Keeping Pets Happy in the COVID Era

[dog playing outside]
It might be too soon to return to a crowded dog park.

We have now been living with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus, for four months (officially) here in Illinois. Chicago and much of Illinois have moved into Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois response plan, and summer is in full swing.

It has been a strange and distressing time for us and for our pets.

My dog Emmie fits in perfectly with social distancing, due to her long-standing leash aggression and dislike of other dogs! (We’ve been working on those issues for a long time, but maybe not as seriously as we should have.) On the downside, the pandemic also means that we probably won’t be taking Emmie to any of her favorite spots, like the dog beach, for a while.

Current COVID Recommendations

Here are some current facts and recommendations from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) about COVID in cats and dogs. Remember, though, that there is still a lot we don’t know.

  • Routine testing of animals is not recommended by most regulating and professional groups, including the AVMA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the USDA.
  • Testing can be done when an animal appears to be showing clinical signs and has had prolonged close contact with a person that is COVID positive or in a facility that is high-risk (nursing home, etc.).
  • There is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading COVID to people. This disease is overwhelmingly transmitted person-to-person, but it is always recommended to wash your hands after interacting with animals.
  • In rare instances, there is evidence that people can transmit COVD to animals, and in those cases, fever, lethargy, and respiratory signs have been noted. Most animals responded well to supportive care.
  • If you are positive for COVID, you should minimize contact with your pets as much as possible.

Consider Your Pet’s Stressors

While disease prevention and management for us and our pets is important, it’s also important to think about how the many changes in routine are affecting the lives of our pets. You might think having their owners working at home would be the best thing that ever happened to our pets, but that’s not necessarily the case. Here are some points to consider:

  • Even though most animals may be glad you’re home more, it’s still a major change in their routines, which can be very stressful. Try creating a new routine that gives your pet some time away from you. For example, take a walk or drive on your own or participate in a safe social distancing visit outside so your pets are still used to you being away at times.
  • Be sure that your pets have a space, even if small, that is their own. No one should be allowed to bother them when they are in that crate, on that certain dog bed, or in “their” room.
  • Try not to reinforce attention-seeking behaviors. Even negative attention is attention. Instead try to redirect and focus your pet on another activity if you need them out of your space while you’re working or if they are doing something, you’d rather they not do.

Play It Safe

Finally, how to we manage socialization with other dogs? The city of Chicago has not yet reopened their dog parks. Even after the parks reopen, we recommend minimizing their use as much as possible.

Lots of dogs present means more people around, which can make it harder to social distance. Although there is no evidence that COVID can be transmitted dog-to-dog or dog-to-person, the less contact with other family units the better.

Just a few weeks ago, I witnessed a dog fight in a local park where dogs were off leash playing. Luckily, no animal or person was significantly injured, but the owners had to physically separate the dogs, which meant close contact—and they were not all wearing masks when this happened, because it happened so suddenly.

I get it, though. Some dogs need the socialization, and at some point, our pets and our own mental health are important to consider. Some dogs would go bonkers without a good play session.

If possible, try to find a small group of dogs and people that you know and stick to a private area, like a friend’s backyard. But if you must go to a public area, try to go at non-peak hours, wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose, social distance, carry hand sanitizer with you, and be sure to wash your hands after interacting with your pets.

Stay safe everyone!

-Dr. Alyssa Kritzman