Social Distancing for Pet Owners

Roughly 90 million Americans own a dog in the United States and, for those of us practicing social distancing, it means we are spending A LOT more time with our pooches. Having a pet during difficult times such as these has already been proven to help diminish stress levels, lessen depression and anxiety, and lower blood pressure. Animal shelters across the nation are also seeing an increase in foster applications for those trying to combat loneliness.

But what does social distancing or social isolation mean if you are a dog owner? So much of being a dog owner is social, whether it’s the ability to quickly warm up to a stranger because of their adorable dog, or striking up a conversation with someone you would not normally approach because their fluffy pooch just begs to be pet! Throw a dog in the mix and voila—instant social interaction!

Even with “shelter in place” or “stay at home” orders in place, it is still encouraged to spend time outside to maintain physical and mental health. Having a relentless dog that insists on its daily walks is actually a good thing right now! A 6-foot leash is the perfect measuring tool for remaining the required distance apart from others while still permitting your dog to be pet by friends and neighbors. However, the question has been raised by many pet owners of whether they should be concerned about contracting COVID-19 from their pet’s haircoat.

It’s been widely publicized that there is currently no evidence pointing to pets being a source of COVID-19 transmission to people through their saliva or mucus. With that being said, your pet’s fur coat is currently an unknown because it can be a “fomite” source just like any other in our environment. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), “COVID-19 might be able to be transmitted by touching a contaminated surface or object (i.e., a fomite) and then touching the mouth, nose, or possibly eyes, but this appears to be a secondary route (the main route still being through mucus or air droplets)”. A pet’s haircoat is considered fibrous and porous which can trap the virus making it harder to contract through a touch or a pat on the head.

Ultimately, it is unlikely that you would contract COVID-19 through petting, snuggling, or playing with your dog. However, the AVMA also suggests, “because animals can spread other diseases to people and people can also spread diseases to animals, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands before and after interacting with animals; ensure your pet is kept well-groomed; and regularly clean your pet’s food and water bowls, bedding material, and toys.”

During these uncertain times, it’s best to always err on the side of caution and reserve your close snuggling to your own pet and not those you may encounter while out enjoying a spring walk.