Social distancing recommendations for pets

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The dog days of summer are still months away but our Twin Cities canine friends, blissfully unaware of the pandemic, are ready to get outside and play.

That includes Echo, a husky.

"Right now, my dog still wants to get out and experience some of the great Minnesota weather that we have right now," said Echo's owner Mark Haake, of Minneapolis. "He's anxious to get out here and play with other dogs."

But for owners, like Elizabete Romanovska, out at the Loring Dog Park with her hound mix, Hazel, there's caution and concern.

"I don't go close to other people," she said. "I wash her after every time we come home, and just try to be as careful as possible."

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that may not be enough.

This week, the CDC issued social distancing guideline for pets, including:

  • Limiting interaction with humans and animals outside your household.
  • Keeping cats indoors.
  • Walking dogs on a leash six feet from people and animals.
  • Refraining from visiting dog parks.

The CDC says owners should also avoid close contact with their pets if they feel sick.

Most owners at the park said they're trying to practice social distancing with their dogs.

They add that the idea of not visiting the dog park is a tough call.

"I think the best thing to do, or the best choice to make, is to err on the side of caution," said Dr. Abigail Maynard, a veterinarian at St. Paul Pet Hospital.

The CDC says it's likely a dog in North Carolina and two cats in New York City got the virus from their owners.

Maynard says nobody knows whether COVID-19 can transfer from animals to people.

"Basically, there's not enough evidence to say that it can't or it can happen, so in my mind, it makes the most sense to act as though it can happen," she explained.

Staffers at the hospital said they're seeing 45 to 50 pet patients per day, a 25% increase in visits.

The good news? No signs of COVID-19.

"I feel like people are noticing things with their pets more than they would normally," said Veterinary Technician Gina Milne. "As far as health issues-wise, I think (owners) are around them more, and might not have if they're gone to work all day."

Haake said he's trying to be a responsible pet owner during the outbreak.

Balancing the pull of the great outdoors — with safety.

"We all certainly hope it's coming to a close soon," he said. "But we're all going to be cautious as long as we need to be and do the right thing."