At a time when much of the world has essentially ground to a halt from Coronavirus, many of us are experiencing a new normal. We’re being encouraged to limit interactions with other people. We’re working from home (if we can). We're not eating out, not even attending sporting events or movies. But, what does this period of social distancing mean for our pets and how we care for them?
"We should be avoiding taking the pets to the groomer and wellness vet visits," says Claudine Sievert, a registered veterinary doctor. Even if your pet won't be infected, it can become a carrier. Sievert advises that "we should take our pets to the vet only if they have violent pain, fever, profuse vomiting, diarrhea, or other symptoms of acute illness.”
And that makes sense, but what about the everyday things you do with your dog or cat? We asked the experts the questions on every pet parent's mind. This is a guide to taking care of your pet during Coronavirus:
Yes, you should absolutely be taking your dog on walks — you may just need to adjust your normal routine! “The risk of catching the disease is extremely small if you walk by yourself, keep a six-foot distance to other people, and thoroughly wash your hands as soon as you get home,” says Steffi Trott, a professional dog trainer and the founder of SpiritDog Training.
Remember, the purpose of the current social distancing practice is to limit interactions with other people. “It is fine to go outdoors for a walk with your dog, but be socially conscious about your pet getting involved with other humans and pets, on walks or at dog parks. If possible, try to walk your pet during less busy times of the day or let it out in the yard,” says Jenny Pan, the founder of Carepod, and a pet owner living in Singapore who has experienced the first wave of the coronavirus. The less contact you have with others, the less chance of transmission.
COVID-19 has left us all feeling a little stressed and unsure, especially when it comes to dog walking. But countries that are on lockdown (like Spain) have even allowed dog walking as one of the essential reasons to leave the home. Heading outside to walk will not only make your dog happy, but also increase your own health by providing exercise and fresh air.
While it is not necessary to clean your pets more often during Coronavirus, you should always make sure that they have regular baths and get brushed. “As a dog trainer, I can tell you that more than 50% of long-haired dogs I visit are not brushed often enough,” says Trott. Your dog's coat should be soft and free of any tangles or mats. If you have in the past skipped on brushing your dog or clipping his nails, now is the time to catch up and get back on track. The same goes for your cat – although they may be pretty fastidious about cleaning themselves.
Many dog owners rarely wash their dog's leash and collar. “If you have not been doing this, start to hand wash these items once a week,” says Trott.
This may be the time to try grooming your dog at home. “Touching door knobs, paying your groomer with cash or card, will subject you to potential contaminated surfaces,” says Trott. Not only will you avoid exposure to potential viruses at the groomer's by staying at home, but you will keep your groomer safe too. Win-win.
It’s not a good idea to take your dog to the dog park right now. “The gates, poop bag dispensers, etc. are heavily touched and probably contaminated surfaces,” says Trott.
Also, dogs typically go around greeting every person at the dog park, maybe even trying to lick their face and hands - then coming back to their owner and doing the same. Germs can be transmitted this way, and it should be avoided.
No new friends! This is not the time to go out and find new friends for your dog. “While you can and should still take your dog out and about, please reserve these outings for just you and your dog,” says Trott. You can go for a walk in your neighborhood, play fetch at the park, explore a new trail in a forest etc. - but without the company of other dogs or people (outside your family).
There are, of course, ways to stay socialized without leaving the house! Playing with interactive pet toys, like puzzle games and tug toys, and training are great options says Dr. Sievert. She also confirms pets can also benefit from YouTube channels for dogs and cats like DOGTV or CatPet.
You can also run Skype sessions with your dog's friends. “As an alternative you may exchange the videos of your pet with its friends' videos,” says Sievert. “Three out of five dogs will recognize their friends' voice and appearance on screen, which is extremely important for keeping them socialized,” says Sievert.
“I recommend only visiting the vet if absolutely necessary,” says Trott. “Annual vaccinations or elective surgeries such as neutering should be postponed. If your pet gets hurt or becomes sick, however, you should see the vet to help them receive the care they need,” says Trott.
If the vet visit is necessary, you should call ahead and make an appointment, so you don't sit in the waiting room. “If a physical consult in the clinic is needed, there are special pet ride services that offer pick up and drop off to the vet, for example SpotOn in New York and Uber Pets in certain cities,” says Pan.
Some vets are also offering telemedicine, drive-up exams (they’ll come to the car and pick up and drop off your pet so you don’t have to sit in the waiting room), and home delivery of medication right now. It’s not a bad idea to call ahead and see if your office is one of them.
Taking care of your pet during this time really just means taking the same precautions you would with yourself. Practice good hygiene and keep healthy distances from others. And, of course, also remember to wash your dog's collar and leash after a vet visit.