How to keep your dog healthy during the coronavirus pandemic

dog with lead in house

The coronavirus pandemic is evidently a challenging time for humans all over the world - but it is also important to consider our four-legged friends.

Many people across the world are proud dog owners, but in countries like Spain, who are currently under a national “State of Alarm” - meaning movements are significantly restricted - pet owners may be concerned about the welfare of their companions.

Spain’s President, Pedro Sandez, decreed an official “State of Alarm” that came into immediate effect on Saturday March 14. This imposed a 15 day lockdown, halting all movements deemed “unessential”. Sanchez is currently awaiting the approval of an extension of the emergency measure. If approved by the Congress of Deputies on March 25, the lockdown in Spain will continue until April 11. 

Under lockdown rules, dog owners are allowed out to take their dogs for a walk - but certain restrictions apply. The walks must be alone (dog(s) and owner), short in duration, no contact should be made between other dogs or people and owners are obligated to bring a bottle of water mixed with cleaning detergent with them to wash away any urine left on the streets and all faeces must be removed. The General Directorate for Animal Rights also recommends dog walks should be carried out during “off-peak” times. 

If you choose to ignore these rules, there is a chance you could be fined - with amounts ranging from 100 to 30,000 euros - depending on the severity of the defiant behaviour.  

Isolation measures working to help curtail the spread of COVID-19 can affect both humans and animals physically and psychologically. Regarding dogs, limited walking opportunities, lack of contact with other dogs and reduced capacity to explore their environments are all factors that can heighten their levels of anxiety and stress. 

"The well-being of a dog depends on three key aspects: physical exercise, exploration of the environment and social contact and interaction. The State of Alarm measures across Spain are impacting all of these aspects”, explains the Affinity Foundation.

dog with chew
Play time

In order to help maintain and nurture your dog’s mental and physical well-being, there’s a few creative options that owners can try.

Play with your dog at least three times per day, for a minimum of 15-20 minutes per session. Depending on the amount of space in your home or access to private outdoor space (e.g. a garden), will of course have some impact on the games you can play - but most games can be adapted to suit your spatial options. 

Some fun activities and games to keep your dog’s mind and body active

  • Search Games: Hiding some treats and toys around your house or flat will create a “treasure hunt” type game for your dog. They can use their senses to search out the treats once the hiding spots have been uncovered. Just make sure you only hide small amounts of tasty food - to ensure your dog does not overeat. 
  • Hide and seek: Place three plastic cups upside-down on the floor and hide a treat under one of the cups. Move the cups around while your dog watches the movements. Then see if they can find the cup with the reward underneath.
  • Frozen treats: Frozen treats are another source of fun and entertainment. You just need to put some food or a treat in an ice-cream container, fill it with water and freeze it. Your dog will have lots of fun waiting for the ice to melt and revealing the delicious surprise to enjoy.
  • Chewing: The act of chewing is a natural behaviour for dogs and chews such as Kongs, can keep your dog busy for hours, as well as helping to maintain good dog dental hygiene.
  • Teach basic commands: Does your dog know important commands like "sit", "stay", "come"? Now is the time to put in some hours of reward-based training. The RSPCA offers some basic tips to get you started, take a look here. 
  • Teach names: Give toys names and ask your dog to fetch "teddy", "ball", or "dolly" and put them in a box.
  • Tidying up: Like you can teach a child, train your dog to “tidy up” their toys - preferably in a box. 
hungry pups
Hungry pups

It’s also important to consider food portion sizes and frequency of feeds for your dog during the lockdown period. Due to dog walking restrictions, it’s likely they will not burn as much energy as normal. Controlling food intake accordingly is vital to prevent your dog from becoming overweight and developing related health problems. 

Affinity Foundation suggests turning meal times into a game is another way to keep your dog active and alert. 

One example: take the cardboard innards of a kitchen roll and create several holes in the tube. Place food into the tube and cover both ends (to prevent the food simply falling out). Give the tube to your dog and allow them to investigate how to reach their food. This is a brain engaging activity and will also help your dog to eat slower - which helps to aid good digestion.

Another option along similar lines involves taking a box and putting a cloth inside it. Between the folds of the cloth, hide small amounts of food for your dog to find. 

It’s important to remember that this is a stressful time for everyone - humans and animals alike. 

It is possible that you will notice mood changes (such as nervousness) in your dog as they adapt to the current situation. Being patient and extra loving with your pet is especially important during these challenging times.

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