A survey asked pet owners in Australia how their animals reacted to having humans at home more during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Among people who noted a change in their pet’s behavior, nearly all dog owners believed their canines enjoyed having them home more often, while cat owners were split on whether their companions liked it or hated it.
However, that’s not the impression one might get from reading multiple headlines about the study that suggested the vast majority of cats hated having humans around more:
The reality is a little more nuanced.
For one thing, some dog and cat owners noted no difference at all in how their pets behaved, lead researcher Jessica Oliva of James Cook University in North Queensland told HuffPost.
When people’s dogs did act differently, Oliva said, it was “clear and simple” ― they tended to be happier and more relaxed with people home, and became more clingy and needy when people started leaving again.
But with cats, it wasn’t one-size-fits-all.
There was a “roughly equal” split between people who said their cats became happier and more affectionate during lockdown, and people who said their cats seemed “put out” that humans were in their space all the time.
“There was more variability in how the cats responded,” Oliva said. “Probably depends very much on the type of cat.”
Notably, none of this was actually the main point of the research. The paper, titled “Puppy love in the time of Corona: Dog ownership protects against loneliness for those living alone during the COVID-19 lockdown,” was the result of research into how having a dog or a cat influenced a person’s loneliness during lockdown.
One of its main findings was that being a dog owner specifically was “protective” against loneliness. In the paper, the researchers say this may be because having a dog “encourage[s] a routine which involves getting out of the house and walking, which itself offers opportunities to socialise with other people doing the same thing.”
Veterinary behaviorist Stephanie Borns-Weil noted in a Tufts University article last year that both dogs and cats could experience stress from the changes brought about by lockdown. Cats in particular may suffer from the constant presence of boisterous kids.
“Cats can be overwhelmed by having people around when they weren’t expecting them, especially young kids, who tend to add more noise and chaos,” she said.
On the flip side, both dogs and cats can experience stress after they’ve gotten used to the new routine of people being around a lot, and then that suddenly changes. While people tend to think of dogs as more apt to get separation anxiety, it’s a “real thing” for felines to get it too, cat behaviorist and “My Cat From Hell” host Jackson Galaxy told the Tampa Bay Times in September.
“When we’ve settled into a rhythm with them over months, and all the sudden we’re gone for 10 or 12 hours a day, that’s going to have an impact on them,” he said.
Galaxy and other animal behaviorists recommend curbing separation stress by gradually increasing the time you’re away from home, building a routine that you’ll be able to keep to even when you’re back at work, and making sure your pets have things like toys, treat puzzles and ― in the case of cats ― climbing spaces, to occupy them while you’re gone.
This story has been updated to include Oliva’s comments.