Study investigates if COVID-19 restrictions were associated with differences in health and lifestyle of Labradors

A national lockdown was imposed in the United Kingdom (UK) in March 2020 due to the pandemic caused by the emergence of a novel coronavirus – severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Although the lockdown protocols were eased after a few months, the long-term impacts of the measures adopted to control the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic are yet to be completely comprehended.

Study: The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on a cohort of Labrador Retrievers in England. Image Credit: Dora Zett/ShutterstockStudy: The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on a cohort of Labrador Retrievers in England. Image Credit: Dora Zett/Shutterstock

According to the Pet Food Manufacturers' Association (PFMA), one-third of households in the UK have pet dogs. Isolation protocols implemented to control COVID-19 have affected the welfare of pet dogs, owing to the physical and mental health of their owners, changes in their lifestyle and routine, the financial status of their owners, limited access to veterinary care, and increases in pet adoption and purchases.

Besides the changes such as decreased time left alone, reduced outdoor exercise, differences in training, and fewer opportunities to socialize with other dogs, as well as increased exposure to physical contact and attachment with their respective owners may render behavioral difficulties in adult dogs and even predispose puppies to behavioral alterations. Surveys have reported negative changes in dogs' behavior during the implementation of isolation protocols. The severity of dog bites seemed to have increased – as reported by the pediatric healthcare divisions during the 2020 lockdown in Italy.

Although veterinary practices were exempt from closing during the first UK lockdown, they faced considerable reductions in their weekly practice turnover. According to the Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network (SAVSNET), even the vaccination consultations declined during the first 2020 lockdown. These were speculated to have been caused due to financial difficulties experienced by the pet owners.

Reduced access to healthcare among pet dogs led to increased incidences of certain diseases controlled by vaccines, such as parvovirus and leptospirosis. Veterinary departments also reported reductions in consultations for gastroenteric and respiratory clinical signs, pruritis, trauma, and tumors.

The study

A new study available as a preprint on Research Square* and under consideration at BMC Veterinary Research investigated whether COVID-19 restrictions were associated with differences in Dogslife Labrador Retrievers' lifestyle, including factors such as – exercise, diet, bathing and sleeping habits; routine care, including – worming, anti-parasitic treatments for fleas and ticks and vaccination; or insurance status. Additionally, the present study aimed to determine if COVID-19 restrictions were associated with differences in Dogslife Labrador Retrievers' illness incidence or veterinary attendance with an illness.

The present analysis included variables of interest from 13,716 questionnaires from 3,889 dogs, entered into the Dogslife website by owners from 2011-2020.

Findings

The results revealed that COVID-19 isolation protocols were correlated with an increase of 6.89 minutes of exercise per week among pet dogs and increased chances of pet dogs being treated with a wormer. At the same time, this period correlated to decreases in dog insurance, vaccination, and being provided with packed dog foods.

To investigate the association of the COVID-19 restrictions to the reported illness incidences and veterinary attendance, data of 4,110 dogs were analyzed from 16,115 questionnaires entered into the Dogslife website by pet owners. It was found that between 2011 and 2020, the Dogslife website recorded at least one incidence of illness – from a total of 3,320 questionnaires and at least one incidence where the owner had taken their dog to the vet with an illness – from 1,850 questionnaires.

The findings suggested that COVID-19 restrictions were associated with decreased reports of coughing episodes but were not associated with reduced reports of any illness like – vomiting, diarrhea, scratching, or other serious problems, for example – ear problems, eye problems, accident, or injury.

However, this period also saw decreased odds of pet dogs' visits to veterinarians with an episode of any illness, scratching, limping or lameness, eye problems, and accident of injury. Yet, the COVID-19 restrictions period was not correlated with changes in reported episodes of vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, licking or chewing, ear problems, or skin problems in pet dogs.

Inference

The results confirmed that the COVID-19 isolation period coincided with differences in Labrador Retrievers' lifestyle, routine care, insurance status, illness incidence, and veterinary attendance for pet dogs in the UK enrolled in Dogslife.

The present study utilized prospective questionnaire data from owners already enrolled in a longitudinal cohort study. Hence, this methodology minimized biases associated with recalling events before the pandemic.

It was stated that future research must focus on describing how the negative impacts of the COVID-19-associated restrictions on pet dogs can be minimized.

*Important notice

Research Square publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

Journal reference:
Nidhi Saha

Written by

Nidhi Saha

I am a medical content writer and editor. My interests lie in public health awareness and medical communication. I have worked as a clinical dentist and as a consultant research writer in an Indian medical publishing house. It is my constant endeavor is to update knowledge on newer treatment modalities relating to various medical fields. I have also aided in proofreading and publication of manuscripts in accredited medical journals. I like to sketch, read and listen to music in my leisure time.

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