Preparing for Coronavirus as a Dog Owner

If you haven’t read my article about whether or not your dog can even get coronavirus, you should definitely check it out. The short answer is that it is possible, but dogs haven’t had symptoms and both the CDC and WHO have stated that there is no evidence that your dog (or cat) can pass it to you. That aside, it’s still important to prepare yourself for what could happen if your family gets infected with COVID-19.

Get an Extra Bag of Dog Food

If anyone in your family tests positive for COVID-19, or even appears to have the symptoms, the rest of you will also be quarantined. This means no one will be able to leave the house to get dog food if you happen to run out during quarantine. Right now, it is already strongly suggested that we all practice social distancing. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get necessities, but you should definitely think about other ways to go about getting them. For instance, take advantage of services like Shipt, Restock, or Drive-up by Target, try out Amazon’s grocery service called Amazon Fresh, and do whatever shopping you can online. There are many grocery and department stores that have options for you to shop online and have an employee deliver the items to your car. You should do the same with purchasing your dog’s food. Check out companies like Chewy where you can order online and have the food shipped to you. Also, don’t panic. Two of my large breed dogs eat the same food and the 33lb bag lasts us a whole month. Unless you have five or more dogs eating the same food, you do not need more than one bag. Everyone is in the same boat, and we need to be courteous and thoughtful of others by not buying more than we actually need. One bag of dog food will hold most people over in the event that their family contracts COVID-19. If you are unable to buy the kibble you usually buy, look for something within the same brand that uses similar ingredients or has a similar recipe. If you can, introduce the new food little by little into your dog’s current food to avoid stomach upset.

I don’t think it is likely that most of us will be without dog food, but let’s pretend that somehow you land in that situation. You are sick with COVID-19, you’ve run out of dog food, and you have no way to get it. You still have options. For instance, many of us feed our dogs rice and chicken when they are ill. But, you can feed this to your dog regardless of whether they’re feeling good or not. There are also many fruits and vegetables that are safe for your dog to eat, like apples, blueberries, carrots, squash, pumpkin, potatoes, and sweet potatoes, just to name a few. See what items you have in your house and do a quick Google search to check if what you have is safe for your dog to eat.

Find comfort in the fact that dogs are descended from wolves, and like wolves, are capable of fasting. As long as your dog has water and at least a little bit of food, he can go for a very long time without a full meal. In fact, a study was done in 1912 in which a dog was made to fast for 117 days. The dog was given only 15.796 grams of food per day (for reference, a cup of dry ingredients is about 201 grams; a pound is equal to 453 grams). At the beginning of the study, the dog weighed 58lbs (26.33kg); at the end, he weighed 21lbs (9.76kg). After the study was over, the dog recovered his previous weight and was said to be just as, if not more, energetic than before the fast. Of course, this is not to say that you shouldn’t feed your dog if you are sick. Furthermore, the dog in the study was a Scotch collie and presumably on a very different diet before the fast than what we see today. Different dogs may have different tolerances when it comes to fasting. My point in sharing this is to hopefully lessen your anxiety about the situation by showing you that even in the worst possible scenario (you are too sick to feed your dog or have no dog food), your dog will most likely be fine.

Keeping Your Dog Entertained: Games, Toys, and Training

If someone in your household contracts COVID-19, it’s likely that the other members will also get infected. Of course, depending on the age and health of those individuals, it may not be too bad. Some of you may have very mild symptoms. Plus, you may not all experience symptoms at the same time, meaning that some members of the family may be able to take care of the pets while others are resting and recovering. But again, let’s consider the worst possible scenario: everyone is sick and no one can properly exercise the dog (or maybe you live alone). I’ve already explained that your dog isn’t going to starve to death, but most dogs need exercise. They need mental or physical stimulation for their well-being. Some dogs will get into trouble when they are bored. They may dig through garbage cans, chew up your throw pillows, or destroy whatever other items they can find. I actually had H1N1 back in 2014, so I know how some of these viruses can really knock you out. If coronavirus confines you to your bed, then you definitely aren’t going to be able to walk your dog. So how can you provide your dog with activities while you are sick?

Play Fetch

If you aren’t too ill for this and your dog enjoys a game of fetch, give it a go. Lay in bed and throw the ball out your bedroom door, or lay on the couch and throw the ball in your living room. Just be careful not to play this game in a room that is cluttered or where your dog is likely to damage something. The last thing you want to be doing when you’re sick is cleaning up a smashed vase.

