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Article

The Perceived Impact of The First UK COVID-19 Lockdown on Companion Animal Welfare and Behaviour: A Mixed-Method Study of Associations with Owner Mental Health

1
Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York YO10 5DD, UK
2
School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, Lincoln LN6 7DL, UK
3
Department of Behavioural Science and Health, University College London, London WC1E 7HB, UK
4
School of Psychology, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast BT9 5BN, UK
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Paul B. Tchounwou
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021, 18(11), 6171; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18116171
Received: 19 May 2021 / Revised: 4 June 2021 / Accepted: 6 June 2021 / Published: 7 June 2021
Background: Companion animals may be a positive presence for their owners during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the welfare of a companion animal is strongly influenced by the behaviour of their owners, as well as their physical and social environment. We aimed to investigate the reported changes in companion animal welfare and behaviour and to examine the association between these changes and companion animal owners’ mental health. Methods: A cross-sectional online survey of UK residents over 18 years of age was conducted between April and June 2020 (n = 5926). The questionnaire included validated, bespoke items measuring outcomes related to mental health, human-animal bonds and reported changes in animal welfare and behaviour. The final item of the survey invited open-ended free-text responses, allowing participants to describe experiences associated with human-animal relationships during the first UK lockdown phase. Results: Animal owners made up 89.8% of the sample (n = 5323), of whom 67.3% reported changes in their animal’s welfare and behaviour during the first lockdown phase (n = 3583). These reported changes were reduced to a positive (0–7) and negative (0–5) welfare scale, following principal component analysis (PCA) of 17 items. Participants reported more positive changes for cats, whereas more negative changes were reported for dogs. Thematic analysis identified three main themes relating to the positive and negative impact on companion animals of the COVID-19 pandemic. Generalised linear models indicated that companion animal owners with poorer mental health scores pre-lockdown reported fewer negative changes in animal welfare and behaviour. However, companion animal owners with poorer mental health scores since lockdown reported more changes, both positive and negative, in animal welfare and behaviour. Conclusion: Our findings extend previous insights into perceived welfare and behaviour changes on a very limited range of species to a wider range of companion animals. Owner mental health status has a clear, albeit small, effect on companion animal welfare and behaviour. View Full-Text
Keywords: human-animal interaction; human-animal relationships; companion animals; animal welfare; animal behaviour; COVID-19; mental health; loneliness human-animal interaction; human-animal relationships; companion animals; animal welfare; animal behaviour; COVID-19; mental health; loneliness
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MDPI and ACS Style

Shoesmith, E.; Santos de Assis, L.; Shahab, L.; Ratschen, E.; Toner, P.; Kale, D.; Reeve, C.; Mills, D.S. The Perceived Impact of The First UK COVID-19 Lockdown on Companion Animal Welfare and Behaviour: A Mixed-Method Study of Associations with Owner Mental Health. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021, 18, 6171. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18116171

AMA Style

Shoesmith E, Santos de Assis L, Shahab L, Ratschen E, Toner P, Kale D, Reeve C, Mills DS. The Perceived Impact of The First UK COVID-19 Lockdown on Companion Animal Welfare and Behaviour: A Mixed-Method Study of Associations with Owner Mental Health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021; 18(11):6171. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18116171

Chicago/Turabian Style

Shoesmith, Emily, Luciana Santos de Assis, Lion Shahab, Elena Ratschen, Paul Toner, Dimitra Kale, Catherine Reeve, and Daniel S. Mills. 2021. "The Perceived Impact of The First UK COVID-19 Lockdown on Companion Animal Welfare and Behaviour: A Mixed-Method Study of Associations with Owner Mental Health" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 18, no. 11: 6171. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18116171

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