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One in 10 older adults have gotten a ‘pandemic pet’, poll finds

10% of all people between the ages of 50 and 80 got a new pet between March 2020 and January 2021.

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A lot of the attention around “pandemic pets” has focused on families with children getting a cat, dog or other pet in 2020, during a time when many people were learning or working from home.

But a new poll shows that older adults also got in on the trend.

According to the National Poll on Healthy Aging, 10% of all people between the ages of 50 and 80 got a new pet between March 2020 and January 2021.

The percentage was indeed higher – 16% — among the people in this age range who have at least one child or teen living with them. But the vast majority of people between the ages of 50 and 80 don’t live with someone under age 18 — and nearly 9% of them also got a pet during the pandemic.

All told, 59% of people age 50 to 80 who completed the poll in January 2021 are pet owners. Among those who said in January that they are pet owners, 17% had gotten at least one pet since the pandemic began. The poll did not ask if this was their first pet or an additional pet.

Pet ownership was higher among those age 50 to 64, women, white respondents and those who live in single-family detached homes or are employed. Twelve percent of older adults who are employed said they got a pet since March 2020.

The poll is based at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and receives support from AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center.

The new data are an update to a previous report by the poll team, published in April 2019. That full report showed that older adults say having a pet helps them enjoy life, reduce stress, have a sense of purpose, and stick to a routine, as well as connect with other people and be physically active, especially for dog owners. Among those older adults who lived alone or were in fair or poor health when the 2019 poll was done, nearly three-quarters said the pet helped them cope with physical or emotional symptoms.

Of those who live alone, the percent having a pet jumped 12 points between the sample reported in 2019 and the January 2021 sample. The role of pets as companions for older adults living alone is an important one, especially during the pandemic when many older adults stayed home because of their higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 if they caught the coronavirus.

Poll director Preeti Malani, M.D., has first-hand experience with getting a “pandemic puppy” to join her family, which includes a high schooler studying at home. It’s the first time they’ve had any type of pet.

Malani notes that on the one hand, her family’s new dog has demanded more attention than they might have expected – especially given that she and her husband are busy physicians working both remotely and face to face with patients. But on the other hand, walking, playing and cuddling with the dog has been a welcome distraction during troubling times.

“Sully has been a great addition,” she says. “He makes sure we get outside every day. I’ve also met several other dog owners in the neighborhood.”

The animal shelter nearest the University of Michigan, the Humane Society of Huron Valley, has seen record-high adoption rates in the past year, says Wendy Welch, director of communications.

“We are delighted to see not just worthy animals get homes, but also to see people get much needed unconditional love as well,” she says. “While grandparents have sadly been separated from hugging their grandchildren, furry friends have been okay to snuggle. It’s well documented that pets can help lower our blood pressure, ease anxiety and improve symptoms of depression. And of particular interest during this isolating pandemic, companion animals certainly stave off the silent killer: loneliness. We are so thankful to the older adults who’ve opened up their hearts and homes to shelter animals during this time.”

The poll data from January come from a sample of 2,019 people, similar in size to the sample reported in the previous pet report.

Pet Care

Dogs act jealously even when they don’t see their rival

Dogs appear to be one of the few species that might display jealous behaviors in ways similar to a human child showing jealousy when their mother gives affection to another child. In humans, jealousy is closely linked with self-awareness, which is one reason animal-cognition researchers are so interested in studying jealousy and other secondary emotions in animals.

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Past surveys have shown that more than 80% of dog owners report observing jealous behaviors from their dogs–vocalizations, agitated behavior, pulling on a leash–when they give attention to other dogs. New research published in the journal Psychological Science supports these observations and finds that dogs also exhibit jealous behaviors when they merely imagine that their owner is interacting with a potential rival, in this case, a highly realistic artificial dog.

“Research has supported what many dog owners firmly believe–dogs exhibit jealous behavior when their human companion interacts with a potential rival,” said Amalia Bastos with the University of Auckland and lead author on the paper. “We wanted to study this behavior more fully to determine if dogs could, like humans, mentally represent a situation that evoked jealousy.”

Dogs appear to be one of the few species that might display jealous behaviors in ways similar to a human child showing jealousy when their mother gives affection to another child. In humans, jealousy is closely linked with self-awareness, which is one reason animal-cognition researchers are so interested in studying jealousy and other secondary emotions in animals.

To test how and when dogs display jealous behavior, the researchers presented 18 dogs with situations where they could imagine a social interaction between their human companion and either a realistic fake dog or a fleece cylinder. The fake dog served as a potential rival for attention while the cylinder served as a control.

In the experiment, the dogs observed the fake-dog rival positioned next to their owner. A barrier was then placed between the dog and the potential rival obscuring them from view. Despite blocking the line of sight, the dogs forcefully attempted to reach their owners when they appeared to stroke the rival fake dog behind the barrier. In a repeat experiment using a fleece cylinder rather than a fake dog, the dogs pulled on the lead with far less force.

