COVID-19 advice for dog owners

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27 March 2020
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Your Dog vet Vicky Payne answers your questions about the do's and don'ts when social distancing and self-isolating throughout the coronavirus crisis...

There is a curse: ‘May you live in interesting times’, and we are certainly living through very interesting and frightening times. The situation is fast moving, and advice from the Government and the governing bodies of vets and pet professionals is changing frequently, but these are the best answers I can give to the questions dog owners are asking based on the available information as of March 27.

Can I still walk my dog when social distancing?

Yes; one period of outdoor exercise is allowed per day. This should be from your home rather than driving to popular dog-walking spots, to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. Many trainers are offering video training to give you ideas and exercises to do in your home or garden.

How do I exercise my dog if I am self-isolating?

If self-isolating, you should restrict your dog to your house and garden, even if you feel well. There are many indoor and backyard games you can play with your dog — train a new trick, do scent work, or scatter feed. Apparently simple tasks, like training your dog to be totally still, are actually big brain drains. Reduce feeding levels if your dog is on restricted exercise to avoid obesity.

What should I do if I get sick?

You must have a plan for how your dog will be cared for if you are bedridden or hospitalised. Ensure this is in place and written down. If your dog needs emergency care when you are ill, someone else should take him to the vet’s, and you must ensure the vets know that they need to take extra precautions.

Can my dog catch Covid-19?

No. Although a small number of dogs have tested weakly positive for COVID-19, there is no evidence that they can shed the virus or develop disease. The virus could be carried on your dog’s coat or in his saliva for a short period of time, so avoid people from outside your immediate family touching him, avoid letting him lick your face and hands, and wash your hands frequently. Hand washing after touching your pet is always good hygiene! Headlines, suggesting a dog who was in quarantine, and had tested positive, had died were somewhat alarmist. The dog was 17, and had tested negative before release from quarantine, and before his death, which vets believe was due to age and stress.

Can I still go out for dog food?

Yes. Pet stores are permitted to stay open at the time of writing. You should not stockpile food or treats, but you should keep at least two weeks food in your home in case you are required to self-isolate. You may need to be flexible about which brand your dog eats, so I would suggest buying more food when you have about a week’s supply left so you can change brand slowly if required. Pet stores may offer a delivery or ‘click and collect’ service, may limit the number of customers in store, and may limit how much you can buy.

Is my vet still open?

Yes, but with extreme safety precautions in place. Veterinary practices are allowed to remain open for urgent and emergency care. Each practice will have slightly different interpretations of the advice given by the Government, British Veterinary Association, and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. You must not go to your veterinary practice without calling first. It is likely that you will receive phone triage by a veterinary nurse before being offered a phone or video consultation with a vet. Face-to-face consultations will be offered as a last resort. You may be asked to stay in your car and phone to let reception know you have arrived. You may be asked to hand over your dog for the veterinary team to take away to examine and treat. Expect to be asked to make payment by card or over the phone. Please be kind to your veterinary team; this is not how we want to work, but we have to keep you and ourselves safe. If you have any concerns about your dog’s health, please call your vet!

What about my dog's medication and parasite control?

Your vet will have a protocol in place to ensure you can get your dog’s medication. They may offer a postal service, written prescriptions so you can order from an online pharmacy, or a collection service where you call from the car park and a team member brings out your order. Don’t be tempted to switch to cheap over-the-counter flea and worm control, or to skip it altogether — vets don’t need the extra workload of itchy dogs to deal with!

What about vaccinations? My dog is due next week...

Distemper, hepatitis, and parvovirus vaccinations are known to protect for three years. Leptospirosis vaccination should be given annually, but your dog won’t need to restart as long as the booster is given within 18 months so we have a window of flexibility. Contact your vet and find out what their current policy is.

Many practices are continuing to provide puppy vaccinations and first annual vaccinations in order to reduce the risk of an outbreak of parvovirus. Dealing with that would stretch resources at a difficult time.

I have loads of time at home, and the kids are off until September, should I get a puppy?

Absolutely not! If you have a puppy booked already, or have recently bought one, you will need to make adjustments to ensure he is properly socialised and trained. Many trainers are offering support via video (Skype, Zoom) instead of running classes. Remember that puppies need a lot of rest, not 24/7 interaction, and that you will need to prepare him for being left alone once life returns to normal.

I was planning to breed a litter; is this still OK?

Not really. Think very hard before breeding a litter in the current climate. Veterinary practices are already stretched and may not be able to provide all the care you need. It is possible that we will see shortages of dog food if the crisis continues long term, so the impact of having extra mouths to feed should also be considered. KC health screening services such as eye clinics, and the hip and elbow schemes, are not in operation at the moment, and labs may struggle to process DNA tests. Lockdowns may mean your buyers can’t collect and you have to keep a litter for many months.