Pet cats during the time of COVID

COVID has changed everything. It has impacted every facet of our everyday life – including our relationship, experiences and concerns with our companion animals. What has been this impact?

We are researchers* from Colorado State University, Washington State University, University of San Francisco, and Palo Alto University who study human animal interactions. To answer this question, we distributed an anonymous online survey via social media to current dog and cat owners and asked them to share their thoughts, experiences and concerns during these COVID times.

The following report is compiled from 956 responses to the cat survey received between April 6th – April 28th.

Key points:

  • A significant number of people reported feeling they have less social support now than before COVID.
  • For many people, cats play a critical role in helping reduce feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation and loneliness during this time. They also help increase many people’s ability to maintain a regular schedule, feel a sense of purpose and meaning, cope with uncertainty, and have compassion towards oneself.
  • Many people reported spending more time with their cats and feeling more bonded since COVID.
  • There are many people who are concerned about being able to obtain veterinary care and cat food/supplies –because of financial and availability limitations.
  • Despite the widespread concern about being able to care for their cat during these times, only about 60% have identified a caretaker for their cat if they become sick.
  • The written comments make it clear that cats are valued important family members.

*Researchers: Lori Kogan, PhD; Phyllis Erdman, PhD; Cori Bussolari, PsyD; Wendy Packman, PhD; and Jen Currin-McCulloch, PhD 

Results

Sample (who responded):
Our sample was predominantly US women living in communities in which all non-essential stores and businesses have been closed and ordered/strongly recommended to stay at home, with one other adult, with few having children in the home.

Gender (n=956):
875 (91.9%) females; 74 (7.8%) males; 3 (0.3%) non-binary and 4 NA

Country (n=956):
The majority live in the US (915, 95.7%), followed by UK (8, 0.8%), Canada (4, 0.4%), Australia (2, 0.2%), and other (27, 2.8%). “Other” includes 17 from Brazil, and 1 each from Germany, France, Indonesia, Malaysia, Norway, Portugal, South Africa and UAE.

Age (n=938):
Respondents’ ages were spread across several decades, with the highest percentage of people between 50-59 years of age (253, 27.0%).

Adults living in the home (including self) (n=956)
Most respondents live with one other person (489, 51.2%). A significant number of respondents live alone (339, 35.5%).

Children in the home (n=956)
Most respondents do not have children in the home (868, 90.8%).

Cats in the home (n=956)
Approximately equal numbers of participants have one cat (294, 30.8%) or two cats (318, 33.3%) followed by 3 cats (134, 14.0%).

Restriction level (n=956)
Most live in communities in which all non-essential stores and businesses have been closed and ordered/strongly recommended to stay at home (791, 82.7%), with an additional 131 (13.7%) reporting all non-essential stores and businesses have been closed but no orders to stay at home. A much smaller number (23, 2.4%) reported only some stores/businesses closed, or no current restrictions (7, 0.7%), or other (4, 0.4%)

Restrictions

Social support
We asked people to tell us how much social support they had before COVID and now (n=956).
Approximately half of participants reported a great deal of available social support before COVID (458, 47.9%), compared to only 253 (26.5%).
A much higher percentage reported minimal social support now (263, 27.5%) compared to before COVID (112, 11.7%).

Social Support: Before COVID and Now

Time spent with cats
We asked if COVID has led to changes in how much time people spend with their cat (n=956).

Time spent with cat - Changes since COVID

Most participants reported spending more time overall with their cat as a result of COVID (616, 64.4%)
327 (34.2%) reported no change
13 (1.4%) reported less time

Specific activities together:
Time actively engaged with their cat before COVID compared to now:
559 (58.5%) reported actively engaging with their cat MORE now than before COVID
375 (39.2%) said the time stayed the same
22 (2.3%) reported actively engaging with their cat LESS now than before COVID

Impact on Bond
For those who reported spending more time with their cat now than before COVID (n=607):
61.6% (374) said it strengthened the relationship
25.9% (157) said there was no change
67 (11.0%) said it both strengthened and strained the relationship
1.5% (9) said it strained the relationship

Effect of additional time together on bond

Overall bond (n=956)
We asked people to rate the bond they have with their cat on a 10-point scale (1 – not bonded at all and 10 extremely bonded)
People reported feeling more bonded with their cat now compared to before COVID:

Bond with Cat - changes

“A whole lot more loving time.”

