As New Zealand adjusts to a month of lockdown, many pet owners have questions about their furry friends. Alex Casey had a chat with the SPCA – here's what she learned.
AC: My cat had a disgusting abscess on his tail and now has to get his stitches out. Can I still take him to the vet?
SPCA: You absolutely can – vets and animal welfare services (SPCA, council animal management) have been deemed as essential services during the lockdown period. You'll find vets operating with a one in, one out policy, and you might have to wait outside nervously while the vet shaves your cat's tail into a disgusting nub that will haunt you for the next four weeks.
Can my animal carry COVID-19 on their fur?
According to the SPCA's scientific officer Dr Alison Vaughan, there is no evidence to suggest that companion animals, such as cats and dogs, can infect humans with COVID-19. "If you haven't tested positive or been asked to self-isolate, then continue to interact with your pets as normal but adopt good hygiene practices including washing hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after touching them, their food, toys and bedding."
If you have been exposed to the virus, you may need to be a bit more careful when interacting with your pet. "Arrange for another person to care for your companion animal, if possible," Vaughan says. "If you are unable to do this then, as a precaution, you should avoid contact with animals in your household, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food." Probably don't use this thing either.
I am cooped up in lockdown with an extremely energetic dog. Will I go to jail if I take them for a walk?
No. You are 100 percent still allowed to take your dog for walks, but the advice is to keep things as local as you can. The SPCA does not encourage people to drive somewhere to walk their dogs. "Don't be driving willy nilly all over town," said police commissioner Mike Bush, "If it's nearby, if it's for exercise, that's OK." There is still clarity needed on what "local" means if you live far from a park, or what happens if your dog's name is Willy Nilly. We will keep you updated.
And when you are out and about with your pooch, the SPCA has some advice around how to keep yourself, your dog and the rest of the community safe. "Avoid places where social contact is likely, maintain a two-metre distance from other people, don't let people pet your dog, make sure you avoid touching your face and wash your hands after your walk." No patting other dogs, and don't let dogs meet or sniff each other on the street to maintain distance.
And when you are stuck at home, your dog will, of course, still need a lot of attention. The SPCA suggests providing a variety of toys on rotation, and introducing other stimulating activities such as teaching them a new trick, hiding treats or introducing puzzles. Although vets and doctors remain open during lockdown, minimise the risk of injury by avoiding rough play with your dog and never get your own hands and feet involved.
What about my cats? Should I be keeping them inside?
If your cat normally goes outdoors, the SPCA recommends that you try and keep them indoors or at least contained on the property, especially if you are or live with someone who is over 70, has a pre-existing medical condition, or has been exposed to COVID-19.
OK, my cat is inside but is furious and won't stop walking across my keyboard, help?
Cats love getting all up in your face if you are at home, which is why you should use what you have around you to make life more interesting for them. Hide some treats around the place. Create hiding spots for anxious kitties by freeing up space on top of cupboards, cutting holes in cardboard boxes, or draping a sheet over the back of a chair. Cat fort!
The SPCA also recommends using puzzle toys to make mealtimes a tad more intriguing. If you missed the Kmart cut-off, you can make a DIY puzzle feeder by cutting holes in a cardboard box, putting some food inside and hiding it somewhere in the house for them to find. Bought too much loo paper? Build a toilet roll pyramid with treats hidden inside.
I am also a tremendous fan of Cat TV clips on YouTube, which works great on a big screen or iPad for your kitty. My cat Zelda is a huge fan of CAT GAMES – LASER CHASER (FOR CATS ONLY) and CATCHING FISH ONE HOUR VERSION. "If working from home has you desperate for some respite from your cat's attention, cat videos can be a useful distraction," the SPCA says. "However, we would recommend limiting viewing time as you would for your child."
I have other small critters knocking about the place, how do I deal with them?
Again, it's all about creating safe places where they can isolate to if need be. "Small animals such as rabbits are ground-dwelling prey animals, so being able to hide under something can help them feel safe," the SPCA advises. Provide them with plenty of places to hide if they need to – cardboard boxes, tunnels, untreated wicker baskets, paper bags and PVC pipes are all fabulous places for them to scamper if need be.
How does "the bubble" work with pets? Can we share them?
There may be an urge to share your furry friend between bubbles as a source of both companionship and cuteness, but the official advice from the SPCA is to keep your animals inside your own "bubble" for the duration of lockdown. Doggy daycares and catteries are not open, so if you are an essential service worker you should arrange for someone in your bubble to take care of your animal if need be.
I have an impulse to panic-buy pet supplies, is that cool?
Not cool at all. Although the SPCA recommends owners have two weeks' worth of food and pet supplies on hand, it is no biggie if you have found yourself unprepared. Pet stores will remain open throughout lockdown period for essentials, operating at reduced customer capacity and practising social distancing. According to both the Animates and Petstock websites, the retail part of the stores remain open but other services such as grooming and DIY Doggy Wash will be closed over the lockdown period.
Argh! But what about my poodle's beautiful coat?
I'm sorry to tell you this, but your beautiful poodle might have to look a bit busted for a while. We're all in this together, embrace the au naturel look and please for the love of god don't try and clip them yourself off a YouTube tutorial. As for cats, regular brushing can be a good way of relaxing them, and will hopefully avoid any major knot situations over lockdown.
What if I don't have a pet but I suddenly want one?
The SPCA adoption services closed on Wednesday, and the council shelters are closed, so sadly you are probably too late. Might I interest you in an online Tamagotchi?