Use a Flirt Pole

Many dogs love to chase things, which is where the flirt pole comes in. It is essentially a stick with a string that attaches to a toy and it may look a little bit like a fishing rod. You could likely make one of these at home, but they’re also available at stores and online. All you have to do is wave the pole around so that the toy comes alive — your dog will take care of the rest.

Interactive/Puzzle Toys

Interactive toys or puzzle toys are meant to challenge your dog’s mental capabilities. These types of toys usually require the dog to figure out what he has to do to get a treat; for instance, some toys require the dog to nose open compartments or push revolving sections until the treats are uncovered. You could even use these toys to feed your dog her whole meal, especially if sickness or quarantine prohibits regular exercise. There are also some interactive games you can play at home. Some of these are as simple as hiding a treat in one of your hands and asking your dog to choose which hand it is in. One of my favorite DIY “toys” for my dogs is one that requires recycled boxes. I can’t take credit for this game because I did not come up with the idea, and sadly I do not remember where I found it as it was too long ago. Basically, you use empty boxes from cereal, granola bars, or whatever else and put a few treats or some kibble in them. Then, you put one inside the other, like Russian nesting dolls. You can do as many layers of this as you want. My Luca is usually focused on getting the treats so he does not eat much of the cardboard (just rips it apart), but you should consider your own dog’s behavior before doing this. If your dog is going to gobble up the cardboard, it’s probably not the right choice for you.

Chews

Who doesn’t love a good chew? All of us dog owners know that one of the best ways to get our dogs out of our hair when we need a bit of time to ourselves is to give them something to chew on. There are many different things you can offer to your dogs, like marrow bones or antlers (both of these should only be given to gentle chewers: aggressive chewers can crack their teeth on these), Nylabones or Lumabones, but my favorite is easily the Kong.

This is because, as long as you choose the appropriate size for your dog, the Kong is a really safe option for a chew. It is malleable and won’t harm your dog’s teeth, and you can customize exactly what goes in it, so it can be a very healthy option. What you can fill a Kong with depends on what you have on hand, but ingredients I commonly use include apples, pumpkin, chicken, carrots, peanut butter (though I use this sparingly), commercial dog treats, and homemade chicken broth (I just simmer the chicken I will use as treats for a few hours until it turns into broth; be sure to remove the fat off the top after it cools). I like to make the Kong ahead of time and freeze it so that it takes my dogs much longer to finish it.

Crates and Gates and Closed Doors

Unfortunately, it may be necessary for some of us to confine our dogs while we are sick. If your dog is prone to getting into things, then it is safer for her to be confined when you are not able to keep an eye on her. You can choose to use a crate, a playpen, put up baby gates to block off a certain space, or close your dog in an empty bedroom. Be aware that if your dog is not used to being confined, she may bark or scratch at the enclosure. Since we are imagining we are sick in this scenario and you do not have time to properly crate train, you can offer your dog a Kong. This will give them something to do other than bark and help create a positive association with the space.

Training

A great way to stimulate your dog is to work on his training. You can refresh basic skills he already has, or you can teach him new things. Currently, McCann Dog Training on YouTube is publishing a number of videos on training techniques you can do at home while in quarantine. I especially like this video on some impressive (but easy to teach) tricks.

Ask for Help

If you feel that you are unable to care for your dog while you are sick, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can reach out to friends and family members, rescue groups, doggy daycares, and pet sitters to see if anyone can care for your dog during the height of your symptoms. We have seen a number of programs put into place to help the community and many doggy daycares are offering to come to your car and get your dog so that you don’t have to go inside. There is definitely a chance that you can find programs that help pet owners during this trying time.

Works Cited

Animals and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed 22 Mar. 2020.

Bosch, Guido et al. “Dietary nutrient profiles of wild wolves: insights for optimal dog nutrition?British Journal of Nutrition, vol. 113, no. S1, Jan. 2015.

Howe, Paul E. et al. “Fasting Studies: VI. Distribution of Nitrogen During a Fast of One Hundred and Seventeen Days.Journal of Biological Chemistry, 13 Jan. 1912.

Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19).World Health Organization, 9 Mar. 2020.

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