TikTok pet videos: cute or concerning?

Sprocker Spaniel puppy

A recent study by Admiral Pet Insurance raised concerns about the welfare of pets featured in TikTok videos. While these clips often appear cute and amusing, the analysis suggests that many of these animals may be in distress without their owners realising it.

The investigation analysed almost 700 TikTok videos and found that 1 in 5 showcased pets in visible distress. The criteria for identifying distress included pets being scared or startled, dressed in uncomfortable outfits, exposed to harmful environments, or showing signs of neglect.

Image by Alexander King

The key findings include:

  • Visible Distress: 21% of the analysed clips showed pets in visible distress. These videos collectively received over 228 million likes and amassed more than 3 billion views.
  • Scared or Startled Pets: Over half (51%) of the distressed pet videos depicted animals being scared or startled. This type of content was viewed over 1.4 billion times and liked more than 104 million times.
  • Pets in Outfits: 19% of the distressed videos featured pets dressed up in outfits. These clips were viewed over 387 million times and garnered over 31 million likes.
  • Dangerous Situations: Two out of five videos showed pets in potentially dangerous situations, such as near open windows, in unpredictable environments, or exposed to loud noises and sudden sounds.
  • Neglected Pets: 11% of the videos included signs of neglect, with pets not being fed enough or not receiving the correct type of food.

Registered veterinary nurses, Nicki Fox RVN CertVNECC APVN (Wildlife) and Victoria Preece BSc RVN, comment…

1. What is the potential psychological impact of scaring or startling your pets?
Scaring or startling your pet can cause both short and longer-term impacts on their health, whether the trauma is intentional or accidental.

If a pet experiences stress or fear, the emotional part of its brain will override the logical part. The emotion associated with each traumatic experience can affect the animal’s future behaviour and, if left untreated, can impact physical health.

To prevent this kind of reaction, it’s essential to understand your pet’s natural behavioural traits and individual personalities. This will allow you to identify possible causes of stress before exposure and allow your pet to cope better if they encounter them.

2. What should owners consider when dressing their pets in costumes or clothes?
Are they ‘sulking’ when wearing a costume? Are they stressed and anxious? It’s important to consider the natural movements of your pet and their ability to maintain a normal body temperature (hyperthermia can significantly affect brachycephalic breeds, such as pugs, French bulldogs, and Persian cats).

Some clothes and costumes can be restrictive and prevent grooming behaviours or running and jumping, and even make it difficult to go to the toilet. This loss of natural behaviours and expressions can cause stress and anxiety.

There is also a potential danger if clothes or costumes become entangled or tightened and affect breathing or circulation. Make sure to use high-quality costumes that are made with pets in mind. Don’t use costumes where the risk of foreign body ingestion becomes apparent, including small parts of clothes (buttons, toggles, zips, pom-poms) which are easily eaten and get stuck in the digestive system.

3. What can owners do to ensure their pet is comfortable when creating content for social media?
Pet owners who are successful on social media can often monetise their pet’s cuteness, with certain companions building follower counts and earning paid partnerships that rival your favourite human influencer.

But it’s important to understand that some of the cutest and funniest pets on the internet have been bred to have unusual characteristics that put them at a higher risk of health problems. Are they sitting that way to be cute on Instagram, or does it hurt to sit normally? Is that bark funny, or is it a sign of breathing difficulties?

If you dream of your pet becoming a social media star, the best thing you can do is capture them acting naturally. A sleeping cat is cute enough without any extra encouragement, and a dog chasing its tail can happen without any human involvement. Just let them be themselves, and they’re sure to make you laugh on their own.

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