In March 2020, Americans began experiencing numerous lifestyle changes due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some reports have suggested that pet acquisition and ownership increased during this period, and some have suggested shelters and rescues will be overwhelmed once pandemic-related restrictions are lifted and lifestyles shift yet again.
A recent study, published in collaboration with Christy L. Hoffman, PhD, associate professor of Animal Behavior, Ecology and Conservation (ABEC) at Canisius College and Melissa Thibault, senior manager for research strategy & research for the ASPCA, showed the contrary, finding no increase in dog or cat ownership during the pandemic.
In addition, while rehoming pets does appear to have been elevated during the pandemic (compared to non-pandemic times), as of May 2021 when data were collected, 88 percent of dog and cat owners reported they did not rehome dogs or cats during the pandemic. Further, rehomed animals were placed with friends, family members and neighbors more frequently than they were relinquished to animal shelters and rescues.
Additional findings include:
- The proportion of cats and dogs acquired from shelters and rescues decreased during the pandemic while the proportion of cats and dogs acquired from pet stores and breeders increased. This may have been due to reductions in the overall number of animals available for adoption from shelters during the pandemic, as well as to the public's limited access to shelters during this period.
- Younger individuals and those in households that included children were more likely to have acquired a dog and/or cat during the pandemic.
- Pet ownership remained steady. Those who had dogs and/or cats prior to March 2020 were significantly more likely to have acquired one during the pandemic than were those who entered the pandemic without a pet.
- Individuals who did acquire new animals during the pandemic were more likely to report they had rehomed an animal during the pandemic than were pet owners who did not acquire new animals during that period.
- Adults under 35 years old were more likely to have rehomed a pet during the pandemic than were older adults.
- Concerns that pet owners disclosed in the survey suggest that animal welfare organizations may have an opportunity to provide support to owners in the form of information about affordable vet care and pet-friendly housing options, and by helping pet owners strategize ways to incorporate their pets into their post-pandemic lifestyles.
Hoffman, C.L., et al. (2021) Characterizing Pet Acquisition and Retention During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2021.781403.