As the world grapples with the pandemic, coronavirus precautions have become the new normal. From telecommuting to washing our hands more frequently, our lifestyles have changed in various ways to cope with the spread of the potentially deadly illness.
Required quarantine has kept many of us indoors. And while it’s a necessary step, it also poses some problems. For dog owners, the issue is how they can continue caring for their furry friends while staying safe and following quarantine guidelines.
How do you walk your dog? How do you keep them entertained at home? To answer these questions, VICE spoke to Dr. Kenneth Tong, a veterinarian at Singapore’s Animal & Avian Veterinary Clinic, about how to handle pets in the time of coronavirus.
VICE: Are there any precautions we should take while walking our dogs during the coronavirus outbreak?
Tong: Practise social distancing. Walk your dog, but avoid areas where there’s a crowd. Try keeping a distance of two metres or more between one another if possible.
Also, avoid letting your dog sniff, lick, or eat anything on the ground or grass. This is not only for the COVID-19 outbreak period, but other times as well, to prevent your dog from picking up virus, bacteria, and toxins, or swallowing foreign bodies.
Are there alternatives to walking them outside?
You can play with your dog at home, such as short-distance “fetch,” or have them look for their toys. Grooming or patting them will also help. These activities should suffice for now.
Otherwise, you can try walking on concrete (where you can see if it’s clean or dirty) instead of grassy areas. If you have to walk on grass, select an area that is exposed to direct sunlight and rain, as it is probably cleaner than one that is sheltered or muddy.
How do we manage our dogs while working from home?
Oh, don’t worry. Your dog is happy to see you working at home. Just your presence is sufficient to bring them joy. So just go about your work routine at home.
If you ignore your dog while working, they will just do their own thing or chill out near you. If your dog is hyperactive, you can work in a room behind closed doors. You can also engage them with a short burst of play or interaction before resuming your work. They will likely take a rest after that.
How do we keep our dogs entertained indoors?
If you want to entertain them at home instead of taking walks outside, you can get them some toys that stimulate their need to forage, such as a toy ball containing treats which they have to “work at” to dislodge. A hardy squeaky toy will do as well.
Most of the time, human interaction is sufficient to replace physical walks outside. Of course, if you’re afraid of your dog becoming obese, reducing the food intake by a small percentage during this period might help. You can also weigh them weekly to ensure that there is no drastic weight loss or gain.
Do we have to “create a space” for our pets to play at home since they can’t go out?
Nope. They already have such a space. If they are typically confined to your front yard or backyard, they can remain there. If they are housed indoors, they can continue to occupy the space. Nothing new needs to be created.
How do we keep our dogs physically and mentally healthy when they can’t play outside?
It depends on how many pets you have at home, and the size and breed of the dog. Smaller dogs require less space compared to larger ones.
Instead of the playing space, it’s the duration of play or interaction that matters more. Quality human interactions such as playing, command and obedience games, searching, and sniffing are helpful.
These activities can make do for a few months of staying at home. But nothing can replace the fun of outdoors. This is the same for humans.
During this period, public health is of utmost importance. Giving up the luxury of space and the freedom of the outdoors is more sensible to ensure safety. It will be beneficial for you to adhere to the health advisory given by your country.
Are there any pet-related chores we should do differently, given the coronavirus situation?
No. Good hygiene should always be practised by pet owners.
Avoid letting them lick your face, avoid sharing food with them, and avoid exchanging bodily fluids with them. Wash your hands after touching them, and keep your home clean. Clear their urine or poo as soon as possible, then clean the area with household detergent.
Do you have any general advice for pet owners during the coronavirus outbreak?
Cook their food thoroughly, especially if your pets are on a canned or raw diet. Remember, high temperatures kill everything, including viruses, bacteria, and worms.
Have your pets consume their food shortly after cooking. As the food cools, its bacteria count will increase over time. Wash their food and water bowls regularly with detergent.
Bring your pet to see a vet if they are unwell, and be up-to-date with their vaccination according to the vet’s recommendations.
Keep them in a good body condition, that is, not too thin or too fat.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.