Keeping Your Dog Active During a Pandemic

As COVID-19 has led to unprecedented changes in our daily lives, including self-quarantining, social distancing, and learning how to acclimate to “the new normal”, many pet owners are wondering: how do I keep my dog active during this crisis? No matter what their age, size or breed, it’s no secret that dogs require exercise on a regular basis. However, the novel coronavirus poses many challenges to people, including how to exercise dogs safely during a global contagion. This article will explore different canine activities that are safe – for both dogs and their humans – during a pandemic.

Coronavirus & Dogs FAQs: What Every Pet Parent Should Know

Although taking the dog for a walk is second nature to most pet parents, coronavirus raises a number of questions – and rightfully so. With social distancing becoming not only the new norm, but a nation-wide mandate as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a great deal of uncertainty when it comes to pet care protocols. Many questions remain unanswered as scientists and medical professionals alike search for solutions to this potentially fatal virus. Below, a few of the most frequently-asked questions concerning dogs and the Coronavirus:

Q: Can I walk my dog during the coronavirus pandemic?

A: According to The Kennel Club, dog owners can still walk their dogs, “so long as you are not quarantined due to coronavirus symptoms in your household.” The site adds that each adult in a household should only go out for exercise once daily with the family dog, and in homes with more than one adult, household members can take turns to keep everyone active.

The site also states that there is no conclusive evidence indicating dogs can transmit the virus to humans. Some studies have shown that dogs seem more resistant to the virus versus cats. In Hong Kong, health officials tested 17 dogs living with COVID-19 patients. Although the studies found evidence of the virus in two of the dogs tested, neither of them became sick.

Keeping this information in mind, practicing good hygiene is of utmost importance. While hard surfaces (such as metal or glass) have been the major focus of cross-contamination, if somebody with the coronavirus touches, sneezes or coughs on a dog, the virus may temporarily contaminate him. Because it’s unknown how long COVID-19 can live on surfaces (scientists believe it can range from a few hours to a few days), it’s essential to carry portable hand sanitizer while outside of the home and wash hands thoroughly and frequently throughout the day. Experts recommend washing hands with hot water & soap after you feed dogs, as well as after you touch them, their toys or their bedding. Bathing your dog at least once a week if possible is also recommended. Finally, it’s best to avoid letting dogs lick or kiss your face or share food during the pandemic, since dogs can sometimes carry bacteria which may be passed on to humans.

Q: How do I care for my dog if I’ve tested positive with COVID-19?

A: Whether you think you have COVID-19, have been exposed to the virus, or have tested positive for the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends limiting contact with your pets. In addition, they also recommend the following:

  • If possible, people who are sick with COVID-19 should have another member of the household care for pets (such as dogs and cats) during their illness
  • Coronavirus patients should also avoid contact with pets; this includes petting, being kissed or licked, snuggling, and sharing bedding or food.
  • For individuals who must care for pets or be around animals while they are sick with COVID-19, be sure to wear a cloth face covering and wash hands before/after interacting with animals

How To Exercise Dogs During The Coronavirus Epidemic

While a great deal of research has indicated that domestic pets (namely cats and dogs) are less susceptible to contracting/spreading the novel coronavirus disease, it is important to use common sense and precautions when caring for everyone within our immediate household – including our fur babies. In addition, it’s important to continue physical and mental exercise, as it’s essential for both dogs and pet parents alike. Consider the following helpful guidelines to keep dogs as safe and healthy as possible during these challenging times:

