How to take care of your pets while on lockdown

Anna Gabrielle Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 30 2020 12:18 PM

Photo provided by author

MANILA -- Enhanced community quarantine means no one goes outside — and that includes our animal friends.

With a few more weeks to go, here’s how you and your fur-babies can cope (and even bond) during this time: 

PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH 

Since everyone is advised to stay indoors and do their part in “flattening the curve,” going out to walk the dog is strongly discouraged. 

According to veterinarian Dr. Kristine Torres, it is important to substitute outdoor activities normally done by the animals to keep them physically and mentally active. 

Similar to their human counterparts, dogs may experience stress— or worse, depression, if they are cooped up inside for too long. 

“If there’s space inside the home, you can play fetch or make them go up and down the stairs,” Torres suggested. 

In homes with limited space, however, Torres recommended playing tug of war or hide and seek instead. 

To stimulate their mental health, on the other hand, the young veterinarian encouraged owners to bond with their animal friends through puzzle games. 

“There are a lot of online resources for DIY puzzle games for dogs and cats,” Torres said. 

The veterinarian also added the work from home set up is a great opportunity for fur-babies to be taught new tricks. 

FOOD RATIONING 

Since most pet stores will remain closed for the duration of the enhanced community quarantine, and with panic-buying as the new norm, shelves at the grocery's pet aisle are often left empty, you might be tempted to curb food portions to make sure their supply lasts. 

While Torres explained the amount of food should depend on the animal’s age, weight, breed, level of activity, and health, in emergency cases, “the general rule is to give 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of food for every 25 pounds of their body weight.” 

“If you start running out of dog or cat food, you can transition them to a complete and balanced home-cooked meal,” Torres recommended.

HEALTHCARE AND EMERGENCIES

Unlike people, animals are unable to directly voice their concern. Don’t be fooled, a quiet animal does not equate to a healthy animal. Just because your dog, for example, is not crying, it does not mean he is not in pain. 

Torres warned owners to be vigilant for any behavioral change. 

“Any changes in an animal’s normal behaviour is concerning. The most important ones to look out for are lethargy and refusal to eat and/or drink for 24 hours or more,” she said. 

While there are several reasons for lethargy, according to Torres, the most common ones are “sickness, fear, ingestion of something poisonous, side-effects of a medication, or a major change in the home.” 

If an animal is experiencing any of the above symptoms, Torres urges owners to immediately contact their veterinarian. Torres further stressed home remedies are not advised.

“Always consult your vet first,” Torres reminded.

ONLINE CONSULTATION 

Unfortunately, with the 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew (24-hour curfew in some areas), and suspension of transport vehicles enforced by the enhanced community quarantine, bringing your pets to the veterinarian may not be as easy — or in some cases, impossible. 
 
These persisting issues moved Torres to offer free online consultation on her instagram page Island Vet for the duration of the enhanced community quarantine. 

“Since I was stuck at home because of the quarantine, I thought I’d do something meaningful with my time and help them, as well as worried fur-parents who are also on lockdown,” Torres shared. 

Torres offers advice on general health and wellness. Since the consultation is done virtually, it has its limitations. 

“I can determine the urgency and need for the pet to be brought to a vet clinic [but] I can't prescribe medicines and treat pets that I haven't met yet,” Torres clarified. 

Torres has been practicing small animal medicine since 2008. After doing an internship abroad, however, Torres delved into marine wildlife conservation and research, as well as sustainable tourism development before resuming small animal medicine practice in 2017. 

She worked full-time for a popular animal hospital before leaving to do veterinary house calls.

The initiative was also to help unburden the clinics and hospitals her old colleagues worked in presently suffering an influx of patients. 

Like most businesses, the daily operations of animal clinics and hospitals were affected. Many have temporarily ceased operations, while few remained open for critical patients. 

“I decided to do online consultations after talking to my colleagues who were still working at their respective clinics/hospitals. They were only open for emergencies, but were still getting a lot of non-critical cases,” Torres explained.

