The Coronavirus pandemic has changed nearly everything about our lives. One aspect of that change is that most of us are spending more time with our pets than ever, keeping them constant company when we might have left them at home to go to work, go to the movies, go see friends, or go to bars.
While this certainly isn’t a bad thing it does present a problem that can compound over time. Though dogs and cats, our beloved, furry companions, might be happy to see us at home, they also thrive on structure and routine. At some point, people will return to their offices and their more-normal lives, and pets who have become accustomed to us being home at all times might be scared, confused, or even suffer from separation anxiety. It’s our job as pet owners, then, to ensure that we provide the closest possible structure to their normal, pre-COVID routine, so that when things calm down, it’s not a struggle for the pet and their owner.
But there aren’t just rules about routine, or exercise. In the age of the coronavirus, pet owners need to have care plans for their pets in case they get sick, ways to exercise their pets without violating social distancing, and more. Here, then, are 15 rules for raising dogs and cats in the era of COVID-19.
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1. Stick to a Routine
“Practice waking up, feeding, and ‘alone time’ on a similar schedule,” says Richard Cross, head editor of The Dog Clinic. In other words: Walk them at the time they would be walked by their dog walker. Just because you’re home all day and your schedule might be thrown out of the window, doesn’t mean theirs should be. They should be walked frequently and on the same schedule — or as close as possible — they were walked before.
2. That Goes For Cats, Too
Cats are very different from dogs in that you can’t exactly tell them what to do or where to go, But, like dogs, cats still need a clear and present routine to limit feelings of anxiety and stress. “If you had play times with your cat, try and make sure it’s on a routine and that you don’t give in to your cat whenever they’re pestering you for play or food,” says Dr. Jamie Richardson, the Medical Chief of Staff at Small Door Veterinary. This will help limit their overall anxiety.
3. Be Aware That Cats are More Susceptible to Covid-19
Cats are more susceptible to Covid-19 than dogs. Both domestic and big cats have tested positive and shown symptoms for the virus, though the occurrence seems to be rare. But if you’re sick with COVID-19, you need to limit contact with cats as much as possible and allow someone else to take care of them. If you can’t do that, Dr. Richardson says to wear a mask and gloves when you do feed or interact with them.
4. Give Dogs Some Alone Time.
Dogs are at risk of experiencing separation anxiety when we return to work again. To prevent that from being a major issue, practice giving your pet alone time. Crate them for a few hours every day, sit in rooms separate from them by giving them treats and close the door behind you. “It’s a good idea to practice leaving your dog alone in the house, even if it’s for short periods,” says Cross. “A quick walk around the block, or even sitting in your garden or balcony alone for half an hour, will make your return to work less of a shock to the dog.”
5. Get Your Dog Some Active Toys
If, for whatever reason, you’re unable to give your dog as long of walks — or have altered some other major part of their routine, like, say, if you used to take them to the dog park in the mornings, which is now no longer advisable under COVID-19 regulations — stock up on enrichment-type puzzles and dog toys that make them work their brain. “Games, puzzle feeders, hide and seek, and indoor fetch can prevent boredom and reduce destructive behaviours. This is especially important if the dog isn’t getting the same amount of exercise during lockdown,” says Cross.
6. Make Sure Cats Have Plenty of Non-You Entertainment
Cats are an independent breed, says Dr. Richardson, but they still need enrichment. “Get them activities, puzzles, and hunting games, so that way, they are mentally stimulated so they’re relying on something other than you for their enjoyment for the day.”
7. Keep Outdoor Cats Outside.
Outdoor cat owners might worry about their cat catching Covid-19. But Dr. Richardson says that the risk of this is very low — especially if you live in rural areas — and that any major change in an outdoor cat’s lifestyle could lead to larger, and worse, behavioral issues. “You’re going to have a cat that gets anxious, that starts peeing all over your home, and will exhibit other destructive behaviors because they will be anxious and stressed out,” she says.” Simply wipe them down when they come in for meals and otherwise let them live their normal lives.
