With the number of COVID-19 cases rising higher each day, not to mention the stressful uncertainty of when — or if — life will ever get back to “normal,” it’s important to focus on the silver linings of the coronavirus cloud: spending more time with your dog. Snuggling on the couch, giving belly rubs and receiving lots of kisses makes quarantine life inside a little easier. But dogs are also a great excuse to get out of the house. Many people are relishing the chance to go for long walks and hikes with their canine besties — but is it safe?
Here’s everything we know so far about how to safely walk your dog during social distancing.
Can Dogs and Other Animals Get COVID-19?
While our knowledge of the novel coronavirus changes daily as scientists around the world grapple to understand this disease, the answer to a question that’s top of mind for most dog parents is “no” — at least for now. Some domestic pets — at current count, a single-digit handful — have tested positive for coronavirus, but it doesn’t appear that they can become ill from, or transmit COVID-19, the specific strain that’s devastating the human population.
“There is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19,” according to the World Health Organization’s dedicated coronavirus FAQ page.
This is corroborated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says that thousands of animals in 17 different countries have been tested, with no positive cases. “In the United States, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets, livestock, or wildlife, might be a source of COVID-19 infection at this time.”
As cute as it might look for your Insta snaps, there’s no practical reason to outfit your pup with a mask.
Where and When to Walk, Run or Play
Fresh air and regular exercise are vital to a dog’s health and well-being, and most of us humans could stand to move around a little more, too. (All those Pringles and cinnamon rolls we’re munching on while we plow through our Netflix queues are starting to take their toll!)
Nevertheless, you’ll need to give your destination a little deliberation before you grab the leash and poop bags. If your home is already relatively isolated, you can safely take a turn around your own property or venture down the street. City dwellers and suburbanites, on the other hand, should educate themselves on a few necessary precautions to follow social distancing guidelines.
Try not to walk your dog during “rush hour” — even though a majority of 9-to-5 workers have shifted operations to their living room, business hours are still in effect for many of them. So during the early evening hours, between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., you are probably going to see more walkies. The same goes for the period leading up to an 8 a.m. start time. Of course, you know your neighborhood best, but shaking up your regular schedule is one way to limit your potential exposure to the virus.
Similarly, steer clear of popular routes such as parks or riverside recreational trails. This might mean that your promenades are less picturesque, but a jaunt around the block will still get the job done.
Some communities have instituted new curfews or expanded existing ones, so check with your local municipality to make sure you’re not breaking the law just by being out of your home.
Are Dog Parks Off Limits?
What about dog parks? You’ve probably spent many an enjoyable hour sipping your favorite Starbucks beverage and chatting with fellow dog lovers while watching your canine charges scamper and play. That’s no longer such a great idea, given the six-foot social distancing standard. Some states have already closed dog parks, while others ask owners to exercise caution. If you do venture to your dog’s favorite stomping grounds, keep a leash-length away from other owners. If possible, do a drive-by to see how crowded the park is before uttering those magic words that will incite excitement in your pup.
Let’s say your dog is desperate for some off-leash frolicking and you decide the dog park or run is relatively risk-free. In addition to staying well away from other people, do your best to keep your dog’s interaction with canine cronies to a minimum. After all, you don’t know who might have petted that dog or put its collar on. (Though, experts have stated dog fur and fabric are considered low-risk carriers when it comes to transmitting the coronavirus.)
Wherever you venture, bring along a pocket-sized bottle of hand sanitizer. And don’t touch anything except your dog and her poo (with a plastic bag, of course). Try to dispose of those bags outside your home, whether in a public garbage receptacle or your own outdoor bins.
Best Practices for Post-Walk Protocol
Speaking of returning home, here’s what to do once your outing is over:
- Keep a bottle of disinfectant and a roll of paper towels on your porch or in the mudroom. Before going inside, use them to wipe your dog’s paws and the leash.
- Remove your dog’s coat or sweater, if she wears one, and pop it right into the washing machine.
- Wash your hands — you know the drill, right? Hot water, plenty of soap, 20 seconds minimum.
To be extra cautious, take a shower after being out of doors. Those who have ample time and towels could give their dog a bath, as well. Depending on how much fun she had during the excursion, she might need it anyway!
The Bottom Line
All across the globe, people’s habits have been radically changed thanks to this unprecedented pandemic. The South African government has actually banned dog walks as part of its rigorous three-week lockdown, which went into effect on March 27. (Serbia recently followed suit.) Although that level of restriction hasn’t been imposed stateside, and isn’t likely to be, smart dog owners should default to an abundance of caution when it comes to taking their daily constitutional.
Everyone in your home, canine and human, has probably come down with cabin fever after being cooped up for close to a month or more. As long as you’re careful and exercise caution as you exercise your bodies, a nice long walk in the spring sunshine can do both you and your dog a world of good.