COVID-19: Pets in Canada
The COVID-19 crisis is transforming almost every aspect of life and business as people understand it, and it appears that this holds true for consumer behavior surrounding their pets. Fourteen pieces of information, data, and/or statistics surrounding how COVID-19 is impacting dog and cat ownership in Canada have been curated and presented below. Additionally, we have presented two pieces of United States data surrounding pet food manufacturers and how COVID-19 is impacting them. We are providing this as there is no publicly available data for the Canadian market, but we still thought this would be valuable information to have. We provided charts for this data.
- Silvia Jay, a Halifax-based dog behavior expert, cautions Canadian pet owners who have been quarantining at home with their pets to keep a normal routine. She believes that giving a dog or cat time alone could help keep separation anxiety at bay once people go back to work when the pandemic precautions end. For those at home with a pet in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms Jay also recommends that owners should resist playing with them all day. For example, giving a dog too much attention now could lead to separation anxiety in the future. "There's definitely a risk that they get really used to it, and then become anxious or frustrated when things change again," she asserts.
- Silvia Jay also recommends that when people do eventually return to work, they should purchase some pet toys that will keep their pet interested and mentally stimulated. Topping up their toy box with a special toy or bone can help make their pet adjust to being home alone a bit better.
- Eric Carnegy, a Halifax veterinarian, states while he does come across cases of separation anxiety in his practice, it's not likely to be a "huge problem" coming out of the COVID-19 crisis. He said pets belonging to educators that are generally off for two months during the summer, are able to get back into their regular routines fairly easily.
- Pet owners are being encouraged by the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society to start making preparations for their pets for a return to their normal routine as the COVID-19 restrictions begin to be relaxed. They state that after "spending more time with pets and taking them for extra walks, people need to take steps to reduce separation anxiety now before they return to work."
- These steps include creating a consistent daily routine, consistent meal times, quiet time, owners going outside for periods of time without their dogs, and buying new toys for their pets. These toys should be self-entertaining, or chew toys, to encourage independent activities.
Pet Adoption/Purchasing Rates
- Across Canada, animal rescue organizations are reporting a spike in demand for rescue dogs and cats, as people are looking for four legged companions to keep them company during the pandemic and the forced isolation being endured by many. According to CTV News, when the news organization reached out to six rescue organizations from British Columbia on the west coast, to Nova Scotia on the east coast, they were told that applications to foster pets have dramatically surged, with some fielding six times more requests than average. "One group received as many applications in two days as they normally get in six months." According to Rory O’Neill, a dog behaviorist with Rocky Mountain Animal Rescue (one of the organizations surveyed by CTV news), “We have more foster applications than we have dogs right now, which happens almost never."
- The reason behind the trend appears to be the same across Canada. All the groups reported that as the pandemic causes the closure of workplaces and schools, many Canadians find themselves with enough time to welcome a new pet into their lives, either permanently or as a temporary foster.
- For some people, fostering a dog has turned into a life altering experience in a literal sense. For example, Fiona Groves, 40, a fitness coach from Canmore, Alberta decided she wanted to foster a dog during the pandemic. She has transitioned, out of necessity, her in-person business to one hundred percent online sessions. Because of this, she felt that she had lots of extra time to properly care for a foster dog. She chose to foster, rather than adopting, because she felt that once she went back to work, she simply would not have the time to look after a dog properly. That turned out to be incorrect. Fiona picked up her foster dog from Rocky Mountain Animal Rescue on a Sunday and three days later all her best laid plans were forgotten. Fiona, along with her husband, decided to keep the dog. While "falling in love" with their foster dog was one of the motivating drivers behind their decision, Fiona made a decision as to how she wanted her life to look post COVID-19. She has reconsidered what she wants her life to look like once things go back to normal. She revealed: “There has been a shift in perspective. I realized that I can’t keep on working those really long days. So I’m still going to be going back to my face-to-face teaching and personal training, but I’m definitely going to make some adjustments so they’re no longer 15-hour days. Now I’m going to make sure my schedule is also dog-friendly.”
- According to Humane Canada, during this pandemic, pet adoption numbers have increased anywhere between twenty percent to sixty percent, depending on the province.
COVID-19 Influence on Pet Food
- During COVID-19, for many pet owners, convenience now means one-stop shopping, in person shopping trips that are closer to home, and possibly changing pet food brands to what’s available in store or online, according to Rebecca Casey, senior vice president, marketing and strategy, for TC Transcontinental Packaging. She asserted this in a webinar called “Pet food and COVID-19, part 1: market and business outlook,” which was conducted on May 7th.
- A survey on how Canadians are dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak was conducted by Dalhousie University, along with Angus Reid. According to this report, fifteen percent of Canadians who "bought provisions purchased either comfort foods and/or pet food."
- In terms of consumers overall, thirty-three percent of Canadians are worried about how the pandemic will affect their lifestyles, which includes pet owners.
- Canadians are being urged to include pets in COVID-19 emergency plans. According to Barbara Cartwright, the CEO of Humane Canada in Ottawa, they are "recommending that people have at least three contacts that they can call upon to take care of their animals should they end up being hospitalized or they can no longer care for their own animals." Cartwright went on to say that "the current pandemic has reinforced how important pets are in people’s lives."
- Kaila, a 30-year-old family doctor living in Grey-Bruce County, Ontario, with her fiancé and two dogs, reported that their biggest COVID-19 splurge was a 10-week-old Leonberger puppy named Mortimer. "He’s small and fluffy, but we expect him to grow to 140 pounds. We always knew we’d eventually get a second dog, and with both of us home more these days, what better time?"
- While not Canadian data, a survey of pet food manufacturers done by Pet Food Processing, looked at the impact to businesses, distribution, sales channels and production thus far during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sixty-three percent of pet food manufacturers asked said they have seen an increase in demand as a result of COVID-19 panic purchasing, nineteen percent reported they have seen a decrease in demand, ten percent have not yet been impacted but expect to be, and eight percent said there has been no impact.
- Fifty-seven percent of pet food manufacturers revealed that they have seen a positive impact in e-commerce sales, while thirty-nine percent saw an increase in pet retail specialty stores, Thirty percent said distributor sales have increased, twenty-five percent said sales were positively impacted in grocery stores, super centers and club stores, and ten percent reported positive sales impacts in the convenience/dollar store segment. Overall, twenty-eight percent reported no positive sales impacts in any of these channels.