Pet owners are facing some big questions and new challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. Here's how to keep your dog safe and healthy.
Note: This article contains current information as of April 7, 2020. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) are an excellent resource for new information as the COVID-19 outbreak evolves.
Americans are facing unprecedented changes to their work lives, social lives, and even family lives during the shelter-in-place response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Although this situation is challenging for everyone, pet owners are facing some unique challenges.
This article explores how our furry companions have been affected by the outbreak and how we can make sure their needs are being met during this difficult time.
Can dogs contract or spread COVID-19?
According to the World Health Organization, there's no evidence that domesticated pets can spread this strain of coronavirus through animal-to-human transmission. The CDC has also stated that there's no evidence that pets can spread the virus to humans.
CDC is aware of a very small number of pets, including dogs and cats, outside the United States reported to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 after close contact with people with COVID-19. CDC has not received any reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States. To date, there is no evidence that pets can spread the virus to people.
“There is absolutely no reason to be surrendering your pets to shelters because you think you might be at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19,” says Mathew Coulton, Managing Director and founder of Wileypup.com. Mathew stresses that many shelters are already at breaking point.
Pets may be able to contract COVID-19 from humans. The good news is that transmission rates appear to be slim, requiring a large virus load from person to pet, and pets may not be as at risk for serious symptoms or complications from the disease as their human companions.
As a precaution, the CDC warns pet owners who are showing symptoms of illness to limit interaction with their pets:
…it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the new coronavirus. When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets.
Tips for pet owners sheltering in place or quarantined
Many of us are enjoying spending more quality time with our pets now that we're staying safe at home. Unfortunately for our pets, however, safely spending time in public spaces such as the dog park or beach has become more difficult.
In order to make sure your dog is getting the mental and physical stimulation he needs to thrive during this time, consider some of the following to get him moving and keep his brain engaged.
Have some extra time on your hands? Now is a great time to hone your skills in positive reinforcement training. With just a few skills and some of your dog’s favorite rewards (treats, kibble, tug of war, praise) you can teach even an old dog some new tricks.
Doggy Puzzle Toys
Whether you decide to try your hand at some DIY or go with doggy puzzle toys that you can order online, now is a great time to get your dog thinking. Mental stimulation can help your dog manage the anxiety of a new routine, less exercise, and the residual stress from family members during these challenging times.
If getting outdoors for the regular playtime has become impossible during this time, consider some creative ways to get your dog moving even while you're cooped up in the house or apartment. A great way to get the kids moving as well, indoor exercise is a win-win benefit for all families right now. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking creatively:
- Play “Hide and Seek” with your dog. Give everyone a handful of treats or kibble and take turns hiding and calling the dog, rewarding generously for success.
- Build an indoor obstacle course. Get the kids involved to invent some fun obstacles for your pet to navigate. Include a few places to practice sit and down, create jumps using everyday objects, and even build a tunnel obstacle using an old sheet and some good old-fashioned “fort” building skills.
- Train your dog to use the treadmill. Most dogs take very quickly to the treadmill, something owners of high-strung breeds can be thankful for when outdoor exercise just isn’t an option. There are a host of tutorial videos online to have your pup trotting on the treadmill for some daily calorie burning.
Rescuing and fostering pets during the coronavirus outbreak
As the outbreak and panic spread in China over the new virus, one of the most heartbreaking aspects of the strict quarantine measures was that numbers of surrendered and abandoned animals spiked dramatically. Although misinformation about pets spreading the virus helped fuel the crisis, it was exacerbated by the fact that many pet owners were traveling when strict shelter-in-place orders were mandated, leaving many pets at home without care.
Luckily, Americans and American businesses have responded to the crisis in a way that, at least so far, seems to be benefiting pets in the animal shelter system. According to the ASPCA, rescues have increased as more Americans are spending time at home and are making use of that time by adopting and fostering animals.
However, as the crisis continues, volunteers willing to foster animals or care for an ill neighbor's pet may play a critical role in helping to reduce the numbers of animals entering the shelter system.
People interested in volunteering to help animals in need of permanent or temporary care during the COVID 19 outbreak are urged to contact local rescue shelters and organizations to learn more about foster opportunities.
Looking out for pets during COVID-19
Our pets rely on us to make sure we meet their needs during this difficult time. Whether you're looking to make sure your dog’s exercise needs are met, have the time and space to help others care for their animals while they're ill, or are seeking an opportunity to volunteer to help rescue dogs in need during this crisis, we applaud your efforts to help our pets make it through the coronavirus pandemic safely.
Sharon Elber is a professional writer with an M.S. in Science and Technology Studies from Virginia Tech. She has worked as a professional dog trainer for over ten years.