“Feel free to send me your questions about animal companions that are not critical emergencies, I’ll let you know if you need to bring them to the vet or not,” she added. 

Critical emergencies include: severe bleeding, choking or difficulty breathing, eye injuries, ingestion of toxic food or chemicals, allergies, seizures, severe limping or broken bones, extreme pain or anxiety, heat stroke, severe vomiting or diarrhea (more than twice in 24 hours), refusal to eat for more than 24 hours, and unconsciousness. 

For animals suffering from any of the above symptoms, Torres said they must be immediately brought to an animal clinic or hospital. 

Photo provided by author

POTTY AND HYGIENE 

Another concern animals have to endure during the enhanced community quarantine is the limited option they have to relieve themselves. 

This is particularly concerning for dogs, who live in apartments and condominium units, used to doing their business during walks. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stressed proper clean up and disposal of animal feces (poop) should not be neglected. Animal droppings can contain parasites and germs such as roundworms, hookworms, giardia, etc. that are harmful to people, especially children. 

If the animal must relieve indoors, CDC urges the animal feces to be immediately removed (bagged), properly disposed of, and have the area disinfected. Using a newspaper as a designated spot is is also advised.

For animals who can potty in gardens, garages or in an available public space such as sidewalks, CDC advises owners to do the same since an infected animal’s deposit can contain eggs of certain roundworms and other parasites which can linger on surfaces if not cleaned properly. 

For cats, owners are advised to have their litter box cleaned daily to lower the chances of exposure to harmful parasites. CDC, however, warned pregnant women to avoid changing a cat’s litter box to prevent contracting a toxoplasmosis infection.

DOG REPORTED TO TEST POSITIVE 

As of this writing, Hong Kong authorities confirmed two dogs owned by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients tested positive. 

The first dog, a 17-year old Pomeranian, tested “weak positive” for a “low level” of the virus. The dog, who did not exhibit any symptoms, passed away shortly after it was released from a two-week quarantine. 

According to Hong Kong health authorities, however, the dog may not have been carrying the virus but tested positive possibly due to “environmental contamination.”

The second dog is currently under quarantine. 

CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed there is presently no significant evidence suggesting COVID-19 can be transmitted or spread by companion animals.

Similarly, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, a membership of over 200,000 veterinarians, also stated there is no proof that animals can be infected by the virus. 

Despite having no known risks of humans contracting COVID-19 from their pets, experts advise owners to still take precaution as the possibility cannot be completely ruled out yet.

WASH HANDS FREQUENTLY

Health authorities urge pet parents to avoid allowing animals to lick their face and to practice washing their hands thoroughly after handling an animal, their food, and other supplies. 

According to CDC, it is essential not just to avoid COVID-19 but to decrease the possibility of contracting a zoonotic disease (a disease transmitted between animals and humans) — which in some cases, can even be more harmful to people. 

These transmissible diseases include: E. coli O157:H7, salmonella, cryptosporidium, coxiella burnetii, campylobacter, yersinia enterocolitica, and ringworm.

On top of frequent hand washing, CDC advises pet parents to keep the animals and their supplies out of the kitchen, food preparation areas, or the bathroom sink to avoid contamination.

BUILD AN EMERGENCY KIT

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) advised owners to build an emergency kit and designate an emergency contact in the event the owner will be unable to care for them. 

On top of a 30-day supply of food, according to Torres, an emergency kit should contain: a thermometer, cotton balls, scissors, clean towels, gauze, bandages, adhesive tape, medicine dropper or 3ml syringe (without the needle) for giving oral medications, activated charcoal to absorb poison (use only if instructed by your veterinarian), 3% hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting (contact your veterinarian before inducing vomiting), saline solution for cleaning wounds, vaccination records, a list of medications with instructions (if applicable), and a veterinarian’s contact information.

In times of crisis, an animal companion’s first line of defense is and will always be their owners. Given that they are largely dependent on their "parents" for survival, ASPCA urges owners to always include their animal friends in their plans.