By Cathy Foster, Chicago Pet Sitters Pet Care Specialist

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has altered our lives in countless ways, one thing that hasn’t changed is the need to give our dogs the exercise, mental stimulations and, of course, potty breaks that daily walks provide. As long as you’re not sick or exhibiting symptoms, you can continue to do that safely and responsibly by following some simple guidelines:

Wear a mask–but don’t put one on your dog. To prevent those without symptoms from spreading viruses through their respiratory droplets, we’re all being asked to wear cloth face masks inside public spaces and any time six feet of distancing can’t be maintained. Even though you’re outdoors, a situation might arise that could prevent you from keeping the recommended distance, so a mask is advisable. 

Your dog doesn’t need one though. Although several dogs and cats that had been in contact with infected humans have tested positive for COVID-19,  there is no evidence that these animals can transmit the disease to humans, according to health and veterinary authorities. Additionally, a mask could create breathing difficulties for your dog. 

Skip on-leash greetings. Even before the pandemic, there were good reasons not to let your dog approach another dog on-leash–the other dog may not be friendly; leashes might tangle, which could spark canine aggression or anxiety; and it reinforces pulling behavior. Now comes the new danger of you getting too close to other dog walkers and risking exposure to the virus. That’s primarily a risk to you, as the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, cannot cause canine coronavirus infection. It’s also worth noting that the handful of pets that have tested positive for COVID-19 did not become ill with the disease.

Use a classic leash instead of a retractable leash. We don’t recommend using a retractable leash even during “normal” times  (see our  March 23, 2018 blog post, “Toss Those Retractable Leashes”). Now more than ever, though, you want your dog under your control to avoid pulling toward another dog and its owner. Another benefit is that using a 6-foot leash will help you keep the recommended distance.

Stick to less-populated areas and forego the dog park. The need to maintain physical distancing of at least six feet between you and other people may mean you’ll have to change the route you normally take or the times of day you walk your dog. The CDC also recommends dog owners stay away from dog parks, even if they are open, to avoid crowds. If you’re on a narrow sidewalk or path and you see other people coming towards you, move over to give them a wide berth to pass. 

Practice good hand hygiene. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after each walk. While outdoors, avoid contact with commonly touched surfaces such as gates. Take a pocket-size bottle of hand sanitizer with you on walks. 

So go ahead and keep up with your daily walks while minimizing risk, or set up walks again with your dog walker. There may be a lot we can’t do right now, but getting the fresh air and exercise your dog deserves doesn’t have to be one of them.

For more information on COVID-19 and pets, check out the following links.

Coronavirus and Pets: FAQs for Owners

COVID-19 and Animals

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html#COVID-19-and-Animals

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