  • Walking & Running Outdoors With Your Dog: Even though social distancing has its limitations, dog owners can still take their pooch outside for a walk or run. For pet folks in good health, it’s good for both dogs and their humans to get out and about and get exercise – at a safe distance, of course. Be sure to avoid contact with unnecessary surfaces, keep hand sanitizer handy during trips outdoors, and wash your hands when you get back home, and wash your dog’s paws at the front door before heading inside.
    • Helpful Tip: Be sure to wipe down door handles before & after leaving the home – this includes the front door to your home as well as vehicle handles if you’re driving. In addition, wipe down the steering wheel once you’ve returned from your journey.
  • Social Distancing With Your Dog: Although it’s been a catchphrase heard all too often during these difficult times, it cannot be emphasized enough: social distancing is essential, even for routine activities such as walking the dog. As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), being within six feet of other people for extended periods can put humans at risk for contracting the coronavirus. Therefore, it’s best to avoid dog parks whenever possible. However, in the instance that you and your pooch head to the park, keep the following safety precautions in mind to reduce the risk of contracting/spreading the virus:
  • Limit the time spent at the park as much as possible
  • Keep your distance between yourself and other dog owners
  • Avoid touching other dogs and surfaces
  • Try and visit during off-hours in an attempt to avoid crowds
  • Be sure to wash hands thoroughly (at least 20 seconds) with hot water and soap once you’ve returned home
  • It’s also important to wipe off your pup’s paws and coat thoroughly before he enters your home
  • Teach Your Pooch Some Tricks: For active pups who are still young enough to train, it’s the perfect time to teach him some new tricks. In addition to bonding with the family dog, it also provides obedience training while sharpening both his mind and his coordination. Use tasty treats to reward him for a job well done, and start off slowly with simple tricks, working up to more complex tricks once he’s shown he is ready for more difficult activities. It’s important to stay patient, too – there are many instructional videos to train dogs available on YouTube for those who have never taught their pooch to do tricks. For pet parents of older dogs, revisit his favorite tricks indoors or outside when safe – for those with a backyard, this can be a great activity for dogs of all ages.
  • Playing Games With Your Pup: Engaging in fun activities with your dog during the pandemic isn’t only a great way of staying active, but an excellent way to stave off stress and anxiety for pets and humans. There are lots of easy ways to get in some good exercise each day – but a simple game of fetch doesn’t apply to the great outdoors only. Get creative with your space – even if you happen to live in tight quarters or a small apartment, think outside the box: try throwing a toy in an empty hallway or up and down the stairs if feasible. If that isn’t do-able, use this time to teach (or practice) simple commands, such as teaching your dog to “sit” and “stay”. Again, depending on the size of your living space (and size of your dog), a spirited game of chase or hide-and-seek with the family pooch is also another way to get moving indoors. Another entertaining and skill-sharpening activity for dogs: create an obstacle course. Simply set up a maze indoors with household objects – items such as empty water bottles and cans are ideal. Next, strategically place a few doggie treats along the “path” you’ve created to lead him to the finish line. Whether he’s an ace at this activity or has two left feet, record a video to share with friends on social media so everyone can share in the fun.

Helpful Tips: In accordance with your local area’s stay-at-home orders, if you’re allowed to go outside with your pet, be sure to follow appropriate safety measures, such as observing any local curfew ordinances and of course wearing a mask when walking your dog. Additionally, the CDC also recommends the following for dog walks:

  • Maintain at least 6 feet from other people and animals
  • Walk dogs on a leash at all times
  • Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside of your immediate household
  • Pet owners should also practice good hand-washing hygiene throughout the day – wash   hands for at least 20 seconds with hot water and soap before & after every walk. In addition, it’s helpful to carry a portable container of hand sanitizer during dog walks.

Sources Cited:

1)      “Exercising your pets during the coronavirus outbreak.” NBC16.com / SBG-TV (Sinclair Broadcast Group), Friday, March 20, 2020, https://nbc16.com/features/for-pets-sake/exercising-your-pets-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak. Accessed April 23, 2020.

2)      Hank, William. “Can I Walk My Dog During the Coronavirus Pandemic?” American Kennel Club (AKC.org), March 18, 2020, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/news/can-i-walk-my-dog-during-a-pandemic/. Accessed April 23, 2020.

3)      “Caring for your dog during the coronavirus pandemic.” The Kennel Club, April 3, 2020, https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/health/for-owners/coronavirus/. Accessed April 23, 2020.

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