Published on Apr 05, 2021

Video Transcript

JOHN WHYTE: Welcome, everyone. I'm Dr. John White, the Chief Medical Officer at WebMD. And you're watching "Coronavirus in Context." Have you gotten a new puppy during the pandemic, or maybe a cat, or another pet?

I bet they've given you a lot of comfort, consolation, during very stressful times. But as we start to reopen, many of us will have to return to in-person jobs. How is that going to impact taking care of the pet? Are there any regrets?

So to help provide some tips to continue to take care of those pandemic adoptions, I've asked one of our most popular guests back, Dr. Courtney Campbell. He's a board certified veterinary surgeon in California. Dr. Campbell, thanks for coming back on.

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: Thank you for having me, Dr. White. This is absolutely incredible, partly because-- and you know I say this a lot-- but I have to credit you for always placing pet health front and center. Because it really is about that human-animal bond.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, let's talk about that bond and how it has played a role during this pandemic. What are the health benefits of having a pet?

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: Well, those health benefits are largely recognized by pet parents everywhere. In fact, 58% of pet parents recognize that their health has improved by becoming new pet parents, during the pandemic. And particularly during this time of social isolation and physical distancing, many people have turned to their pets or actually adopted pets into their home for a variety of reasons.

But as I was just mentioning, over 50% of people felt like having a pet improve their overall physical health. 77% said that their pets helped them get through the pandemic. So those are just the numbers. But I talk to people on a daily basis. And real people tell me if it wasn't for adopting a brand new pet into their household, it would have been so difficult under the quarantine and the isolation.

So when I hear about people who say, I'm not able to see my family members, but by adopting a brand new dog, it helped reinforce my constitution and my emotional well-being. That's what we're talking about right now. That's that human health benefit, physical and mental.

JOHN WHYTE: Yet, at the same time, we know that life has been different during the pandemic-- during lockdown. And now that it's starting to reopen, it can become more challenging to take care of a pet. People can realize it's also expensive.

You provided some very interesting data ahead of the show that talked about, a recent survey found that 73% of those who became dog owners for the first time have considered re-homing their pet. What's going on?

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: Yeah, thanks for highlighting that statistic. It can sound tragic. But they've considered it.

And that's a very thin silver lining. But that's something I take away as a opportunity or an opening for optimism. They have not re-homed their pet.

But just like you alluded to, during the quarantine-- during these social isolation, the lockdown-- people gravitated more towards their pet. That bond became stronger. But these pets that you adopted-- being a pet parent will persist long after COVID is done.

Therefore, once schools reopen, once people return to their jobs, once the extracurriculars, like tutoring and sports, return, will these pets have that bond with their parents? Will they have the exercise? Will they have that connection?

And I think that is the focus right now. Because as you mentioned, 73% considered re-homing. Why is that?

And a lot of them-- number one-- were confused on what it takes to have a pet. And number two, they were actually concerned with how much it costs to have a pet.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, let's talk about for those new pets that folks have adopted, they may have only known that day-to-day close contact with a pet parent. And for pets that we've had, they've grown accustomed to family members being around all the time. So how do we deal with the fact that now, people may be returning to work? They may be starting to socialize outside the home more.

What's the impact on pets? And how do we maximize their health, as we start to reopen, and the dynamics are going to change somewhat? And the environment may change.

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: Yeah, what is the impact on pets? That's very well said. Because as we think about how we have turned towards them for companionship, warmth, empathy, and support, during the quarantine, we also have to look after them. And what they're accustomed to is a schedule.

Pets love a schedule. So they understand when you're home and when you're not home. And when you make an abrupt change, it can be particularly stressful. It's so stressful, in fact, for a particular species, like cats, that when cats are under stress, or when their schedule is changed abruptly, they actually show sickness behaviors.

And what do I mean by that? Vomiting, diarrhea-- sometimes they have issues with urination. So put it in very stark, HD, crystal clarity. Being stressed from an abrupt change in the schedule can literally make pets sick.

