It is a worrying time for all of us, but our dogs can give us some stability and comfort and a new routine, keeping us fit both mentally and physically and we can do the same for them.
Public Health England and the NHS have general guidance on how to self-isolate on their website. However, for dog owners self-isolation can pose a unique set of problems.
There is currently no evidence that pets can become sick from COVID-19, so it’s highly unlikely they are at risk. There is also no evidence that companion animals can transmit the virus to people either. However, it is possible that the virus may survive on a dog’s fur for several hours as with other surfaces. The situation is changing rapidly though, so for up to date information, search vet and government websites regularly. More is being discovered about this new virus all the time, but until more is known, it’s sensible to take precautionary measures to protect our dogs.
If you are self-isolating because you or someone else in your house has symptoms, then the following advice may help.
- Vets advise minimising contact with your pet as much as possible. Maintaining good hygiene practices is always sensible, such as washing your hands regularly with hot water and soap before and after handling and feeding.
- If you have a private garden, you can take your dog there to go the toilet and to play games. However, a daily walk is important for a dog’s physical and mental health and you will need someone else to walk your dog for you. Someone from your household, a friend or neighbour or a professional dog walker.
- Anyone coming to collect your dog must be advised that you are self-isolating so they can take the proper precautions.
- They won’t be able to come into your house, they’ll need to use their own lead, and should wipe the dog over with a clean damp cloth or disposable wipe before they touch them. Keep the handover as brief as possible and make sure you both wash your hands before and after handling your dog. It’s important to maintain a minimum two metre distance at all times.
If you are not self-isolating and following the government’s “Stay at Home” guidance, we have separate advice on this.
- Make sure you are following Government advice regarding your own daily exercise and include this opportunity to walk your dog.
- Avoid stroking other people’s dogs. Although there is no evidence that pets can transmit the disease, it is possible that the virus could be passed onto other people via a pet’s fur, as on any surface. We’d suggest not interacting with other dogs whose owners might themselves be self-isolating. If this is unavoidable, ensure you wash your hands after any contact.
- There has been some misleading information on social media suggesting that hand sanitisers will harm your dog. There has been confusion as to the ingredients. Sanitisers contain ‘ethanol’ (alcohol), not ethylene glycol. Ethanol (alcohol) can be harmful if ingested in a large quantity (i.e. an entire bottle), but it evaporates quickly on your hands and is not harmful if used correctly or if it’s licked in small quantities from your skin, or your pet’s fur. Please do not let this false information put you off using hand sanitiser products at this critical time.
If your dog needs veterinary care, check with your own vet, but it is likely that most vets are providing emergency care with clear instructions how to visit safely. However, DO NOT leave your home if you are self-isolating with symptoms, arrange for someone else to take your dog making sure they follow the appropriate hygiene care.
Now for some fun stuff!
Firstly, the very fact that your dog has your company to enjoy means they’re probably already happier than when being left home alone.
- If you are working from home, to avoid being distracted, especially during video meetings, separate your workspace from your dog’s space.
- Avoid responding to any whining as you could be encouraging a bad habit and have some reward games ready for your dog to use as entertainment.
- If you are a Bark Busters client – set aside time to bond with your dog and practice all the fun training games you’ve been given; contact your trainer if you need some ideas. Brain work will tire out your dog for longer than just physical exercise alone.
Remember that this enforced time at home will end and it may come as a shock to your dog when it does. Your dog is enjoying all this time and attention but when you're back to work as normal, the sudden separation may cause problems. It's important to continue to have separation time from your dog, to prevent Separation Anxiety. Follow these steps to minimise the risk:
- Encourage calmness - stuffed Kongs and chews initially when you are in the same space, then gradually increase the length of time that you can be in a separate space.
- Difficult, I know, but try not to respond to your dog when he is asking for attention, such as, whining or nudging for a fuss.
- Teach your dog not to follow you around the house, like the kitchen or bathroom etc.
- Stick to usual feeding times and if possible, your routine prior to the stay at home policy, walk times (i.e. don’t walk during the middle of day if this doesn’t normally happen when you're not at home).
Mental stimulation is very important as physical exercise may be limited.
- Hide and seek games
- Retrieve games in the house and/or garden
- Scent games are also loved by lots of dogs. Just hide your dog’s favourite toy or treats somewhere in the house or garden, and then encourage them to find it.
- Food activity toys or licky or snuffle mats.
- Trick training is great fun too! – Bark Busters have some fun sheets for Indoor and Outdoor games.
- Try simple agility, bearing in mind your dog’s fitness.
- Try dancing moves, search at some of the videos online.
- General training time to practise basics like sit, stay, down, coming when called and lead walking in the garden or home.
Other things to consider
- Don’t forget to make sure you have enough supply of your dog’s normal food. There are many online suppliers for every type that can be delivered.
- If your dog is on medication, make sure you can obtain this from your vet; by post if needed.
The companionship that our dogs give us during our time of need is immeasurable; they have no idea what’s going on in the big wide world because their world revolves around you and they can teach us to “live in the moment” if we listen to them.
Keep yourself safe and they’ll stay safe too.
Be patient, calm and