Throughout the pandemic a number of studies investigated the relationship between people and pets with early research showing that 90% of people reported that their pets helped them cope better emotionally during lockdowns. It is unsurprising therefore that we saw a huge upsurge in demand for pets especially with people spending more time at home.
However, subsequent reports suggested that the relationship between pet ownership and mental health might be a bit more complicated than many of us first thought.
Whilst research tells us that pet ownership results in physical and mental health benefits, on the other end of the spectrum reports suggest that pet ownership may in some circumstances, actually exacerbate mental health symptoms for some. With things like, Increased guilt and excessive worry especially for those who display a strong attachment to their pets.
So whilst pets certainly provided invaluable companionship for some, it appears that for others they could have created further worry and anxiety, especially around restricted veterinary access, the threat of economic hardship and the worry about what would happen to the pet if the owner became ill.
I wanted to explore this relationship between pets and people during lockdown, and so as part of the mini series ‘Pets in Lockdown’ on The Consult Room podcast I spoke to three pet owners to really try and better understand the impact the pandemic had on their relationship with their pets.
Firstly I spoke to Rachel who was made redundant from a job she loved right after relocating to the rural scottish borders. Rachel suddenly found herself jobless and isolated with just her dog, Theo, for company. Rachel experienced some real highs and real lows with Theo during lockdown including his deterioration of health and sudden passing which Rachel found devastating. This was a really emotional episode that highlighted the profound impact that pets can have on our lives.
I also spoke to Phil, a civil servant who, like many, had to adapt quickly to working from home. Phil lives with his charismatic cat Grayson who was less than impressed at having his human suddenly invading his personal space. It was so interesting exploring the change to their day-to-day dynamic and how that impacted on their relationship. Phil also gave some hilarious insights into how being a single cat parent can affect dating life!
Finally we chatted to Nicky who relocated from the big city to the Cotswolds with her little dog Lola, just before the lockdown orders began. Nicky talks about lockdown life with Lola and her experiences as a new puppy owner when she introduced Coco into their lives. This is another beautiful story of both joy and grief with Nicky telling us about how Lola passed away in her arms and how she processed the grief after her loss.
This mini series was a great way to dive into the complex and emotional relationship we have with our pets, through real conversations with real people.
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Dr Paul Manktelow is a vet who’s worked for almost 20 years on the front line in some of the UK’s busiest veterinary hospitals. As Chief Vet in the charity sector, he leads a team of vets and nurses that treat tens of thousands of pets every year. Paul also appears regularly in the media as a TV and radio presenter, writer, public speaker and podcast producer.