COVID-19 Information Center

VINx Newsletter Template: Sheltering in place with your pet
May 1, 2020 (published)

Courtesy of VINx

Email Announcement:

Suggested subject line:
Sheltering in place with your pet, from <hospital name>

Dear <hospital name> friends,

Spending quality (and quantity) time at home with our adorable pets likely sounds like a dream gig to most of us. After all, who doesn’t love the idea of extra cuddle time, more sloppy kisses, plentiful purrs, and head bonks? But a few folks have thoughtfully brought up some potential issues that this new shelter-in-place world poses, like weight gain in their pets or avoiding separation anxiety once we all do go back to work.

We’d like to share a few tips and tricks with you for helping keep pets – both new and established - active and happily distracted through quarantine.

Speaking of new pets…

Due to the current lockdown, many families are adopting or fostering dogs and cats – which is great! Puppies, dogs, cats, and kittens can sometimes be high-energy pets who might not be entirely down with the whole quarantine idea, however.

You may have to get a little creative with ways to keep them active and entertained while you also practice social distancing. It’s wonderful that the shelters are emptying, but a new pet locked in the house with a family can present some challenges (read on for tips!).  

Foster independence.

If your dog or cat is prone to separation anxiety, all this bonus time with you might present a problem once normalcy returns. You want to encourage your pet to feel safe while home alone, and also have enough distractions around that they won’t miss you that much while you are out.

Try taking trips out and about while your pet is home alone, and make them progressively longer so they can gradually adapt. Leave your pet a special toy to help them associate your absence with something pleasant. When you come back, try not to get them too excited and allow them to calm down. There’s plenty of time for energetic play at other times in the day. If they get too excited when you come home, this can increase the anxiety associated with these little trips. A calm, quick exit and return communicates to your pet that being away is no big deal.

Other tips for managing pet boredom and anxiety:

  • Have music on or ask your Alexa to play the news to provide distraction while you’re away.
  • One favorite secret weapon for a bored dog is a Kong-type hollow toy with some peanut butter or cream cheese smeared inside. Some dogs will work away at these for hours!
  • Food puzzles give cats a fun challenge – and as a bonus, are a pretty fun activity for humans to watch, too!
  • Cats usually dig having the TV on – and a nature show about birds or fish might delight (or thoroughly confuse!) them.

Attention over treats.

You might find those deep brown eyes irresistible when they’re staring at you while you eat lunch, but avoid the temptation to overdo it on treats and food (especially human food) while you all are stuck inside. Instead, take the opportunity to go out and get some fresh air with your dog (sticking to our community’s guidelines), or engage your cat in a fun play session.

Also, if you find yourself tempted to toss a treat to your dog too many times, try switching to carrots. Most dogs love them, and they have next to no calories. (Avoid grapes, though – they can be toxic to dogs).

Don’t believe the aloof cat hype.

Contrary to some currently popular internet memes, your cat is likely enjoying your extra company, too. Consider using some of your extra time together to play with your cat, create food puzzles to bring out their inner hunter, and strengthen your bond with grooming sessions. Pay attention to your cat’s reactions to make sure the activity is desired.

Respect your cat’s routine and space, and you may find that extra time at home is a terrific opportunity to get to know each other better and build your relationship with your feline friend!

Socialized puppies, happy dogs.

If you’ve recently adopted a new puppy or dog, you may be especially concerned about the challenges of socializing your new doggo so they’re comfortable with new people, pets, and experiences. The usual recommendations of puppy classes, dog parks, and obedience schools won’t fly here, so you’ll need to think outside the box.

Rewarding your dog with praise, pets, and (a few small) treats when they see people and dogs from afar on walks is a good start (make sure you only reward desired behavior, not barking and lunging). You can also reward your dog for neutral and positive reactions to simple noises in your home, like hairdryers, vacuum cleaners, even recordings of nature sounds like thunderstorms. Many certified trainers are offering virtual consults and can give you more suggestions for socializing your puppy while in quarantine.

Gather information with care.

One of the best things you can do for your pet in this quarantine situation is keep a cool head and get your information from reputable sources. Recently, two cats from NYC and a Pug in North Carolina were diagnosed with COVID-19 infections and had mild respiratory symptoms. All are expected to fully recover and lived in households with a COVID positive person. This is completely unsurprising, not a cause for any alarm (and certainly not a reason to get rid of your pets!), and changes nothing.

The best advice, as always, comes from Dr. Scott Weese, VIN Consultant and voice of calm authority during this crisis, through his Worms and Germs blog (

  • If you’re infected, limit contact with people and pets.
  • If your pet is exposed (by you or elsewhere), keep him/her in the house with you.
  • If your pet is exposed and seems unwell, consult with your veterinarian.
  • If you have COVID-19 yourself and your pet must leave the house (e.g. for veterinary care), have a healthy, non-exposed friend/relative/neighbor step in and take your pet there for you, to reduce the risk of exposing other people or animals.
  • If you socially distance your pet(s) in the same way you should be socially distancing yourself from other people, there is basically no chance they will bring this virus into the household.

Observe and take notice.

If you’re spending extra time with your pet (and who isn’t?) you might notice little things that went unnoticed in pre-pandemic life. Things that might seem obvious now that could have flown under the radar might include:

  • Changes in water or food intake
  • Lumps, bumps or skin changes
  • Increased or decreased activity level

If you do notice anything new while cooped up with your pet, please give us a call to see what we recommend. The pandemic situation may temporarily affect appointment availability and/or the way we perform appointments, but your first step should be to call us so we can determine the next step for your pet.

We wish you luck and health during these challenging times. We hope these tips help keep you and your pet mentally and physically healthy while you spend extra time together.

Your friends at <hospital name>