The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a level of change and uncertainty that we have never before witnessed. It has also brought with it, an unprecedented rise in pet ownership across the country. Quantification of this rise has been now been revealed, in the Animal Medicines Authority (AMA) 2021 Report – ‘Pets in the Pandemic – a social research snapshot of pets and people in the COVID-19 era’.
This report not only brings to life the figures around pet ownership during the pandemic, but also explains the ‘why’ behind the unprecedented rise, and in doing so, very clearly shines an illuminating light on the importance of vets in our society.
With one of the highest pet ownership rates in the world, we have long known that having a pet is a way of life for the majority of Australians, and this report confirms what we have seen unfold before our eyes over the past 18 months – the biggest boom in pet ownership that our country has ever seen. There are now an estimated 30.4 million pets across the country. Nationally, 69% of households now own a pet – up from 61% only two years ago.
“These numbers speak for themselves – one of the many things which have gotten a lot of people through lockdowns and other pandemic stresses is their pets”, says an AMA media spokesperson.
A massive increase in dog ownership has contributed most significantly to the overall rise, with more than one million additional dogs being introduced into Australian households since 2019. A fifth of all pet dogs in Australia have been acquired during the pandemic, with companionship being the main documented reason for wanting a dog.
There are an estimated 6.3 million pet dogs in Australia in 2021.
The report findings also show that one quarter of all pet cats in Australia have been acquired during the pandemic, with an estimated 4.9 million pet cats in Australia in 2021.
Interestingly, the report revealed that contrary to what many of us had believed, the pandemic itself was not the reason for the majority of new pets, rather, the pandemic provided the conditions conducive to ‘onboarding’ a pet for those who had previously been considering becoming a pet owner.
The benefits of pet ownership highlighted
It is no news that companionship has long been the primary reason for pet ownership in Australia, and this has continued to be the number one reason for acquiring a new pet during the pandemic.
We have long known about the multitude of benefits that come with having a pet, including the enormous benefits to both physical and mental health. During a time of dramatically altered lifestyle – particularly in terms of social isolation and decreased opportunities for physical exercise through organized sports, visiting public gyms etc, pets have contributed overwhelmingly to reducing the effects of loneliness, isolation, anxiety and in-activity. Pets also effectively bring routine and discipline to people’s lives – in many cases giving them a reason to maintain a certain level of structure in their day and in doing so, helping to improve physical and mental wellbeing, particularly through some of the most challenging aspects of the pandemic such as extended lockdowns and employment loss.
Our pets in this country are such positive influences on our lives that one study found that Australian ownership of cats and dogs saved approximately $3.86 billion in health expenditure over one year.
The AMA report found that owners reported the emotional and social benefits gained from their companions far outweighed the responsibilities and work required with pet ownership – a finding that is consistent with the 2019 AMA report.
The report also refers to a paper by Dr Janette Young and colleagues (University of South Australia) which explored the impact of contact between pets and their owners while human contact is limited throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the study found that “participants frequently described touch-based interactions with their pets as being comforting or relaxing in a way that contributed to their overall wellbeing”.
Seventy percent of pet owners report that having a pet has improved their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, with survey respondents reporting the following benefits of pet ownership – companionship, comfort, positive mental and physical health, and unconditional love.
When asked to describe how being a pet-owner impacted on them during the COVID-19 pandemic, “pet owners spoke overwhelmingly of positive experiences and gratitude”, says the report.
The report also reveals that the pandemic has had the effect of strengthening pet-owner bonds through the ability to spend more time together.
“A lot of people have been cut off from their family and friends for various reasons in the last 18 months, and their pets have provided comfort as a companion and someone to talk to”, says an AMA media spokesperson.
The report has found that on average, pet owners are spending $3200 per dog and $2100 per cat each year – primarily on food, veterinary services and healthcare.
If we extrapolate this across the country, given the current pet ownership statistics, this equates to cat owners having spent $10.2 billion, and dog owners having spent a whopping $20.5 billion in the last year.
More to come…
It is estimated that 7.3 million households would like to add a pet to their family – with current pet owners far more open to the idea compared to non-owners.
The pandemic has given many the opportunity to experience the benefits of pet ownership for the first time. The survey also revealed that pet owners were near unanimous in advocating the benefits of pet ownership – keen to encourage others to experience the same joy, providing they were able to take on all of the responsibilities that come with being a pet owner.
Vets at the centre
On average, pets have been taken to the vet twice since the onset of the pandemic. The report reveals that veterinarians remain the top source of information for pet owners, with 71% of all pet owners having visited the vet at least once during the pandemic.
The fact that pets have been able to provide people with unconditional love and companionship, indeed providing many with a ‘purpose’ during the pandemic, and improving mental and physical health, is wonderful news for society, but we know all too well that this would not be possible without veterinarians – the guardians of the health and welfare of these animals.
We have seen that during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has never been a better time to be a pet owner, but there has also never been a better time for the public to fully appreciate the vital role that their veterinarians play in this privilege of pet ownership.
“This research reinforces how much the community values pets and how they contribute to health and wellbeing. We will be using this research to highlight the vital contributions of veterinarians to society in not only ensuring the health and welfare of our pets are looked after, but also how we contribute to the health and welfare of the overall community”, says Dr Cristy Secombe, AVA Head of Veterinary and Public Affairs.
Read the full Animal Medicines Authority (AMA) 2021 Report – Pets in the Pandemic – a social research snapshot of pets and people in the COVID-19 era here.
The AMA will be hosting a webinar to present the findings of this report on 6th October 2pm-3pm. The webinar will be presented by Phillip Partalis and Lisa Vo from Newgate Research. Click here to register.