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Dog Walkers, Pet Sitters and COVID-19


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Q: I am a dog walker/pet sitter/private good manners trainer. When people go back to work…is it safe to go into client’s homes to take care of their pets while they are at work. Do I need to require the owners to do anything to keep me safe?  L. K., Chicago, IL.

A: That’s a great question.

First, I suggest your services are more valuable now that ever. And I mean NOW, even before some go back to work. Getting to know you or reacquaint with you now, ahead of folks going back to the office will decrease stress for both the dog and for you. When you arrive at the door for advance walks, enter with a special treat so the dog is more likely to recall that you are a “treat fairy” and associate you with something good (aside from the walk itself).

You may even suggest three walks for the cost of two or some similar promotion to encourage families to invest in the advance walks.

Wearing a mask when out and about with the dogs you walk is a good idea.

Inanimate objects like countertops, tables, or dog hair are, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unlikely transmitters of the virus SARS CoV-2 which causes COVID-19. Petting a dogs (or cat) is even more unlikely as a source of transmission because their hair is so porous and if the virus does remain activated, it’s not for long. Still, out of an abundance of caution, and since it’s you (not the dog’s owners) walking the dog – meaning you are responsible – I’d discourage others from petting dogs on walks.

Cutting to the chase, with over five million positives for COVID-19 on the planet, there are only two confirmed cases of dogs testing positive, and a one or two others in question. So, in the real world there isn’t much of a concern of a dog getting COVID-19. Also, there isn’t a single known instance of dog to dog transmission or dog to human transmission. Far more a concern is for your own health, that you socially distance from people as you walk the dogs. So, if you do allow people to pet a dog that you’re walking be sure to keep that in mind.

While responsible dog walkers, under any circumstance, should be cautious about allowing other dogs to approach a dog in their care – the concern is not about COVID-19 transmission from dog to dog. As always, suspect is the temperament of an unknown dog, and in our new world that the dog’s handler is at least six-feet from you.

If the dog you are walking coughs, try to video with your phone. Report to the dog’s family. If the cough persists, they should contact their veterinarian. But it’s so VERY likely to be another cause, and not COVID-19.

Before each walk, consider using a hand-wipe to wipe the leash, again out of an abundance of caution. And after each walk is complete, and you’ve closed doorknobs, handled a toy or food inside the home, again use a hand-wipe just to be safe.

Now, as for pet-sitting in the home – the virus is transmitted person to person, and only rarely by touching objects in the home. And if the inhabitants are gone, you’re pretty safe. A little less safe if the virus was just recently in the home and more safe if the virus has likely never been in this household. But what about those inanimate objects, ranging from light switches to sofas to counter tops to TV remotes, and the list goes on. These objects don’t commonly transmit virus, but it’s possible. You wipe down what you can, definitely ask for bedding which is newly washed (who wouldn’t provide that anyway?); read the CDC guidelines, and then you assess the risk.

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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