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Pandemic pets: From buying safely to looking after your pet in lockdown

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Spending months at home during the coronavirus lockdown has resulted in thousands of people taking the plunge and getting a pet... 

  • Demand for puppies has jumped due to the pandemic
  • Pets can help to reduce anxiety and feelings of isolation
  • It’s important to consider the long-term implications of owning a pet

What does the pandemic mean for pets?

Journalist Rachel Wait takes a look at how the pandemic has affected pets. Demand for new dogs has jumped sharply, with welfare organisation The Kennel Club reporting a 168% increase in searches for puppies via its ‘Find a Puppy’ tool between the end of March and end of May. So, why has there been an increase in pet purchases?

Stress-reducer

Thousands of people have sought canine companionship to help them through the isolation and anxiety caused by the pandemic. Having a puppy bounding about at home can be a great distraction, help reduce stress levels and even improve mental health. Being stuck at home has also meant many new owners have had the extra time to dedicate to training a puppy, while others say having a four-legged friend has encouraged them to take regular exercise during lockdown. 

Feline friends are also in demand

It’s not just dogs that have been in demand, however. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home says it has seen a huge rise in its rehoming figures for both dogs and cats due to the coronavirus outbreak. In the week of 16 March to 22 March, just before lockdown hit, new homes were found for 86 dogs and 69 cats, up from 42 dogs and 29 cats the previous year. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home has since had to close its doors to the public and is not currently accepting new adoption applications. The increased time at home has also seemingly resulted in cats becoming more friendly towards their owners. A report in the Sun shows that 51% of owners have noticed their feline friends now go outside much less, and 89% say their pet has given them emotional support since lockdown began.

Concerns about impulse buying

There are many things to consider when buying a pet and there have been several warnings about scams and exorbitant pet prices, as well as concerns about impulse buying and neglect. Research by the Kennel Club shows that many people buying a puppy over lockdown did so without carrying out the necessary research, and 15% now admit they weren’t ready to buy a canine friend. Over a quarter also said they paid money before seeing their puppy, while 42% didn’t see the puppy’s breeding environment in real-life or via a video call. Most worryingly, almost a quarter of new dog owners believe their puppy could have originated from a puppy farm, where puppies are bred with little or no regard for the health and welfare of the animals. 

Scammers taking advantage

The rise in demand has also resulted in large numbers of unscrupulous breeders selling puppies for thousands of pounds above what they normally go for. What’s more, according to Action Fraud, people looking to buy pets during lockdown have been scammed out of more than £280,000 after they put down deposits for pets they had seen advertised online. These fraudsters never have any animals to sell but have used lockdown as a reason why buyers cannot come and see the animal first or pick it up. After the initial payment, more funds are requested to help cover pet insurance, vaccinations, as well as delivery of the (non-existent) pet. 

What happens after lockdown?

On top of all this, there are concerns that as people start to return to work and spend less time at home, pets may suffer from separation anxiety. Many owners may no longer be able to take their furry friends on long walks and dogs could quickly become lonely. One in five new owners has admitted to not fully considering the long-term commitment that comes with having a dog and 18% say they don’t know how they will look after their dog when they return to work. In fact, only just over half say they had taken this into consideration before buying their puppy.

What to consider if you want to buy a puppy

If you haven’t yet bought a puppy but are still thinking about it, there’s a lot you’ll need to consider before making your final decision. A government landmark legislation, known as Lucy’s Law, was introduced in England in April 2020 and means that animals must be born and reared in a safe environment, alongside their mother. They must also be sold from their place of birth. Anyone wanting to buy a new puppy or kitten must deal directly with a breeder or adopt from a rescue centre. You should also think about who will look after your pet if you won’t be at home on a regular basis, as well as the costs involved, such as:

Food and water bowls
Bedding
Toys
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Vaccinations
Neutering

Pet insurance is also an important consideration as it can provide valuable peace of mind when it comes to unexpected vet bills and will help to keep your pet happy and healthy.

Reducing pet stress

Having a pet is known to help reduce their owner’s stress levels, but pets can also suffer from their own stress and anxiety. Signs that your pet might be suffering from separation anxiety include:

Excessive barking or howling
Destructive behaviour
Urination and defecation in the home
Increased heart rate
Increased panting and salivating

If you are due back at work and your furry friend’s routine will be changing, it’s crucial that you look out for signs of separation anxiety and also take steps to help prevent this. The following tips are a good place to start: 

Give your puppy an item of clothing that smells like you to help reassure him/her when you’re not there. 
Turn the radio on low to provide background noise and company – choose talking stations rather than music. 
Try to walk your pup before you have to leave the house so that he/she has been exercised and is tired and calm.
Give your puppy a treat or toy to play with before you leave as this can act as a great distraction. 
Stay calm when you leave or return to the house. Avoid making your return an ‘event’.

You could also practise leaving your pup alone while you're still in the house. You could do this by leaving them in a pup-proof room behind a stair gate while you make a cup of tea, for example. Start with short bursts – even a few seconds – and gradually increase the time. Once your puppy has got used to you being in another part of the home, you can start to go into the garden or even stand outside your front door for short periods of time, so that your pet gets used to being alone in the house.

If you're particularly concerned about your pet’s behaviour, it is best to get in touch with a professional who will be able to advise on steps you can take to help. There is no quick fix for separation anxiety, but it’s best not to get angry with your pet or punish them for their behaviour.

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