By Animal and Plant Health NZ chief executive Mark Ross
Pet numbers are on an upward trend due to the many benefits they offer their owners, including emotional support, reducing feelings of stress and loneliness, and increasing social contact. In return, pets need and deserve to be cared for their entire lives.
Prior to the pandemic, 4.4 million pets were living in kiwi households, ranging from cats, dogs, fish, horses, rabbits, rats, mice, guinea pigs and reptiles. According to the latest Companion Animals New Zealand report, there were 850,000 dogs, 1.2 million cats, 120,000 rabbits, 70,000 horses and 1.37 million fish.
The global pandemic saw a boom in pet adoptions and a surge of new pet owners in New Zealand. In Auckland alone, the known dog population increased 5.5% in the year ending 30 June 2022, to 125,016 dogs, from 118,552 the year prior. Across the Tasman, one million Australians adopted a pet during the pandemic lockdowns.
Pets offer companionship, encourage activity and alleviate loneliness, so it’s unsurprising that people turned to adopting pets during the lockdowns. Studies show that pets can even help lower blood pressure and improve the quality of life of people in nursing homes, hospitals, and care centres – by encouraging interaction and activity. Pets play increasingly important roles in single-person households, in families without children and for couples whose children have grown up and left the family home.
But before committing to a pet, potential owners need to make sure they can suitably care for it. The advice from dog rescuers is to do your research and consider the time and resources each animal needs. Research the breeds you are interested in and learn about their potential health issues before considering the financial and time resources needed to care for a pet.
The surge in dog ownership during the lockdowns has led to foster and rehoming centres falling under immense pressure as many owners found they couldn’t care for the pets that they’d adopted, with most of them failing to plan for the future or no longer wanted the animal once their lifestyle changed – because they were moving house, did not have time to look after it, were having a baby, or because it was destructive.
Responsible parenting means ensuring that pets have healthy diets, plenty of exercise and are treated when they get sick. Illness and parasites remain the primary threat to the health and well-being of pets. Control relies upon early detection, proper medicine use and veterinary care. Preventing and curing disease in companion animals also means protecting people’s health because many pet diseases can be transferred to humans.
Vaccinations, for example, help to prevent serious infections in dogs and cats. Other conditions can be improved or cured through veterinary medicines, such as heart diseases, cancer, kidney insufficiency, pain or infections.
Veterinarians are essential partners in keeping pets healthy. They advise owners on a wide range of topics such as infectious diseases and conditions or routine healthcare such as vaccination, worming, flea treatments, dental health and skincare. With the increase in pet populations and a shortage of veterinarians, there is also intense pressure on veterinarians and their support staff. This may mean planning ahead to get appointments. Veterinarians may need to care for more animals or may have less time per appointment, which can affect their relationship with clients and their personal mental health.
Quality healthcare helps animals to lead comfortable and healthy lives. Animal and Plant Health NZ members enable this by making safe, innovative and quality veterinary medicines available. These medicines should be purchased from trusted sources only, such as vet clinics or trusted rural retailers.
Before purchasing or adopting pets, consider their needs, then look after them, keep them healthy, take them to a vet for regular health checks, watch their diets and let them take you for a walk!