Dog owners may need to change the way they exercise their pets in keeping with stricter social isolation rules announced this week as part of government action to curb the spread of coronavirus.
People should not be in public spaces unless for exercise, work or school, medical care or to shop for essential items Scott Morrison said on Sunday, limiting outdoor gatherings to just two people.
While there may be confusion over the definition of an “essential task” after Mr Morrison revealed his wife left the house to buy jigsaw puzzles, health departments have since agreed on the safest way people can continue to walk their dogs during the coronavirus pandemic.
Don’t let your dog off the leash
Gone are the days where dog owners could allow their animals free range at off-leash dog parks, with this practice sternly advised against by both NSW and Victoria’s health departments.
“It’s really important that we keep our distance from other people when we leave the house, and using a leash can minimise accidental interactions,” VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio told Yahoo News Australia.
Dr Demaio said dog owners who knew their dog was prone to approaching other dogs at the park needed to be particularly vigilant and always “keep a safe 1.5 metre distance from other dog owners”.
He reminded pet owners of the importance of giving their hands a wash for at least 20 seconds with warm soap water when they returned home.
For elderly Australians, especially those aged over 70 who Mr Morrison has recommended to self isolate, extra care needed to be taken when leaving the house to walk their dog.
“The strong recommendation is for people over 70 to self-isolate, however if they need to leave the house to walk their dog, older Australians must take extra care – keep at least 1.5 metre distance from other people, try to avoid crowded streets and practice good hand hygiene to reduce their risk,” Dr Demaio said.
A NSW Health spokesperson echoed this message, acknowledging there was no specific advice but recommending dog walkers adhere to social distancing rules at all times.
They said people aged over 70 walking their dog outside “should be fine” provided they avoided close contact with others.
Andrew Biggs, CEO of Hanrob Pet Hotels which is providing crisis accomodation for animals of coronavirus victims and healthcare workers, also urged people to not walk in groups with their dog.
“Even dogs in the neighbourhood that you know, it’s still important to keep them separate. It won’t be forever,” he told Yahoo News Australia.
While dog parks have yet to be officially closed, Mr Biggs said it was practical given the current climate for people to treat them as though they were a “no go zone”.
The best alternative to walking your dog
Sydney Dog Trainer and Behaviourist George Tran told Yahoo News Australia there was a plethora of options when it came to keeping dogs mentally and physically active while staying home.
He recommended that pet owners remain indoors with their furry friends and take the opportunity to put in some training practice.
“What I recommend is you teach your dog how to fetch, and teach it some dog obedience. Anything to drain its energy,” Mr Tran said.
People with a hallway could use that space to play fetch by throwing a treat and encouraging their dog to run after it, he said.
Mr Tran has released a tutorial video with a step-by-step guide for people wanting to tech their dog how to fetch.
Can the virus stay on fur and can I pet other dogs?
Health Sciences Professor Archie Clements from Curtin University told Yahoo News Australia we could not rule out the possibility the virus could be spread by dogs, but it was unlikely.
“The virus could jump across species and be transmitted between other species, so the safe thing to do is walk your dog, but do it on your own and keep your distance from other people,” Prof Clements said.
While much remained unknown about the survival of the virus on different surfaces, Prof Clements said it was not likely there was a risk someone could pick it up by patting someone else’s dog.
“There’s a very low risk of that happening. The virus is much more likely to be transmitted on smooth surfaces like tables and door handles.
“It’s much less likely to be transmitted on clothes and animal fur.”
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