Dogs, COVID, and Veterinary Medicine

Has COVID-19 changed the relationship clients have with their dogs? A new study explores how the pandemic has impacted human, veterinary and pet relations.

Dogs play an important role in our lives – as well as those of our clients – as valued companions that contribute to both emotional and physical well-being. Numerous studies have found that those with a dog are healthier and happier. People sharing their homes with dogs are sick less frequently, make fewer visits to the doctor, have lower blood pressure and risk of heart disease, and are less depressed and stressed than those without a dog. Dogs also help people relax and reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation by buffering the negative effects accompanying a lack of other social connections. All these benefits occur during normal times, yet, during the COVID-19 pandemic, things are far from normal. The pandemic has brought countless changes to how we live our lives, creating an uncomfortable level of uncertainty, altering our daily routines, adding financial stressors, and increasing social isolation.

How have these changes impacted the relationship clients have with their dogs? What COVID-related concerns do people have regarding the care of their canine companions? Researchers from four different US universities set out to answer these questions through an online anonymous survey for those with dogs (there was a separate survey for those with cats).

Lifestyle changes

One of the first things we want to explore is how COVID-19 and the related schedule/lifestyle changes have impacted the amount of time people spend with their dogs. The results suggest there are many happy dogs – 72% of people report spending more time overall with their dog, with most participants reporting that this increased time strengthened the bond they feel with their dog. Given the fact that 29% of respondents reported feeling they have minimal social support now (compared to only 8% who felt that way before COVID-19), this bond is more important than ever. In addition, dogs appear to help people cope with many of the negative emotions that can accompany the changes created by the pandemic. Over 50% of people report feeling that their dogs help reduce their feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation and loneliness.

Access to veterinary care

The results suggest that dogs are playing a critical role for many people during these stressful times. It is not surprising therefore, that many owners are concerned about being able to provide and care for their dogs, including the ability to afford and access veterinary care as well as dog food/supplies. For example, when asked about their concern level related to their ability to afford emergency veterinary care, 42% of respondents expressed concern surrounding meeting current needs, and 45% expressed concern for meeting future needs. Perhaps even more alarming is that 61% of respondents reported concern that their veterinarian would not be there in the case of an emergency, and 53% indicated similar concern when asked about availability for non-emergencies.
While it would appear that most people are appropriately unconcerned about giving their dogs COVID-19 or contracting it from them, 60% did report concern about their ability to care for their dog if they themselves become ill. Yet, only 60% of respondents reported that they have identified someone to care for their dog if they become ill.

  No concern Minimal concern Some concern Great concern NA/not an issue
Ability to afford emergency veterinary care now 1183 (29.6) 931 (23.3) 1153 (28.9) 521 (13.0) 208 (5.2)
Ability to afford emergency veterinary care in the future 1051 (26.3) 975 (24.4) 1231 (30.8) 569 (14.2) 170 (4.3)
Ability to afford non-emergency veterinary care now 1629 (40.8) 1117 (28.0) 807 (20.2) 245 (6.1) 198 (5.0)
Ability to afford non-emergency veterinary care in the future 1516 (37.9) 1094 (27.4) 939 (23.5) 279 (7.0) 168 (4.2)
Concern that my vet will not be open/available if I need them for emergencies 598 (15.0) 860 (21.5) 1544 (38.9) 898 (22.5) 96 (2.4)
Concern that my vet will not be open/available if I need them for non-emergencies

 

683 (17.1) 1103 (27.6) 1434 (35.9) 672 (16.8) 104 (2.6)
Concern about having to leave the house if my dog gets injured or sick 1078 (27.0) 1140 (28.5) 1076 (26.9) 552 (13.8) 150 (3.8)

How these findings can assist veterinarians

Capitalizing on these results, veterinarians have the opportunity to better address their clients’ concerns. Helping your clients understand that your veterinary hospital will work with them to meet their pets’ needs, and proactively reach out to your clients and explain your new (and changing) protocols. Perhaps you might want to offer guidance to your clients in determining an appropriate designated caretaker. And most importantly, as we all transition into this new reality, reassure your clients that your medical team will continue to be there for them in their times of need. To learn more, you can access the full report at https://fidofortcollins.org/

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