The Pandemic Is Transforming Lives—for Pets and People  

While the Age of Isolation brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic has not been kind to people, conversely, it has had many wonderful positive benefits for pets.

For starters, it has transformed shelters across America, producing empty cages as people welcome cats, dogs, and other critters into their lives, offering both forever homes and foster care.

Working from home has allowed pet parents to spend more time with their furry companions, producing a new appreciation and understanding of the human-animal bond. It’s changing work habits and lifestyles: all huge pluses for pets previously left home alone and, if lucky, given toys and puzzles to keep them occupied.

Taking Notice

To paint a more detailed picture of the current situation, Zoetis Petcare conducted a survey to zoom in on these positive benefits for pets. Notably, 81 percent of pet owners surveyed felt the quarantine period has brought them closer to their pet, with more than half (60 percent) noticing a change in their pets’ behavior. This has made pet parents realize the importance of understanding their fur kids, knowing what to look out for, and how to react to a pet’s behavior.

“The survey reinforced what we already knew, namely, we really need our pets in our lives,” says Daniel Edge, DVM, director of medical affairs for Zoetis Petcare. “It’s great to see people paying attention to their pets and their behavior and seeing different changes whether they are being more active, or needier, which can result when you are home more and paying additional attention.

They may become aware, for instance, that a pet is having difficulty going up and down stairs. Witnessing an issue like that multiple times daily makes an impact and prompts pet parents to initiate veterinary visits to check for arthritis or other joint problems, place grips to help pets negotiate stairs, or provide a ramp to access a favorite snooze zone.

Changes in the Shelter System

Reports of higher adoption numbers have caught the eye of Cindi D. Delany, DVM, KPA-CTP, and her colleagues at the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis.

“Many shelters are reporting that animals are getting adopted more quickly and fewer animals are sitting in the shelter or in foster homes available for adoption,” Dr. Delany says. “This is awesome for the animals. It also helps give shelters more capacity to help dogs and cats in the community who are truly in need – those that are sick, injured, or orphaned. This frees shelter resources to focus on other needed programs, like community outreach.”

She sees a move toward a greater focus on communities and how animal shelters can act more along the lines of human social services. Rather than waiting for owners to get to the point where they need to give up their pets and the pets need new homes (or where pets get lost and their owner elects not to come to the shelter to redeem them) the goal is to provide support to animals in their current homes so that they don’t need to end up back in shelters.

That requires a new focus on community outreach and support, Delany says, ranging from providing supplies, medical services owners may need, and whenever possible behavior and training support.

The Future for Pets

Long, lonely quarantined days, stretching into weeks and months, has not only introduced new people to the benefits of living with a pet, it has also prompted many long-time pet parents to adopt second, third, or more four-pawed family members. Thus, raising the question where does it go from here?

In his new book Pet Nation: The Love Affair that Changed America, author Mark Cushing, CEO of Animal Policy Group, states that “pets aren’t a fad. They are more like the medicine America needs now for individuals and communities to feel better and do better.”

Cushing works at the highest levels in both corporate America and government circles, lobbying for pet causes has a unique vantage point of this human-animal cultural transformation from every angle: economic, media (social and traditional), legal, and political.

The publication of his book now is serendipitous, because this age of isolation in which we now live has helped accentuate the reasons people need pets.

Cushing explores the birth of America’s Pet Nation, starting in the 1990s, and outlines the path forward that he envisions.

“Cities and counties should legislate that all apartments be pet-friendly, meaning that a tenant can have at least one pet, along with rules and safeguards to keep life comfortable for other tenants,” he writes, suggesting that apartment developers can keep sections of a residential complex pet-free to satisfy everyone.

“American employers, take notice,” he adds. “Your employees or team members love pets and you’ll keep them longer, at higher levels of productivity, if they can bring their pets to work some of the time. If you want to hire and keep Millennials and Generations Zs happy, this is the best decision you’ll ever make.”

Cushing goes further, recommending federal recognition of pet ownership as a wellness program. “Our federal government encourages a variety of behaviors to promote human wellness and better health: It creates anti-smoking initiatives, exercise programs, encourages annual checkups, good nutrition and less junk food. These benefit from direct funding, tax credits or tax deductions, so why not add pet ownership and veterinary care to the list?”

He sums it up by saying “the government (federal, state, and local) should make it easy to say yes to pets and hard to say no.

“With the American healthcare system in a state of perpetual turmoil and financial strain, pets could be a small but dependable part of the solution. And a whole lot more fun than property taxes.”

To date, pet parents spend a lot of time and money finding great toys and games to keep pets engaged to give them both mental and physical stimulation. But our physical presence, and opportunities to spend more time together, is the best gift of all.

While you are sitting at home, with a cat on your lap and a dog vying for your attention to play fetch, the points Cushing has raised about America’s future with pets are worth thinking about. And perhaps now is the time to start lobbying for those changes at grassroots levels.

Highlights from the Zoetis Survey

How have pet owners been handling the pandemic?

  • 72% say they wouldn’t have been able to get through the pandemic without their pet
  • 81% say the quarantine period has brought them closer to their pet
  • 77% agree that they want to reward their pet with quality care for being there for them during the pandemic.
  • 72% say they’ve taken better care of their pet than ever before
  • 49% are giving more treats
    45% are taking them on more walks
    45% are cuddling or petting them more often
  • 40% are teaching them new tricks

What happens when everything goes back to “normal”?

  • 65% of pet owners are concerned about how their pet will react when they are home less often.
  • Pet owners are willing to adjust their behaviors to help their furry friends when they’re not home as often.

More than half (56%) say they’ll try to be home as often as possible to mitigate the change, post-quarantine.

  • 42% will attempt to work from home more often.
    34% plan to take their pet with them to more places.
  • 17% are considering getting another pet to keep their furry pal company.
  • 76% say they will take their pet for a proper vet checkup as soon as they’re able to.

Zoetis has set up an online portal to help people navigate pet parenthood with a detailed checklist and more. You can learn more about adoption and pet parenting at www.zoetispetcare.com/adoption.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle journalist and author of For the Love of Cats, Fabulous Felines: Health and Beauty Secrets for the Pampered Cat, The Original Cat Bible, and Making the Most of All Nine Lives: The Extraordinary Life of Buffy The Cat.