Safe Social Distancing with Your Animal
It’s a new world right now with new rules for staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. While social distancing guidelines are designed to keep us safe, they can feel stifling and, at times, confusing. Many people are wondering how to keep themselves and their animals safe and sane during these challenging times. Is it OK to walk your dog? Can you take your animal to daycare if you still have to work, or for socialization if you are at home? What about the local dog park; safe or not? It is not good for physical or mental health – ours or our animals’ – to just stay in all the time, so how can we meet our needs and maintain a safe social distance?
What is Social Distancing?
Many people are confused by the term “social distancing” and think that it means the same thing as quarantine. But, while social distancing defaults to a lot of time at home alone or only with your immediate family, it does not require you to never leave your house the way a quarantine would. When social distancing, you want to stay at home as much as possible, but when you do need to go out for necessary supplies like groceries or medication or for some fresh air and sunshine, you can but you need to limit these outings and keep your distance. Avoid going places where crowds can congregate and stay at least six feet away from other people you may encounter when you are out. And, of course, continue to practice good hygiene and regularly wash your hands with soap and water, avoid touching your face, and if you sneeze or cough, do so into your elbow or a tissue.
The Dos and Don’ts of Social Distancing with Your Animal
If you are healthy and have no reason to suspect that you have been in proximity of a person with the virus within the past few weeks, then consider the following guidelines adapted from VCA Animal Hospitals for social distancing with your animal.
Do take your dog for walks around your neighborhood, as long as you are able to maintain a distance of at least six feet between yourself and other walkers. This distance rule applies to your dog, too.
Don’t stop and chat with a neighbor up close or let your dogs play together. While it is believed that dogs and cats cannot be sickened by or transmit COVID-19, they may be able to carry the virus to people on their skin or in their mouths. So, theoretically, if an infected person pets their dog, that dog may transfer the virus onto your dog while playing together, and then your dog may transfer the virus to you when you pet your dog later. Since this virus is so new and is still being studied, it is best to err on the side of caution and keep animals that don’t live together apart (coonrapidspethospital.com).
Do follow some commonsense hygiene protocols with your animals, just as you would at any other time. Wash your hands before and after you touch or feed your animal.
Don’t visit dog parks or crowded trails at this time. It is too hard to maintain the six feet spacing required for effective social distancing for both you and your dog.
Do give your animal lots of love and attention. This is new for him or her, too, who is likely used to not having you at home as much. Use the time to increase your bond by playing together and working on training exercises.
Don’t keep your animals separated or quarantined. While you may not want your animal to be in close contact with other people’s animals, it is fine for animals who already live together to maintain the irregular situation.
Do utilize boarding and veterinary services as needed while practicing precautions against COVID-19. If you board your animal, be sure to bathe your animal and wash your hands after picking him up and avoid letting him lick your face. If your animal needs veterinary care, call ahead to inquire as to what services your veterinarian is still providing at this time and whether or not she has implemented any social distancing precautions, such as having an assistant come to your car to get your animal so that you don’t have to come inside the office.
If you have COVID-19 or suspect that you might, it is best practice to quarantine yourself from other people and animals until you are well again. Despite all signs pointing to the idea that the virus does not infect animals, it is a good idea to stay away from your animals as much as possible until studies show for certain that the virus will not sicken your animal and that your animal cannot transmit the virus to anyone else. If possible, have family members care for your animal while you are sick. If this is not possible, then be sure to limit your contact with your animal and thoroughly wash your hands before and after any necessary contact, such as for feedings and limited cuddling time. Do not take your animal out for exercise walks, as you should be staying inside. If you do not have a fenced yard for you animal to safely play in, then step out close to your home just to allow your animal bathroom time and be sure to wear a mask.
These can be anxiety-inducing times, but we and our animals will get through this sooner rather than later by sticking to these practices for effective social distancing. And remember that social distancing, and even quarantine, does not mean isolation. Reach out to friends and family through phone calls and text when you can’t be together and spend some time safely cuddling with your animals to help induce a sense of calm and well-being. Just be sure to wash your hands before and after and don’t touch your face.