A lot of dogs are getting in good shape during the COVID-19 pandemic (and a lot of cats are pretty getting annoyed at not being left alone all day). Getting outside with your dog can be a great thing even (and in some cases especially) now – if it’s done right. People may be pretty good at social distancing and staying away from others while walking their dogs, but some forget to include their dog in their social distancing plan.
We don’t know what role animals play, if any, in SARS-CoV-2 transmission. One of our main messages is that simple measures can reduce any risk that might be present. A big part of that is keeping pets away from other people. The main theoretical concern for the average pet owner would be an animal bringing the virus back into the household. However, if my dog or cat gets infected with this virus, it would have come from me or someone else in my family. The odds of a pet being the initial source of virus in my household are basically zero, because we’re all socially distancing – humans and animals. The problem is not everyone is doing that.
There are lots of examples of people failing to socially distance, including some that involve groups gathering at dog parks, many of which have been closed to facilitate social distancing. The increased human-human contact definitely poses a risk. Nonetheless, staying away from other people at a park isn’t too hard, and most people are probably pretty good at that. However, they often don’t think about their dogs, and allow them off leash in these busy dog parks.
To me, social distancing is a whole household activity, not just a human activity. If I wouldn’t go and shake someone’s hand, why would I let the same person pet my dog, and then touch the same spot on my dog myself right away? That might be the same risk as touching the person. The risk is probably very low, but it’s easily avoidable, and we should doing all we can do to prevent avoidable exposures.
So, get some exercise. Go for a nice walk (unless it’s not allowed in your area, and make sure to avoid closed parks as you could be fined). Just stay away from people and keep your dog on a leash and away from people too. If we do that, we don’t need to worry about whether pets can get infected or if their haircoat can be contaminated by an infected person, because no exposure means no infection or disease.
We can keep out pets socially distanced even more easily than ourselves (e.g. my dog Merlin doesn’t need to go out to get groceries), so let’s do that.