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Socializing Pets During Quarantine

Posted 04.21.20 by Lee Ann Newman, DVM

As we all are staying “Safer At Home” and having decreased contact with other humans, many of us are welcoming new pets into our homes to help fill that gap. This can help with our stress levels and provide a wonderful distraction and new-found sense of purpose. Shelter pets that are finding new homes these days also are benefiting from increased adoptions. There are so many reasons to get a new pet these days.

With this increase in adoptions of new puppies and kittens, one of the challenges is making sure that their socialization needs are met. How do we do this during this time of social distancing? While it is definitely more challenging, it is not impossible, and super important to do. 

First we need to understand why socialization is so important. Lack of adequate socialization at the appropriate age (typically between 3 and 12 weeks of age is the most impressionable time) can lead to many behavior problems that can last the lifetime of the pet. It can make simple things like taking our pets to the vet, adopting another pet, or even going on a walk a miserable, frightening experience. If pets don’t learn at an early age about other animals, people, and various situations, these can be a source of fear and anxiety.

One study showed that of the pets surrendered to shelters, the reason given for 40% of dogs and 28% of cats was for behavior issues. 

So how do we socialize our pets when we ourselves are adhering to social distancing guidelines? Is it safe for our pets to interact with people while we ourselves cannot? There is so much about the coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 illness that we just don’t know yet. Recommendations change almost daily, so we all need to be mindful of the most recent guidelines as new information becomes available.

Luckily, for now, there is no good evidence that says our pets can transmit the virus that causes COVID-19 illness. Dogs and cats have not shown the ability to infect people with the virus, even though a few pets have tested positive. We are not sure yet if dogs and cats, like any other surface, may be able to act as fomites. We do think that bathing the pet is probably all that is needed to remove any virus from the fur, just in case.

It seems that socializing our puppies is probably very achievable, even these days! As long as the puppy is current on vaccines and is protected by heartworm, flea and tick prevention, it is safe to take her out into the world.

  • Take the puppy for walks. Let her experience new sights, sounds and smells. Let her feel different surfaces under her feet.
  • Let the puppy meet other people who are at least 6 feet away from us. Long leashes allow for this to be safely done.
  • Puppies can meet up in a fenced yard to enjoy free play time together.
  • There are online training classes that can help with basic obedience.
  • Expose pets (puppies and kittens) to lots of different things, like loud noises (from a safe, non-scary distance), smells of cooking, open windows, TV, etc.
  • Mentally stimulating toys help keep our pets occupied and their brains occupied. Bored pets find something to do and it’s usually something we’d rather they didn’t!
  • In a dog’s mind, 20 minutes of play equals an hour of running.

Finally, pets need to learn how to be alone. At some point, we won’t be home all day every day, and we don’t want our new pets to be scared when we finally go back to work and school. They need to be comfortable being alone for hours at a time. For a couple of hours each day, our new pets need to practice what they will do when we leave for a few hours. Crate time in a quiet room where they can’t see or hear us is going to be so important in avoiding separation anxiety when our schedules are back to normal.

Local pet trainer Amy Lear has lots of good information on her website www.amylear.thedogtrainer.org.

COVID-19 has affected all our lives in so many ways, but increased pet adoptions is one of the few bright spots that has resulted from our time at home. We can continue to enjoy the many benefits that our pets bring to our lives. Pet ownership has been shown to improve mood and health, which all of us can use these days! Stay safe!

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