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Social distancing may be the catchphrase of 2020. As the world looks for solutions to stop the coronavirus pandemic, the most effective way to reduce the spread is by socially distancing and staying at home. COVID-19 has redefined our relationships with each other, the workplace — and even our pets. Although there’s no conclusive evidence that the virus can spread among our furry friends, they are, nevertheless, affected by COVID-19 in other unique ways.
Dogs, specifically, need to go outside and have regular exercise to burn off some of their excess energy. For people who live in the countryside or the suburbs and who have an ample backyard, social distancing doesn’t pose a problem to the health of their dogs. But people who live in apartments or urban areas where lawns aren’t readily available and parks are few and far between, your dog may suffer from the current social distancing conditions.
How can pet owners take their dogs out for the required regular walks without putting their health (or the health of others) at risk? Or entertain their cats or smaller pets after waiting all day to play? Here are some creative ways to provide the exercise and outdoor time your dog needs, as well as health and safety advice for when you need to take your dogs outside.
Monitor Your Pet’s Moods
Although most pets welcome the fact that you’re home more, the changes to your routine may affect more sensitive pets. Cats, particularly, may suffer from anxiety or depression from sudden changes to their environment. Monitor your pets’ behavior for changes. Some of the most common signs that your pet may be stressed or something may be wrong are:
- Lack of appetite or changes to eating habits
- Sleeping more
- Hiding and avoiding affection
- Vocalizing more by barking, whining, growling, meowing, or even hissing
Now that you’re home more, you may be more aware of the changing moods of your pets. Changes to your dog’s or cat’s behavior may require a phone consultation with the veterinarian or a visit if the symptoms are severe, to ensure everything is okay. If there are no medical conditions associated with the changes in mood, they may reflect your pet’s needs for more exercise or stimulation.
Create Enriching Indoor Activities
Depending on the stay-at-home mandates for your area, going out with your pet may not always be ideal or even possible. Fortunately, there are many physical and mentally enriching activities you and your pet can do together indoors. Playing indoors not only provides your pets with the entertainment they need but also strengthens the bond between both of you. Some activities you can do together include:
- Playing fetch: Use soft toys such as fabric flying discs, foam balls, or even old socks to play fetch around the house. Softer toys reduce the chances of breaking fragile items on display. If you have larger dogs, it may be a good idea to clear furniture or hide glass vases or heirlooms, just in case the game of fetch gets carried away. As for cats, wands with feathers and/or a bell are a fun way to get your cat to chase and capture the toy. Make the game a challenge by ensuring that your cat(s) find it hard to capture the toy.
- Play tug of war: Dogs love a good game of tug of war. A rope toy is a good multipurpose toy to have around the house. It can work as a fetch toy, chew toy, or for tug of war. If you have more than one dog, encourage them to play tug with each other by starting the game yourself. If you only have one dog, play tug of war with him or her, but don’t get too competitive — pulling too hard could damage your pet’s teeth.
- Play hide and seek: A good form of light exercise that challenges your pet’s mind and body is a game of hide and seek. You may choose to hide from your pets and encourage them to find you for a reward. Or you can hide treats throughout the house for them to hunt down and find.
- Playing chase: Depending on the size of your home, you may be able to get a short jog indoors. If you choose to run back and forth in your home, your dogs and maybe even your cats are likely to follow. Add to the challenge by running up and down the stairs, as long as your pets are at an age and fitness level where they are fit enough to keep up.
Keep Your Distance When Outdoors
At certain points throughout the day, you’ll probably need to take your dog outside so they can handle their bathroom duties. With a little preparation, you can minimize the risk of exposure to the virus for yourself and your family. Before you leave the house, make sure you have bags to clean up after your dog. A small bottle of handwash also comes in handy. Don’t forget to wear a mask to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.
While you’re walking your dogs outside, keep a distance of at least six feet from others. If you have a park nearby that is still open to the public, it may be tempting to let your dogs off-leash to run. However, it’s probably best you keep them restrained so you have better control of how you distance yourself and your pets from others. If someone approaches to pet or come into contact with your dog, they could inadvertently spread the virus from their hands, to your pet, and to you.
If you find your town’s public open spaces to be crowded or difficult to navigate with your dog, a regular weekend trip out of town may be a good solution to keep your dogs active. Plan a short camping trip to an outdoor setting located away from others. Use private campgrounds or pieces of property until public parks and campgrounds reopen. Nature hikes away from crowded, urban centers may be the best solution to exercise your dog and yourself. Look into what’s available near you for options.
Don’t forget to pack road trip basics to make the trip more comfortable for your pets, such as cleaning essentials, a first aid kit, their favorite bedding, and your pet’s medications, food, and water. Once you’re out of a town and in a rural area, it may be hard to find the type of food your dogs eat or the medication they require.
Follow a Pet Hygiene System When You Come Back Home
Once you come back indoors from your walks, it’s important to clean and sanitize yourself and your belongings to reduce the chances of spreading the coronavirus throughout your home. You should leave your shoes and other items at the entrance and wash your hands thoroughly. Don’t forget your pets. Take the time to clean and sanitize your pet’s paws with warm, soapy water. Make sure to leave their leash at the entrance, to be wiped down later with disinfectant cleanser or spray.
If you and your dogs go out regularly, don’t forget about other routine hygiene habits. You may want to bump up the frequency of how often you bathe your dogs — being confined at home with stinky pets is no fun for anyone. Besides more regular baths, stay on top of pest control. If you’re spending more time off the beaten path in woodland trails with your dogs to avoid others, make sure your pet’s flea and tick medications are up to date to keep everyone indoors bite-free and healthy.
Fostering or Adopting a Pet During the Coronavirus Crisis
People 65 or older are the highest-risk age group for complications from COVID-19 and have to be the most stringent about sheltering safely alone at home. But the isolation can be devastating. Isolated seniors can suffer from depression if they don’t have any companions.
Adopting or fostering a pet may help reduce the feelings of loneliness a senior is experiencing, although older adults should be thoughtful about what type of pet they should choose. Since they should avoid going outside at this time, if they don’t have an enclosed back yard, a dog may not be the best choice for a companion pet. A cat, rabbit, guinea pig, or other types of low-maintenance, small-space-loving pets that don’t require regular walks outdoors may be the ideal companion animal for an older adult.
Keeping Your Family and Your Pets Happy and Safe During Social Distancing
Your pets are as much a part of your family as other family members. They have their own unique needs during the pandemic that require attention. Ensure they get enough love from you and other household members. Engage your pets in physical activities to provide an outlet for their boundless energy. The activity is good for their health and mental wellbeing. If you have to go outdoors together, avoid crowded places. Don’t forget to ensure that your pet is as clean as you are when you reenter the home, for everyone’s protection.
If you have the space and the resources, consider fostering a pet during COVID-19 — the shelters could really use your support. Bringing a foster animal home has benefits for everyone. The new pet may provide companionship to your current pets while giving the new addition a chance to live with a loving family during these challenging times.