11 Jan 2021 | Animal welfare
Why lockdown isn't the right time to get a pet
30 Apr 2020 | Daniella Dos Santos
As we see a surge in new pet purchases during the Covid-19 lockdown, Daniella Dos Santos explains why a pet is not just for lockdown, and the long and short-term considerations when getting a new pet.
Pets are incredible companions at the best of times, and the importance of this human-animal bond has been especially magnified during this time of strict social distancing and self-isolation. I have seen heart-warming reports and photos in the papers and on social media about how animals are providing their owners with much needed company during the lockdown. My own two rescue pets – an energetic spaniel named Bridget Bones and a wise old moggie named Little Lady– have offered invaluable company and plenty of distraction during an otherwise busy and stressful period.
However, I have also read about people flocking to get new pets for company during the lockdown, celebrities flaunting new puppies on Instagram, rescue centres reporting a steep rise in interest in adopting in the initial days, and a surge in searches via The Kennel Club’s ‘Find A Puppy’ tool. BVA’s own members have reported an increase in requests for new puppy and kitten registrations and primary vaccinations in the past few weeks at a time when it is not business as usual for vets.
With the lockdown now extended, vets would like to remind anyone thinking of adding a pet to their family that now is not the right time to get a ‘pandemic puppy’ or a ‘quarantine kitten’ on impulse.
As a small animal vet and President of the largest membership body for vets in the UK, I must admit that I am more than a little concerned that new pet owners may be getting new pets without due consideration for the animals' short-term and longer-term health and welfare needs, at a time when there will be significant restrictions on owners’ ability to provide the best start in life for new pets.
Let’s look at the immediate health and welfare issues, to begin with. Ever since the Prime Minister’s address to the nation on 23 March, in which he announced strict social distancing guidelines for businesses and individuals, veterinary practices have switched to providing only essential care or undertaking work to maintain the food supply chain.
This has had a significant effect on practices who have put staff on furlough and rearranged rotas and teams to reduce human contact. Many vet practices are operating a closed-door policy, switching to triaging cases over the phone and offering video consults, and have put in place measures to make sure animals can be handed over safely without contact.
Barring exceptions, pet owners should expect all non-essential procedures such as puppy parties to be cancelled, and others such as vaccinations and neutering to be available only on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with the vet’s clinical judgement. This is to keep everyone, including veterinary teams, safe; despite this, we’re hearing reports of vets receiving undue pressure and even abuse from clients.
The first few months of a pet’s life set the tone for their physical, emotional and behavioural development. Social distancing measures mean there will be reduced opportunities for socialisation and freely exercising a pet.
So new pet owners also need to consider how they will meet an energetic puppy’s needs during the lockdown. Limited exercise within the house and a reduced ability to interact with other dogs and people could lead to longer-term behavioural issues. There is also the question of who will look after the pet if the owner were to fall ill and needed to be hospitalised during this pandemic.
A pet is not just for lockdown
Then there are longer-term questions to consider, too. What happens to the animal once you go back to work or school, for instance? What impact will this have on the behaviour of a pet that has become accustomed to having humans around at all times? Pets need a lot of attention and care; would you or another member of the family be able to provide this once normal routine resumes?
There’s one piece of advice I like giving prospective pet owners, whether as a vet in practice or during media interviews, and that is that responsible pet ownership begins even before you get a pet. So while you feel a puppy or a kitten will offer much-needed company in this understandably challenging time, it’s important to carefully consider if you will be able to meet its health, welfare, socialisation and behavioural needs now and in the future, just as you would at any other time of the year.
This includes doing your research on different breeds, their welfare needs, and suitability for your home and lifestyle after the lockdown has lifted. If you are thinking of buying from a breeder, use the free Puppy Contract or Kitten Checklist to ask all the important questions to ensure you are getting a healthy, happy, and well-socialised pet.
This brings me to my original point- that getting a pet should never be an impulse decision, lockdown or otherwise. Lockdown in the UK has been confirmed for at least another few weeks, and it’s likely that it will take far longer for social distancing measures and other restrictions to be lifted in full. All of us, including vets are looking at many known unknowns in our future. Please think very carefully before bringing new pets into the mix.
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