK pet owners on the animal’s mental health, the quality of the bond between them and the owner, and any apparent changes in the animal’s welfare and behavior. The data was collected during the 2020 lockdown. Over two-thirds (67.3%) of them said they saw such changes during the initial phase of lockdown, and the team statistically grouped these reports into separate positive and negative welfare scales.

Overall, the reports suggested that owners who were in poorer mental health prior to lockdown had fewer negative changes after the quarantine, but pets with poorer mental health saw the most positive and negative changes in animal welfare and behavior at the same time. The team’s hypothesis is that after lockdown, these individuals were more likely to pay more attention to their pets, which means more commitment to their animals. This, in turn, can help encourage some changes in the pet’s welfare and behavior, but it is also likely to increase the likelihood that owners will observe and report changes.

Nevertheless, around a third of the cats and dogs appear not to have been affected by the initial lockdown. About 40% of individuals in other species, on average, appear to have been unaffected, the team adds, and many individual animals seem to feel better after the fact. Between 10–15% of all owners stated that their animal appeared more energetic and playful. Between 20-30% said that their pet appeared more relaxed.

Overall, for every owner who reported overall negative changes in their pet’s welfare and behavior, at least three owners reported seeing improvements.

“Our results extend previous knowledge of perceived well-being and behavioral changes in a very limited range of species to a much wider range of domestic animal species,” said Professor Mills. “The mental health of the owner 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.”

Personally, I see the results as a sign that a) my cat really loves me and spending time with me is good for her, and I can only be happy. But it’s also a reminder of how many meaningful things we miss in life when we’re just chasing money, careers, and success. Time is one of, if not the most precious, resource we can spend in life. Maybe sometimes something important has to come by and remind us that maybe it’s better not to spend in the office but with those we love. Whether they are furry and pawed or not.

The article “The Perceived Impact of The First UK COVID-19 Lockdown on Companion Animal Welfare and Behavior: A Mixed-Method Study of Associations with Owner Mental Health” was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.