“Absolutely adore him and consider him the light of my life.”

“All 3 of our cats seem happier that we are around more.  And, of course, we love spending even more time with them each day!”

Cats and COVID related emotions -

We asked how cats have impacted some common feelings people have related to COVID. (They could select NA if the feeling did not apply so the number of responses is different for each emotion).

For many people, cats helped decrease their feelings of

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Overwhelm
  • Isolation
  • Loneliness

Cats' impact on negative emotions

Cats also help many people with their ability to:

  • Maintain a regular schedule
  • Cope with uncertainty
  • Be compassionate towards themselves
  • Give purpose to their lives

Cats' impact on positive emotions

“Definitely my cats reduce my anxiety; when patting them, I can feel myself physically relax.”

“Definitely reduces impact on stress level.  Just having him here with me keeps me calm and grounded.  He also takes my mind off all of the horrible things happening.  He is teaching me to live and enjoy each moment.”

“Having cats both adds and reduces stress - I worry about how to care for them if I have to be hospitalized, but having them to hold and hug and listen to their purrs is the best way to calm myself.”

Veterinary care:
People were asked to indicate their concern level with several veterinary related issues.
Many people are concerned about the affordability and availability of veterinary care, now and in the future (n=935).

Veterinary related concerns

Cat related issues:
People were asked to indicate their concern level with several non-veterinary related issues.
People are more concerned about being able to access cat food and supplies than being able to financially afford them (n=935).

 

Cat food / supplies concerns

Caring for cat concerns

Transmission concerns between cat and owner

Designated caretaker
We asked people if they have designated a caretaker for their cat if they got sick (n=931).
While 62.3% said yes (n=580), many people have not made plans for their cat if they got sick (n=351, 37.67%).

Identified someone to care for cat if needed

We also asked people if they have agreed to care for someone else’s cat if they got sick (n=931).

Most people have not been asked (n=774, 83.1%). A smaller number had been asked and said yes (116, 12.5%) and a few people had been asked but did not feel comfortable committing to care for someone’s cat (18, 1.9%). Some said “other” (n=23, 2.5%) - with most of the comments explaining their answer or indicating that the agreement was implied or understood or that they would if asked.

Veterinary care has changed a great deal since COVID. We wanted to see what people’s experiences have been if they have needed veterinary care.

We first asked if they have needed veterinary care since the COVID outbreak (n=931), with 17.1% (159) of cat owners indicating yes, their cats have needed veterinary care. Yet, for these cats that needed veterinary care since COVID, nearly one-third have not received the care they needed (46, 29.1%).

We then asked participants to tell us why they took their cat to their veterinarian (they could select more than reason) (n=934). The most common reasons included monitoring an illness, wellness exams, and vaccinations.

Reasons for veterinary visit

Veterinary Protocol
When we asked about their veterinary clinic’s protocol at the time of their visit (n=110), most people reported that their veterinarians were doing ‘curbside’ visits, in which they were met in the parking lot and not allowed in the veterinary clinic (n=65, 59.%).

 

Concern about basic needs
We wanted to see how concerned owners were about being able to care for their own basic needs and how this compared to their concern about providing for their cat’s basic needs (n=915). People were just as concerned about caring for their cat’s needs as their own needs.

Helping other cats
We asked people if they had volunteered for an animal shelter/rescue (outside of fostering animals) before COVID and if they plan to volunteer after the COVID outbreak. There was an increase in the percentage of people who said they plan to volunteer in the future (29.6%) compared to before COVID (19.4%)

A sample of the additional/final comments we received

“Being alone, I am so grateful for my two sweet kitties to keep me company and make me do my cat chores!”

“Cats are family. It's been that way in our house my entire life. Now that my human family is gone, my cats continue to be my precious companions. They bring me comfort, make me laugh, and give me purpose.”

“Cats are great company. My life would be grim without them.”

Final comments: