A survey of pet owners in Australia
found that nearly all dog owners thought their dogs
enjoyed having them home more frequently during COVID-19
lockdowns, while cat owners were divided on whether their felines liked or disliked it.
However, that is not the impression that one might get from reading multiple headlines about a study that claimed the vast majority of cats
disliked being around humans more:
The reality was more nuanced, according to lead researcher Jessica Oliva of James Cook University
in North Queensland
“About 50% of cat owners reported that their cats were behaving in ways that were interpreted as being ‘put out’ by their owners all the time
,” she told the ABC
, “whereas almost 100% of dog owners reported that their dogs were simply loving the fact that they were home all the time.”
The study's text also made it clear that cats' reactions to being around people
more varied: some cat owners reported that their pets
appeared happier and more relaxed during the pandemic
, while others reported that their animals
appeared "put-out" by having less alone time:
Changes in dogs were most commonly an increase in happiness and being more settled and relaxed, or they had become more clingy/needy. Cats, on the other hand, demonstrated a broader range of emotional or behavioral changes, with some appearing happier and more relaxed, while others were described as being ‘put-out’ or disturbed by their owner being home more. Other changes included being more needy, demanding, affective, and clingy.
Notably, none of this was the primary goal of the study, which was titled “Puppy love in the time of Corona: Dog ownership protects against loneliness for those living alone during the COVID-19 lockdown.” The goal was to investigate how having a dog or cat affected a person's loneliness during lockdown.
One of the study's main findings was that being a dog owner was "protective" against loneliness. The researchers believe this is because having a dog "encourage[s] a routine that involves getting out of the house
and walking, which itself offers opportunities to socialise with other people doing the same thing."
In a Tufts University article last year, veterinary behaviorist Stephanie Borns-Weil stated that both dogs and cats may be stressed by the changes brought about by lockdown, with cats particularly suffering from the constant presence of boisterous children
“Cats can be overwhelmed by unexpected visitors, especially young children, who tend to add more noise and chaos,” she explained.
While people tend to think of dogs as more prone to separation anxiety, cat behaviorist and “My Cat From Hell” host Jackson
Galaxy told the Tampa Bay Times in September that it’s a “real thing” for felines to get it too.
“When we’ve settled into a rhythm with them over months and all of a sudden we’re gone for 10 or 12 hours a day, that’s going to have an effect on them,” he explained.
Galaxy and other animal behaviorists recommend reducing separation anxiety by gradually increasing the amount of time you're away from home, developing
a routine that you'll be able to stick to even when you return to work
, and making sure they have things to occupy them while you're gone, such as toys, treat puzzles, and, in the case of cats, climbing spaces.