Through their study, Bastos and her colleagues found that dogs showed three human-like signatures of jealous behavior. Jealous behavior emerged only when their owner interacted with a perceived social rival and not an inanimate object; occurred as a consequence of that interaction and not due to a potential rival’s mere presence; and emerged even for an out-of-sight interaction between their owner and a social rival.

“These results support claims that dogs display jealous behavior. They also provide the first evidence that dogs can mentally represent jealousy-inducing social interactions,” said Bastos. “Previous studies confounded jealous behavior with play, interest, or aggression, because they never tested the dogs’ reactions to the owner and the social rival being present in the same room but not interacting.”

“There is still plenty of work to do to establish the extent of the similarities between the minds of humans and other animals, especially in terms of understanding the nature of nonhuman animals’ emotional experiences,” said Bastos. “It is too early to say whether dogs experience jealousy as we do, but it is now clear that they react to jealousy-inducing situations, even if these occur out-of-sight.”

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Pet Care

Keep your pets cool

American Humane reminds pet owners to keep their pets safe, hydrated and cool by following simple tips and being mindful.

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Photo by Karin Hiselius from Unsplash.com

As people across the country are sweltering amid a record-setting heat wave that is making its way across the nation, American Humane reminds pet owners to keep their pets safe, hydrated and cool by following simple tips and being mindful.

“With record-setting highs closing businesses and keeping folks indoors, American Humane encourages pet owners to prioritize their family’s safety over fun,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of American Humane. “By putting in some time for safety and preparation, Independence Day celebrations can be fun for people and pets.”

Intense heat is pulverizing the American Northwest. Across Oregon and Washington, high temperatures will rise more than 30 degrees above normal, according to the National Weather Service. In many cities known for their temperate weather, this heat wave is not only setting records, but threatening communities. If you’re uncomfortable outside, then so is your pet.

Follow these safety tips to stay cool despite the heat:

  • Don’t exercise your pets in dangerous conditions. Regular exercise, surprisingly, can be dangerous for pets at this time of year. Even if your pets are active, get exercise every day and are in excellent physical shape, you may want to scale back their activities or change your exercise routine to the cooler hours of the morning or evening.
  • A pet in a closed vehicle is not cool.Pets are affected by heat much more quickly than humans are, and that leaving a pet in a car for “just a minute” can have a deadly outcome. Remember that cars heat up fast—even with the windows cracked!
  • At home outdoors, ensure that your pets have access to shade and fresh water at all times. Your trip to the supermarket or dentist’s office may take longer than you expect. Temperatures in your yard can increase to high levels in just a few hours, and heat stroke can become a serious issue.
  • Heat stroke requires immediate veterinary attention! Heat stroke can be deadly. Signs of heat stroke include excessive panting, dark or bright red tongue and gums, lethargy, stumbling, seizures, bloody diarrhea or vomiting, and coma. If you suspect heat stroke, you should seek veterinary treatment for your pet as soon as possible. You can provide some immediate treatment using cool (but not icy) water to lower your pet’s temperature by submerging the pet in a tub of water, wetting him with a hose or sponging him down.
  • Enjoy your spring-into-summer days with your furred friends—just be sure to take a few precautions and stay cool!
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Pet Care

10 Tips to prepare pets before storms and wildfires hit

There are three key steps to being ready for a disaster: making a plan, building an emergency kit, and staying up to date on the latest news and storm-related developments in your area.

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With wildfires raging and a busier-than-usual hurricane season predicted, pet owners should begin preparing now for emergency situations. Dr. Jose Arce, President-Elect of the American Veterinary Medical Association, is a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico who has been through hurricanes with pets, both as an owner and a veterinarian.

He says there are three key steps to being ready for a disaster: making a plan, building an emergency kit, and staying up to date on the latest news and storm-related developments in your area.

Dr. Arce’s 10 Pet Preparedness Tips:

  1. Get your pet microchipped. If a pet gets lost or needs a place to ride out the storm, he or she will get back to you.
  2. Have evacuation plans mapped out before emergency situations arise.
  3. Contact friends or neighbors to coordinate safe travel plans.
  4. Have back-up care for your pets ready in the case you can’t make it home.
  5. Put together a pet emergency go-bag with several days’ food, medicines, first aid kit and grooming items.
  6. Make sure your pet has all their tags and IDs in case you have to evacuate.
  7. Practice finding a safe place at home with your pet, such as a basement or interior room, in case of tornados or high winds.
  8. Keep a handful of items – such as a leash, water dish, and blanket – in your car at all times in case you have to move quickly.
  9. Tune into the latest news/weather reports to be forewarned of any imminent danger.
  10. Contact your veterinarian if you need more clarity on how to prepare.

“Emergency situations are unpredictable,” said Arce. “Being prepared early will help you, your family, and pet have the best chance at avoiding disaster.”

Log on to www.avma.org for more valuable information about pets and pet care.

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