Nonhuman animals are often abandoned and killed during non-epidemic and epidemic emergencies. However, the study of public attitudes toward animals during an epidemic outbreak and their antecedents and consequences is rare. The present study aimed to determine the individual and psychological variables associated with attitudes toward animals during the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic in China. Two groups of 990 adults completed an online survey: one group from the epicenter of the epidemic (Hubei Province); the other from other provinces in China. Attitudes toward animals were assessed by four scales: general attitudes toward animal protection, belief in animal mind, human–animal continuity, and psychological closeness between animals and self-concept. Results demonstrated that after the effects of demographics were controlled for, contact with companion animals positively predicted all aspects of the attitudes toward animals in both groups. The above associations tended to be weaker in the epicenter than the non-epicenter group, suggesting the potential modulating role of the localized severity of the epidemic. In addition, perceived continuity between humans and animals negatively predicted the prejudicial attribution to animals of causing the outbreak. The findings provide evidence for the importance of positive interactions with companion animals and people’s attitudes toward animals to prevent mistreatment of other species when emergencies occur. The findings also expand the limited empirical research on human–animal relations in non-Western countries.
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