“6 ways to keep your pet safer during the COVID-19 crisis.” by Melissa Tompkins, BS, CVPM, PHRca


Photo by RK Jajoria on Pexels.com

The COVID-19 crisis has changed our lives in many ways, and one of them is how much time we are spending with our pets.  Many states and counties are “sheltering in place” so we are home all the time.  I know many of us are trying to stay as busy as possible but let us be honest, we are bored.  As a result, we are walking our dogs more to get out of the house and spend some time outdoors.  Our dogs love all the time we are spending with them, but there are things to consider before taking your dog outside around other people, other pets, and even wildlife.

“My dog doesn’t need a leash, until he does”

Most cities and counties have leash laws that require you to keep your dog on a leash when out in public.  This is meant not only for your dog’s protection, but the protection of others as well.  Leashes provide us with comfort and peace of mind that we can maintain better control of our dogs if it becomes necessary.  Many of you might say “my dog always listens to me and doesn’t need a leash.”  This might be true that under most normal circumstances, but what about the abnormal ones?  Recently I was walking my dogs and my girl dog Foxy saw a squirrel.  Squirrels are Foxy’s nemesis, so she immediately went into hunting mode, barking, whining, and trying to go after the squirrel.  If she was not wearing her harness and leash, she could have easily run into traffic and been hit by a car, even though she normally follows my commands.

As a veterinary professional, I have worked in general practice and emergency medicine.  I cannot tell you how many times I have seen dogs who were off leash who were hit-by-a-car and the owners tell us “she just ran out and didn’t listen to me.”  It is very devastating to both the beloved pets and their owners when this happens.  And it is easily preventable by always having a leash on your dog.

Another problem with off leash dogs is they cannot be controlled by their owner if they get into a fight with another dog.  Many of the emergencies that come into veterinary hospitals are pets who are attacked by an off-leash dog.  Recently a dog was brought into a local emergency hospital because he had been off leash when he was attacked by a dog who had slipped its collar.  If the smaller dog had been on leash the owner would have had more control of it and may have been able to intervene before the bigger dog attacked.

If you are looking for a good leash  Selina Tedesco, Good Housekeeping Institute studied a variety of leashes and put together a list of  the 10 Best Dog Leashes for Every Type of Dog.  There are many different leash options and you should get one that fits your dog.  You also need make sure that if you are using a collar with the leash, that the collar is snug enough to be comfortable for the dog but also will not slip off the dog’s head.

“Why retractable leashes are a bad idea”

Retractable leashes are supposed to make pet owners lives easier by allowing pets more freedom on walks and still allowing owners to have control over the dog.  Or so you would think.  Unfortunately, many times retractable leashes can lead to accidents and trauma for our dogs.  Recently, I was discussing leashes with my neighbor, when she told me about how her husband had used a retractable leash on his previous dog.  His dog was hit hit-by-a-car while it was on the leash, because the lead was too long for him to pull the dog back in time. Dogs have also been known to be attacked by coyotes or other animals when on retractable leash because they are so far away from their owner and the coyotes were able to grab them.  Dr. Karen Becker discusses 10 reasons not to use a retractable leash for the safety of your dog.

“Don’t worry, my dog doesn’t bite”

I have heard these famous last words many times in the 17 years I have worked in the veterinary field.  As an avid pet owner, I have said these same words myself.  The truth is that almost all dogs bite when put in situations and circumstances where they feel uncomfortable.  All dogs are unpredictable and honestly even the sweetest, most docile dog can react out of pain or fear.  When you are walking your dog be careful when approaching other dogs and their owners.  Even if your dog is the nicest animal, that does not mean that the other dog is.  I have two small dogs and even though they are sweet when we are home, when we are out walking, they are like a “little gang” who does not like other dogs.  I am also very leery of dogs who off leash because if they approach my dogs, I honestly do not know how my dogs will react.

If you are on a walk and your dog wants to greet another dog do not assume that the other dog wants to be greeted, even if the other owner says they are friendly.  Dogs communicate through very well through body language, so you should pay attention to what they are telling you.  Best Friends Animal Society has some great information on dog behavior and what to look for when approaching a dog that you do not know.

“We are baking more, and the dogs love it”

We know that grocery stores have been running out of toilet paper and pasta, but did you know that they are also running out of baking supplies?  Many Americans have taken up baking again and while this is great for the family, it is not so great for the dogs.  Many human foods like chocolate are toxic to most animals, but especially dogs.  Raisins, nuts, and yeast can cause anything from GI upset to death when consumed in certain amounts.  We know that our dogs can be sneaky and get into food when we are not looking.  Now is the time to use extra precaution when baking in larger amounts than we usually do. The ASPCA has more information on people foods to avoid feeding your pets and what to do if your dog consumes them.

“It’s spring and the bees are out”

Spring is one of the most beautiful times of year in California and this year is no exception.  All the flowers are blooming, including the poppies, and with those beautiful flowers come the bees!  Since many of us are home quarantined, we are working in our gardens and talking long walks with our dogs and putting them in the proximity of these “little buggers.” The best way to prevent our dogs from getting stung is to keep them away from bushes and shrubbery, but it is hard to stop a curious dog.  Dogs are easily stung by bees, wasps, hornets, and even ants.  Many of these stings will occur on the dog’s nose and facial area.

It is important to recognize when your dog has been stung and take the appropriate action.  If your dog starts pawing at their face or biting their feet for no reason, it is possible that they have been bit or stung.  If you think they have been stung or bit, please immediately look for the insect could have bit them in case your dog has a reaction.  There is first aid for insect stings in dogs that you might be able to provide your dog.  However, if your dog has severe swelling, develops hives, has difficulty breathing excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, or seizures, call your veterinarian immediately

“Don’t clean your pet’s feet or body with Lysol”

The COVID-19 virus has all of us on edge and there is new information about the virus every day.  Some new information from the CDC indicates that the COVID-19 virus can be can spread 13 feet, travel on shoes but those studies are still early and they do not have enough sufficient data to know for certain.  However, this is causing some concern for pet owners, and some owners are sanitizing their dogs after coming back inside from walks.  If you want to clean your pets after taking them for a walk please do not use Lysol or any other cleaner not meant for animals.  Dawn soap mixed with water can be used to clean your dog’s feet and even be used to give them a bath.  Do not use any other type of dish soap as Dawn has specific chemicals that are safe for animals.  In fact, it is the soap used to clean marine life in oil spills.

There are new concerns about pets especially cats, being able to contract the virus.  The AVMA has additional information on SARS-CoV-2 in animals.  The CDC recommends the following:

  • Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
  • Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
  • Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals.
  • Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.

If you are sick with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed by a test), restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just like you would around other people.

  • When possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding.
  • If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.

Keeping animals safe during this crisis is our responsbility as pet owners.  Our pets rely on us to keep them safe and we need to use good judgement before reacting to the media reports and information.


Melissa Tompkins, BS, CVPM, PHRca






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