What you need to know when you’re staying at home
New Zealand is now in Alert Level 4 lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That means adjusting to the new normal, making plans to work from home and hunkering down for the next four weeks. Understandably this raises a lot of questions and concerns about how we can best care for our dogs (and ourselves) when our usual routine is disrupted.
Expert Vet Advice
At smith&burton we’re all about the facts and don’t want you to panic. We also understand that there is a lot of information out there that could be concerning or confusing. That’s why we spoke to our Vet Ambassador, Dr. Gareth Dunkerley (BVSc), to share some tips and advice, along with information on what the vet community and other experts around the world currently know.
1. Treat your pet like they are a member of your household
Dr Gareth advises that the same social distancing rules should apply to pets as humans.
When you are not taking them for walks, keep your dog indoors or on your property and don’t let them socialise with other humans or animals outside of the household.
If members of your household are in self-isolation because they have returned from overseas or for other risk factors, keep your pets separate and don’t let them interact, wherever possible.
The New Zealand Veterinary Association currently advises: “Taking precautionary measures when dealing with animals from households with an identified risk of COVID-19, given there is a gap in their understanding of whether such animals pose a transmission risk.”
2. Keep walking your dog
Dog walking is not cancelled! Getting out in nature, having a brisk walk and breathing in some fresh air is good for both of you, and minimises stress and anxiety during these uncertain times. In Level 4, you are still allowed to go for walks, providing you don’t meet up with other people.
As you need to stay away from other people and animals, Dr Gareth advises keeping your dog on a lead, walking them early morning or in the evening and not letting your dog play with other dogs. Also, even though your dog is gorgeous, don’t let anybody else pat them when you are out walking them. This means you should also avoid patting other peoples’ dogs. Transmission from animal to animal is unlikely, meaning animals won’t get each other sick but it is possible they can have the virus on them and then pass it along to you.
3. Emergency and critical care
Veterinary and animal health/welfare services are an essential service.
Most non-urgent veterinary procedures and surgeries are cancelled, so if your dog has not been microchipped or their vaccination is not up to date, it might need to be delayed.
The exception to this is non-emergency services can be conducted remotely, where possible, if an absence of the service may risk the welfare of the animal.
Your vet will have limited hours for emergency and critical care. If your dog falls ill during this time or sustains an injury, call ahead, and your vet service should triage your dog. Vets can still prescribe chronic medication, but each practice may have different ways of getting the medication to you.
4. If your puppy is not fully vaccinated – keep them home
Although it is disappointing that your puppy will miss out on socialising with other pups and experiencing the world outside your home for a while, if they are not fully vaccinated, you should keep them home during this time.
Unvaccinated puppies are at risk of catching a highly contagious virus called Parvovirus. It is a gastrointestinal illness, and without treatment, it is potentially fatal.
For young companion animals, you may be able to get their first vaccination booked, but not their routine booster shot. Call your local vet first to see if they will be offering this service during Level Four.
5. Don’t kiss your pet (or let them kiss you!)
As tempting as it can be to want to kiss your dog or bury your face in their fur, do not kiss or put your face against any of your pets as they are a “surface” that can carry the virus if exposed to an infected person. This is especially important if a member of your household is showing symptoms like a fever or continuous cough.
Make sure your dog stays off your couches and beds and instead sleeps on their own bedding, too. Wash their bedding and their toys regularly.
Patting your dog can reduce stress and anxiety for both of you but do not then touch your face, but ensure you wash your hands thoroughly after touching your dog, their bedding or their toys, and encourage your children to do the same.
If some members of your house have returned from overseas or are at risk of COVID-19, you should ask them to avoid touching your pets to reduce the risk of spread.
The SPCA says: “Currently there is no evidence that companion animals can infect humans with COVID-19 virus, and SPCA urges owners to not abandon their pets. If you haven’t tested positive or are self-isolating, then continue to interact with your pets as normal but wash hands thoroughly before and after touching them, their food, toys, and bedding.”
6. Keeping your dog clean and sanitary
It’s an excellent idea to increase the frequency you wash and groom your pet. Dr Gareth says when you use mild, natural products you can wash your dog daily, especially if there are more risk factors in your household. Risk factors include if you live in a large household, if you are elderly or living with someone elderly, if you are immunocompromised, or you live in a high-density area.
As they can be a mobile surface for germs and viruses, washing our pets regularly during this period may help reduce the risk of spread.
But don’t be alarmed, shut your dog out or abandon them because: "To date, there is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19. COVID-19 is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently and thoroughly.”
Again, we’d like to reiterate that your dog’s fur is a potential surface for germs. If you or someone in your household coughs around your dog or droplets fall onto their coat, you can unintentionally spread bugs. That’s why you should not brush your face against their fur, kiss them, or pat your dog and then touch your face. Practice the same recommended hygiene practices round your dogs – cough and sneeze into your elbow, avoid touching your face, use hand sanitiser and wash your hands often for twenty seconds.
7. Use natural dog grooming products and increase your dog grooming regime to keep them clean
Use natural dog grooming products as much as you can and avoid harsh, synthetic products. Natural, plant-based products, proven to be safe and non-toxic are kinder on you and your dog – especially if you need to use them more regularly.
Check the label and look for natural ingredients like New Zealand Manuka Honey with natural antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiseptic properties that are known for their soothing, protecting and healing properties - you don’t need harsh, synthetic chemicals to be effective.
When you use natural grooming products free of nasties, you are cutting down on the toxins you put into yours and your dog’s body. By reducing your toxic load, you can boost yours and your dog's immunity when you need it the most.
8.Be creative and find new ways to keep your dog entertained
Even if you’re stuck indoors, there are still ways to stave off boredom in your pets. You may be able to create a treasure hunt by hiding treats around your home and garden or spoil your dog with a ball or treat.
Everyday household objects like cardboard boxes can be repurposed into a game and have a look at online tutorials around dog activities, training and puppy obedience. Looking after your dog’s mental and physical health by keeping their mind stimulated and having fun with exercise is a good and healthy distraction for both of you.
And believe it or not, dog podcasts are a thing and might be what your dog needs to relax.
9. Your essential canine care kit
Your essential care kit should contain all you need to keep your dog fed, clean, entertained and well during this time.
Make sure you have a healthy supply of:
- Your dog’s medication – SPCA recommends 30 days-worth.
- Nourishing food to last a fortnight – supermarkets and some pet suppliers (online and retail) will still be open so no need to stockpile. If you buy prescription food from your vet, remember to ring ahead beforehand.
- Natural pet grooming products.
- An array of healthy treats.
- Balls and other indoor games to keep your dog mentally stimulated.
- Documented microchip number and vaccination records.
- Your local vet details.
- A well-fitting collar and lead (avoid using the extender on your lead to keep your dog close to you and away from other people and animals).
- Cleaning products in case of any indoor accidents.
- Always take poo bags with you on your outdoor dog walks, and we always advise carrying a small hand sanitiser to keep your hands clean after the poop-pick-ups and if you touch any communal surfaces such as water taps, railings and gates.
10. When things don’t go to plan
If your dog has an injury or displays any symptoms of poor health, please do not take them to your vet as you normally would. Contact your local vet first and ask them for the safest steps to follow so as not to impact any other dogs in the area.
This smith&burton article was prepared with expert advice from Head Vet, Dr. Gareth Dunkerley (BVSc). It is not individual advice for your pet, so please talk to your local vet if you have any concerns or need more information.