Under current government guidelines, rehoming of pets now doesn’t count as essential travel, affecting breeders and rehoming centres across the country.
The week before lockdown, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home experienced a surge in adoptions when it homed 86 dogs and 69 cats compared to 42 dogs and 39 cats the week prior and 39 dogs and 52 cats the same week the year prior. The Dogs Trust also reported a 25% increase in adoptions.
Searches on the Kennel Club’s ‘find a puppy’ tool was up 37% the week before lockdown compared with the previous week and up 84% on the same week last year, with Labradors, cocker spaniels and golden retrievers topping the list. Legislation known as ‘Lucy’s Law’ officially came into force on the 6th April banning the sale of puppies and kittens from third party sellers to prevent selling those raised in substandard conditions. Although this surge in searches could be due to impulsive decisions to get a pet, the Kennel Club hope people simply have more time to research so are looking for a breeder directly for the future, which is what Lucy’s Law aims to impose.
While rehoming a pet when you have more time on your hands may have its benefits, it must be remembered that pet ownership is for life not just for lockdown.
What are the positives?
There are many benefits for us humans. 90% of UK pet owners say owning a pet makes them happy and 88% feel pet ownership improves their overall quality of life. This goes some way to explain why people may want a new pet at this time. This pandemic has caused great stress and loneliness. A new pet can be a welcome distraction and much-loved companion. Loneliness, according to some researchers, is just as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Research into the roles of pets in long-term mental healthcare suggests pets provide security, proximity and consistency lacking from other relationships. Pets have also been shown to reduce blood pressure and stress by causing the release of oxytocin, a ‘comforting hormone’. Many people will face bereavement and a strong attachment to a pet when bereaved is associated with less depression. Studies also show pet owners visit the doctors less, have reduced blood pressure, and exercise more (in the over 65s). Exercise is linked to better mental and physical wellbeing and walking a dog is one of the few simple pleasures we can still carry out during lockdown. Pets have a role to play in wider society, helping people connect at a time where this is a challenge.
I’ve written about some of these issues before in more depth, here.
The pet from a rescue centre now has a chance at their forever home. A puppy or kitten has a captive audience which is both positive and negative. Owners will have more free time to help their new pet settle in and more attention to dedicate to training.
What are the negatives?
Forced isolation gives us more time to settle-in our new furry friends but this should never be an impulse decision. Consider when life normalises how the new pet will cope with the sudden reduced attention as commitments and routines return. It’s vital to have a good plan for post-pandemic before making the decision to purchase a pet that will potentially be with you for 15 years or more. For example, if a dog will be left alone this needs to happen during the pandemic too, or separation anxiety is a risk on the other side. In the long-run dogs should not be left alone for more than 4 hours and, when more exciting pursuits available after lockdown, will still need walking.
You should expect your pet dog to cost you at least £4500-£13,000 over their lifetime. This figure includes insurance but not vet bills and could go as high as £30,000 for certain breeds. For cats this figure is at least £12,000. Few of us are financially secure right now and need to think carefully before making this huge financial commitment at such a financially volatile time.
A special note about puppies
The situation is difficult for breeders that have young pups ready to re-home or dogs currently in pup. Puppy breeders may end up overwhelmed by litters as restrictions prevent them being moved on to new homes. This could soon result in significant welfare issues. Many organisations are in talks with DEFRA to raise the significant welfare implications and negative impact that comes with breeders keeping puppies for longer than usual. Puppies growing up without adequate socialisation or with many siblings could end up with serious behaviour issues.
If you have a new puppy, they need to become accustomed to the world around them which is difficult as we currently need to stay in our homes most of the time. Puppies will not be able to go out in public if they have not been vaccinated. There are still ways to introduce your puppy to sounds, smells and objects but it will take more thought, will not happen as naturally, and there may be gaps. If you live in a home without children for example, think about how you will get your puppy used to children while maintaining a 2-metre social distance? Please contact your vet for specific advice on this.
What about new kittens?
Kittens that will hit breeding age soon must be kept in otherwise you may end up with more cats than you intended. Remember sibling cats can create kittens, so they will also need to be kept separate too, until your vets are in a position to neuter them.
The guidelines that vets are using will change over time. Your vet can offer you current up to date advice. If you have concerns, it’s important you contact your local vet who can give further advice on caring for your pet during lockdown.