With animals as the primary and intermediary vectors of COVID-19, we sought to understand the ways in which animals were represented in UK news media during the emergence of the global pandemic and how these portrayals impact the lives of humans and animals. Using the Lexis-Nexis online media archive, we searched for news media reports featuring animals during the emergence of COVID-19 in the UK from the period January–October 2020. We analyzed a total of 452 news articles from three UK newspapers: Daily Mail, The Sun (both tabloids), and The Guardian (a broadsheet). Newspaper articles were thematically coded and qualitatively analyzed for emergent themes. Using a trans-species lens, whereby we view the shared commonalities between species as a challenge to anthropocentric hierarchies of human dominance, we explore three main themes: “It’s their fault,” “It’s not their fault,” and “It’s our fault.” Each theme illustrates how animals are represented by news media in the attribution of blame and victimhood of those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Our results show that animals are utilized by today’s polarized media as tools to promote the political and social ideals of the press and their respective readership. The tabloids used animals for the promotion of bigotry, xenophobia, and racism. In comparison, The Guardian held a pro-environmental stance by framing the zoonotic disease as a platform to challenge the human–animal dichotomy and advocate for environmental, human, and animal equality. Domestic companion animals received the greatest positive media coverage across the newspapers, particularly in relation to the value of the human–animal bond for human health during the lockdown. In comparison, across the broadsheet and tabloid press, animals in research received limited coverage. Research animals were neither recognized for their contribution to human health nor as vulnerable others impacted by COVID-19. The specific impacts of these themes upon animals are discussed.
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