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COVID’s effect on the human-animal bond

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In countless social media memes, dogs congratulate each other on successfully conspiring to keep humans at home, and disgruntled cats wonder when “the servants” will get out of their space.

There’s no question that stay-at-home orders have impacted pets and their owners. Now, a new survey from Banfield Pet Hospital reveals how, and to what degree. The results show a paradigm shift, the effects of which are likely to change how people view and care for their pets for a long time to come.

Unsurprisingly, working from home means pets get more attention, pats on the head, treats, and screentime opportunities, as dogs, cats, and even pigs, goats, and birds “Zoom bomb” webinars and business meetings. But it also means owners feel more connected to and aware of their pets’ emotional and physical health. The survey shows 84% of pet owners feel more tuned in to their pets’ needs—and, as a result, 67% plan to make changes in how they care for their animals postpandemic.

That includes spending more quality time together, changing work schedules, adopting another pet, and putting greater emphasis on preventive care.

People have always loved their pets, but the pandemic has underscored the importance of and comfort inherent in the pet-owner relationship. Dogs and cats, in particular, have been stay-at-home heroes, with 45% of survey respondents saying that spending time with their pets has made them happier during quarantine, and 39% saying their pets helped lower their anxiety and sense of uncertainty.

People have been getting along so well with their pets, in fact, that 20% of survey respondents say they’d rather keep working alongside their dogs and cats than return to sharing workspace with human colleagues. That won’t be possible for many whose states are lifting stay-at-home orders and easing restrictions, and the transition won’t be easy. A significant 73% of people say they’re worried about leaving their pets behind to go back to work, with 59% saying they specifically fear that their pets will suffer separation anxiety.

Some of the ways pet owners hope to alleviate that trauma include spending more quality time with pets when at home (47%), adjusting their schedules to be home more often (21%), and adopting another animal so that pets can keep each other company (10%).

“The human-animal bond now, more than ever, plays an integral role in people’s lives,” said Banfield’s Chief Medical Officer Molly McAllister, DVM, MPH. “This survey shows that pets are always here for us—even, and especially, during the most difficult of times—and we’re encouraged that as a result of spending more time together, people are committed to finding new ways to better be there for their pets.”

Pet owners are increasingly attentive to their pets’ health: 44% of people feel that working from home has increased their sense of responsibility toward their pets, with 37% paying closer attention to often-neglected issues like dental health and 42% giving their pets longer, better workouts than they used to.

They’re also seeing their pets during the day, when animals are naturally more active, and 46% say they’re surprised by how awake and attentive their pets are now that they’re hanging out with them all day at home.

One of the most interesting findings, from a veterinary perspective, is the quarantine’s effect on how owners view preventive care: the survey shows 20% of respondents are planning to take their pets in for check-ups more often, and 41% have already talked to their veterinarian during quarantine—either in person, on the phone, or via a telehealth service.

So if you think you’re busy now, brace yourselves.

Photo credit: © istock/Anastasiia Kraiduba