So to adjust for that, number one is as you begin to think about your schedule that you're going to be returning to is start to simulate that at home. If you're going to be away at work, then try to simulate your pet fostering a spirit of what I call independence. If you're around your pet all the time, now is the time to start to think about crate training and spending time, where they can be in their own den-- in their own personal space-- with interactive toys, with their dog bed, with food, toys, those sorts of things. Because by doing that, you're providing that environmental enrichment. And honestly, that's what it's all about.

JOHN WHYTE: What about changing how we feed pets, during this time? Do we need to scale back, as we start to reopen? Because they may have been more active, while we're home. And if we're not home, they may have less activity. What other things should we consider?

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: Well, I'd like to talk about the four ize's. And that is exercise, socialize, immunize, and de-parasitize. Now, all of those are under-girded by time. It's spending time and attention with your pet. By exercising them, for me, that's the foundation of great health, great behavior, great mental well-being in pets.

Socialization-- now, that can obviously be done at a distance. And as restrictions start to loosen, you can begin to start to relax your socialization with your pets. But that is absolutely essential for good behavior. And it also helps you spend more time with your pets.

Immunize-- well, we're talking obviously about vaccines for pets, just to prevent for your normal and all-too-common infectious diseases. And of course, de-parasitize-- even in colder weather, and as the spring starts to come, you will see a rise in pet parasites.

So for me, I think about a young lady I saw recently, who adopted a brand new pet. She didn't realize that the behavior requirements were so high energy. And now, she feels a little bit stressed out. Because she's saying, I welcomed this pet, as my new family member to help me get through some tough times. And now, I feel stressed out.

And so I always tell pet parents, get a good idea of what it takes when you welcome a pet into your new home. Because you don't want to be surprised or sidelined.

JOHN WHYTE: Now, what are a couple of things one should think about if maybe they should re-home a pet. It may not always be the best relationship and the best dynamic. Are there are a couple of things that they should consider before they make that final decision?

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: A couple of things that they may want to consider before making that decision to re-home their pet, that's got to be one of the hardest decisions to make. Because you have the excitement and the anxiety that occur simultaneously, as you're welcoming a pet into your new home. But then, when you find out that this relationship is not going to work out, that can be heartbreaking.

So before you make that decision, absolutely understand this. We are here to help. Don't be afraid to lean on your veterinary healthcare team for advice, information, tips and tricks on how to help with everything from medical conditions, to behavioral issues, to where to find a good pet sitter, or where to find a good place to exercise your pet. Certainly lean on your medical team-- your veterinary health care team-- for that information. That's number one.

And then number two, one of the most common reasons why pets are re-homed is due to unwanted or undesirable behaviors. So certainly consult either a board certified veterinary behaviorist or a dog trainer if they recommend one, so that you can get rid of those or actually attenuate some of those undesirable behaviors. Remember, exercise is the cornerstone-- is the key-- to a foundation in good behavior.

And also, let's be honest. A well-trained dog is a happy dog. Because they're not constantly being yelled at or being treated harshly, because of unwanted behavior. So again, well-trained environmental reinforcement. And don't forget to lean on your veterinary health care team when you need help.

JOHN WHYTE: What about a cat? You can't really train a cat, can you?

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: Oh, I would beg to differ. There are some amazing Maine Coons out there or Abyssinians, who are just interactive. They're dynamic. And they are definitely trainable.

And so what I would say is make sure you-- number one-- cat proof or kitten proof your new home. Every kitten is, by nature, super mischievous. So interact with them. Kitten proof your home.

Get on the ground and feel what that experience is like for you to be a new kitten. Can you get into certain cabinets? Are there certain things that are abjectly dangerous and poisonous, like lilies, around the house?

So as you begin to look around your house and you adopt that new kitten, it's an exciting time. But both kitten proof your house. And kitten proof your yard. And of course, don't forget to work with them for training purposes.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, that's good advice. And your point about it's a lot of work to take care of the pet and to be a good pet parent. But the benefits are tremendous. Dr. Courtney Campbell, thanks for taking the time to share your insights today.

COURTNEY CAMPBELL: It's been fantastic. Thank you so much, Dr. Whyte.

JOHN WHYTE: And thank you for watching.