Pet dogs 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 4105 responses to the dog survey.

Key points:

  • A significant number of people reported feeling they have less social support now than before COVID.
  • For many people, dogs 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.
  • Most dogs are benefiting from more time with their family since COVID- just hanging out, playing and walking.
  • Many people reported feeling more bonded with their dog since COVID.
  • There are many who are concerned about being able to obtain veterinary care and dog food/supplies –because of both financial and availability limitations.
  • Despite the widespread concern about being able to care for their dog during these times, only 60% have identified a caretaker for their dog if they become sick.
  • The thousands of personal written comments make it clear that many feel their dogs are instrumental in helping them cope with this new reality.

*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=4105):
3610 (88.3%) females; 443 (10.8%) males; 34 (0.8%) non-binary and 18 NA

Country (n=4103):
The majority live in the US (3313; 80.7%), followed by Canada (355; 8.7%), UK (177; 4.3%); Australia (64, 1.6%); and other (194, 4.7%). “Other” includes 27 from Brazil, 12 from Germany, 12 from Ireland, 21 from Norway, 12 from South Africa, and numerous other countries with 1-5 responses.

Age (n=4058):
Respondents’ ages were spread across several decades, with the highest percentage of people between 50-59 years of age (966, 23.8%).

Adults living in the home (including self) (n=4105)
Most respondents live with one other person (2533; 61.7%). A significant number of respondents live alone (872; 21.2%).

Children in the home (n=4105)
Most respondents do not have children in the home (3305; 80.5%).

Dogs in the home (n=4105)
Nearly half of respondents have one dog (2028, 49.4%), followed by 2 dogs (1286, 31.3%).

Restriction level (n=4105):
Most live in communities in which all non-essential stores and businesses have been closed and ordered/strongly recommended to stay at home (3197, 78%), with an additional 724 (17.6%) reporting all non-essential stores and businesses have been closed but no orders to stay at home. A much smaller number (151; 3.7%) reported only some stores/businesses closed, or no current restrictions (17, 0.4%), or other (16, 0.4%)

Restrictions

Social support

We asked people to tell us how much social support they had before COVID and now (n=4105).
Over half of participants reported a great deal of available social support before COVID (2199, 53.6%), compared to only now (1101, 26.8%).
A much higher percentage reported minimal social support now (1196, 29.1%) compared to before COVID (319, 7.8%).

Social Support: Before COVID and Now

Time spent with dogs

We asked if COVID has led to changes in how much time people spend with their dog (n=4105).

Time spent with dog - Changes since COVID

Most participants reported spending more time overall with their dog as a result of COVID (2958, 72.1%)
1051 (25.6%) reported no change
96 (2.3%) reported less time

Specific activities together:

Time actively engaged with their dog before COVID compared to now:
64.3% (2639) reported actively engaging with their dog MORE now than before COVID
1315 (32.0%) said the time stayed the same
151 (3.7%) reported actively engaging with their dog LESS now than before COVID

Time walking their dog before COVID compared to now:

1746 (42.5%) reported walking with their dog MORE now than before COVID
1721 (41.9%) reported the amount of dog walking their dog has not changed
638 (15.5%) reported walking with their dog LESS now than before COVID

Impact on Bond

For those who reported spending more time with their dog now than before COVID:
55.2% (1622) said it strengthened the relationship
26.8% (787) said there was no change
15.8% (465) said it both strengthened and strained the relationship
2.2% (66) said it strained the relationship

Effect of additional time together on bond

Overall bond (n=4105)

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

Bond with Dog - changes

We asked people to comment about their strengthened bond, and this is a compilation of their words:

Bonding with dogs during COVID pandemic

… and some quotes:

“Hard to explain but being around him 24/7 makes our relationship a true family - making it through intense components of life and comforting together.”

“He is getting me through this.”

“Having this time together in quarantine is giving me a greater understanding of her body language and quirks. I feel like I’m starting to see more of her personality and that makes me really happy. She’s even started snuggling more”

Dogs and COVID related emotions -

We asked how dogs 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, dogs helped decrease their feelings of:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Isolated
  • Lonely

Dogs' impact on negative emotions

Dogs also help many people with their:

  • Ability to maintain a regular scheduled
  • Cope with uncertainty
  • Be compassionate towards themselves
  • Give purpose to their lives

Dogs' impact on positive emotions

Quotes:

As a single person living by myself, I am thankful that I have a dog and know that having him around reduces my stress in general. I would imagine it would be much lonelier without him in my life.

Having a dog greatly reduces my stress, can't imagine having to go through this without my buddy. He keeps me on my regular schedule whether I want to be or not and is my constant companion as I live alone.

He's great company. I'm not lonely because he's here.

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.

Veterinary related concerns

Dog related issues:

People were asked to indicate their concern level with several non-veterinary related issues.
Many people are concerned about the affordability and availability of veterinary care, now and in the future.
People are more concerned about being able to access dog food and supplies than being able to financially afford them.

Dog food / supplies concerns

Caring for dog concerns

Transmission concerns between dog and owner

Designated caretaker

We asked people if they have designated a caretaker for their dog if they got sick (n=3969).
While nearly 60% said yes (n=2357, 59.4%), many people have not made plans for their dog if they got sick (n=1612, 40.6%).

Identified someone to care for dog if needed

We also asked people if they have agreed to care for someone else’s dog if they got sick.

Most people have not been asked (n=3124, 78.7%). A smaller number had been asked and said yes (643, 16.2%) and a few people had been asked but did not feel comfortable committing to care for someone’s dog (92, 2.3%). Some said “other” (n=110, 2.8%) - with most of the comments explaining their answer or indicating that the agreement was implied or understood.

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=3969). Nearly a quarter of dogs have needed veterinary care (n=888, 22.3%). Yet, for these dogs that needed veterinary care since COVID, one in five have not received the care they needed (179, 20.2%).

We then asked participants to tell us why they took their dog to their veterinarian (they could select more than reason) (n=708). The most common reasons included vaccinations, monitoring an illness and wellness exams.

Reasons for veterinary visit

Veterinary Protocol

When we asked about their veterinary clinic’s protocol at the time of their visit (n=696), 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=398, 57.2%).

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 dog’s basic needs (n=3926). People were just as concerned about caring for their dog’s needs as their own needs.

Helping other dogs

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 (22.3%) compared to before COVID (16.2%)

A sample of the additional/final comments we received

  • I’m just really glad I have my dogs during this time. Life would be very lonely without them.
  • As I live alone, my dog (and Cat) have been critical to my mental health during an intense and lonely period.
  • As much as I adore my husband & he me, our dogs are our lifeline to sanity & exercise & calm.
  • Couldn't imagine her not being here.
  • I'm just so happy that I have them, I can't imagine going through this without them. Just petting them brings so much comfort. And watching their antics brings laughter that seems so rare these days.
  • I’m thankful for my dog being there for to hug and pet when things get down. I like knowing that he doesn’t know what’s happening in the world he is just happy to have a pet and a ball thrown to him. He is there for me through it all.

Final comments:

Thoughts on effects of COVID and relationship with dogs