Hello, my name is Dr Paul Manktelow and I’ve been a vet for almost 20 years, working on the front line in some of the UK’s busiest veterinary hospitals.
2020 will almost certainly go down in history as the most turbulent year for a generation. The outbreak of Covid-19 has presented mankind with an unparalleled test in strength and resilience. As we’ve had to compromise in so many areas of our lives, it’s worth remembering that the pandemic has not only impacted us but our dogs too.
Our lives have been turned upside down this year and it’s been difficult for us to take care of our own well-being, never mind that of our dogs. As always, however, we’ve found ways to adapt, and our canine companions have adapted with us.
Here are my 10 tips on how to keep your dogs happy and healthy during the pandemic.
Tip #1 Keep in touch with your vet
As we have gone in and out of restrictions in the UK, vets have worked really hard to make sure they have remained open for pets needing urgent care. However, tiered restrictions, physical distancing measures, and staff having to self isolate means that not all practices can offer their full range of services. Keep checking in with your vet, via their social media or website, to keep up to date on what they can and can’t offer and what the arrangements are in case of emergency. This is particularly important if your pet needs vaccinating since some routine procedures are having to be delayed and you may have to take special precautions until they can be resumed.
Tip #2 Weekly nose to tail health checks
Veterinary practices have had to adopt physical distancing measures to keep people safe during the pandemic. With face to face appointments being reserved for emergencies or for the sickest of animals, owners have often had to examine minor conditions themselves. I’m a great advocate of this and think people should do this even after the pandemic. Regular health checks allow owners to pick up conditions early. This is particularly useful for monitoring those lumps and bumps that dogs inevitably get as they age, but it’s also invaluable for checking the general health of skin, teeth and ears.
Tip #3 Keep a regular routine
This year our lives have been changing constantly with an impact on our daily routines. Our dogs don’t understand this and it can be incredibly unsettling for them. My advice here is to try and keep your dogs routine constant, regardless of what is happening in the outside world. Have regular times for feeding, exercise and play, and try to stick to these as much as possible.
Tip #4 Exercise precautions
Walkies stimulate our dogs on so many levels and which is incredibly important for their physical and psychological health. Despite restrictions across the country, it has always been permitted to walk dogs, even in full lockdown. However, if an owner is being required to self-isolate then alternative arrangements need to be made, essentially, your dog still needs walking, but you can’t be the one that does it. If you can’t call upon family, friends or neighbours to do this then there are plenty of great dog walking services across the UK.
Precautions do need to be taken so that you don’t compromise anyone’s safety:
- Wipe down the lead and harness before and after the walk with an antiviral wipe.
- After their walk, wipe your dog down with a clean, damp disposable cloth.
- PPE such as gloves should be worn by the dog walker and hand washing before and after the walk is essential.
- Dog walkers should remove and wash all shoes and clothing that have come into contact with the dog as soon as they get home.
- Dog walkers should keep the dog on the lead or walk-in areas where they will come into little or no contact with other dogs and dog walkers.
- Dog walkers should not allow passers-by to pet the dog.
Tip #5 Do Training exercises every day
The Dogs Trust has reported that over a quarter of all UK dog owners have seen a new behaviour problem develop in their dog during lockdown which sadly suggests that not all of our dogs are better off by having us home more. Whilst some dogs have thrived by having increased contact with their human family, others have been left stressed and agitated by reduced exercise, no contact with other dogs, or an inability to find a quiet place to rest.
I always say that a calm dog is a happy dog. Of course, dogs should be allowed to get excited and run, jump and play, and express normal doggy behaviour. On the whole, however, they should be calm, confident and look to you for leadership and direction. Regular training is the key, and every dog owner should take some time out of the day, every day, to keep their dogs reminded of their behavioural expectations.
Tip #6 Time-Outs
Dogs like us, need intervals of peace, quiet, and rest but this has been much more difficult with home-working and home-schooling. The whole family should be encouraged to have quiet periods in the day where everyone, including your dogs, can relax and mentally recharge. Try and create a den space for your dog that everyone respects as a safe haven where they can choose to retreat to without being disturbed.
These periods of quiet and solitude will also be important to help prevent separation anxiety issues when things start returning back to normal and we are all away from the home more.
Tip #7 Beware of loneliness
Now, this seems a strange one considering we are all at home more. However, just as we need to define periods of ‘Time-outs’ we also need to define periods of attention. We may be home more but in many cases, the time we dedicate to our dogs has reduced with some dogs developing behavioural issues as a result. Sadly 1 in 5 owners admit to leaving their dogs alone for more than 5 hours each day which is an issue to meet their companionship needs. Make sure you define periods in the day in which you pay your dogs attention, whether it be walking, playing, or just general cuddles, it will do you both the world of good.
Tip #8 Don’t forget the diet
As a result of the pandemic, we have all been a bit guilty of finding comfort in food during the lockdowns, isolations, and long quarantines. According to PDSA’s most recent paw report, 16% of dog owners admitted to feeding more treats with 8% recognising weight gain in their canine companions. Unfortunately, with a national pet obesity crisis on our hands, this is not something we can afford to continue doing. In order to help prevent excess weight gain. planning is key! Plan out your dogs’ daily meals and stick to it. Instead of human treats allocate a portion of your dogs’ normal food and use this portion for treats instead.
Tip #9 Don’t become part of the Pandemic Puppy problem
There has been an upsurge in demand for dogs during the pandemic and with people being at home more this does seem like a perfect time to get a puppy. However, demand for dogs has led to some questionable breeding practices with new owners being duped into buying pups from puppy farms at highly inflated prices. Do your research and only buy dogs from reputable sources.
You also need to make sure that you can get puppies vaccinated before you bring them home. If restrictions on appointments at your vets mean that there is a delay in vaccinations then you won’t be able to properly mix and socialise your new pup and they could develop significant behavioural problems as a result.
Owners should also really consider the long term implications of dog ownership, especially when workplaces open after the pandemic and we aren’t at home as much as we used to be. Make sure you have provisions for the long term care of your dog.
Tip #10 Be wary of Dog Theft
As well as questionable breeding practices, the demand for dogs has led to an increase in dog theft. Every day we are hearing of heartbreaking stories where dogs have been stolen from parks, and even from owner’s gardens. Be vigilant, both as an owner but also as a potential buyer of the dog, and make sure the seller is legitimate and can provide proof of microchipping and ownership.
DogLife360's healthcare expert, Dr Paul Manktelow, is Principal Vet at PDSA, Streetvet Trustee TV, Radio and Podcast Presenter, Writer, and Founder of Vital Pet Health.
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