8. Find an Emergency Care-Giver…
It’s smart to make sure that you find someone — a family member, a neighbor, a friend who lives nearby — who can become the emergency caregiver for your pet on the off-chance you contract the illness. Whether that’s stepping up to walk the dog while you’re healing or taking the dog or cat altogether when you’re sick, it’s a good idea to set those plans in motion immediately, so that you don’t have to devote any energy to making sure our pet is healthy while you’re trying to be healthy, says Dr. Richardson. If you are sick and don’t have anyone who can help, wear a mask and gloves during all pet caretaking.
9. …And Write Up an Emergency Care Plan
After you’ve designated a person to care for your pets should you get sick, make sure you have a detailed care plan written up for your pet that is easily accessible. Think of this as the plan you write up when you go out of town. “When I go on vacation, I leave up a typed-up dossier for whoever is looking after my pets,” says Dr. Richardson. “I think it’s good to have that information especially if you have a pet with chronic illness, that way, someone can take care of your pet appropriately.”
10. Follow the 30 Day Rule for Supplies
Keep a stacked supply of all of the things you might need for your pets, including routine medications, food, cat litter, and other pet supplies. That’s important because if you get sick, you won’t need to venture out to get supplies. Additionally, stocking up limits trips outside of the house and will limit your exposure with other human beings. “For the rest of the year, I’m not going to go below a three-week supply of pet food and medication,” says. Dr. Richardson, noting that Chewy and Amazon have struggled to keep some pet foods in supply. This is especially important if your pet is on any medicated foods.
11. New Puppy? They Can — And Should — Still Be Socialized
Many people are adopting puppies right now for the first time. It’s a great time to do it, as most potential pet owners are spending way more time at home right now than normal. But puppies need to be properly socialized around lots of other dogs and people. Since it’s not advisable, currently, to bring your dog to dog parks or around other pets, you’ll need to get creative. To get your dog comfortable with common scary sounds they might encounter, Kelsey Edwards, a Certified Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) with Open Farm Pet Food recommends playing some sounds the dog might have not heard before. Think: ducks quacking, fire engines blaring, trains screeching by, vacuum cleaners droning. She also says to feed them treats while listening to it to let them know that it’s okay.
12. Dogs Needs to Social Distance, Too
While it’s extremely important to keep exercising your pets during the pandemic, per Dr. Richardson, pet owners should socially distance their pets as well as themselves. That means that you shouldn’t let your dog greet other dogs, as they could potentially carry the virus on their fur. That also means that you shouldn’t visit dog parks (where dogs drool all over, play all over, and run all over one another, and humans stand in packs) and don’t let your dog off-leash (because you can’t always control where they’ll go, even if they are wonderfully trained.) Be smart.
13. Wipe Down Your After Walks
Because of the lack of strong evidence on how, and if, dogs can carry COVID-19 (whether in their bodies or on their coats), wiping your dog down with pet-safe wipes is a good call. It might not help anything, but it might, and if it helps you sleep at night, go ahead and do it, says Dr. Richardson.
14. Keep Going to the Vet if You Can
Just because a pandemic is happening doesn’t mean that you should avoid routine care and vaccinations for your pet. “For the most part, keep up with vet appointments. We don’t want to see a huge upsurge in viral and bacterial infections,” says Dr. Richardson. But talk to your vet about what vaccines are important to get immediately, and what can be delayed by a few months. For example, if you live in a rural area and your pet is jumping through streams, delaying the leptospirosis vaccine would be a huge mistake. On the other hand, the parvovirus vaccine can last many months longer than the re-vaccination schedule, so if you don’t feel particularly comfortable heading into the vet, that might be able to wait a few months. Above all, discuss it with your vet and keep your pet up-to-date as you plan.
15. Don’t Neglect Pet Grooming
“Obviously, just like us, our animals have to be a little low maintenance,” says Dr. Richardson. “If you have a standard poodle, you can’t keep them in their perfect poodle haircut.” On the other hand, long-haired dogs and cats still need to be brushed consistently. Dogs still need to be bathed. Pets still need to have their nails cut. These grooming sessions don’t need to be detailed, but they are necessary for your pet’s health.
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