Tips for Dog Walkers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Rania Gollakner, BS, DVM, MPH; Catherine Barnette, DVM

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a human respiratory disease that was initially discovered in late 2019. This illness is caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, a novel coronavirus that has not previously been identified in humans.

There are many different coronaviruses, which can cause a wide variety of diseases. There are four coronaviruses that are a part of the suite of viruses that cause "the common cold" in humans. In young puppies, canine coronavirus can cause diarrhea. Although all coronaviruses are related, they are not all the same virus. For example, SARS-CoV-2 cannot cause canine coronavirus infection, and vice versa.

How can people help limit the spread of COVID-19?

At this time, physical distancing (also called social distancing) is one of the most effective methods of reducing the spread of COVID-19. Physical distancing is the act of intentionally creating distance between people, in order to slow the spread of disease.

Principles of physical distancing include:

  • stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) away from others when in public
  • avoid crowds
  • limit errands
  • postpone social gatherings or meet "virtually"
  • stay home as much as possible
  • work from home if possible

In addition to physical distancing, wearing a face mask can reduce the spread of COVID-19. You should wear a face mask whenever you are in public or interacting with others, especially if you cannot maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others.

What are the risks to dog walkers during the COVID-19 pandemic?

While clients working from home may have impacted your workload as a dog walker, many clients may still want you to provide daily exercise for their dogs. Clients that become ill may need you now, even more than ever. It is important to understand how to provide care for your clients' dogs in a way that is safe for both you and your clients.

As described above, it is important to limit direct contact with your clients. If you interact with them while picking up or dropping off their dog, you should wear a face mask and attempt to stand at least 6 feet apart during conversation. People frequently shed the virus without showing any symptoms of disease, so it is important to practice physical distancing even with clients who appear healthy.

"While surface transmission does not appear to be a main source of infection, it is possible that spread of the virus via objects or surfaces can potentially occur."

It is also important to limit your contact with potentially contaminated surfaces in your clients’ homes, whether they are at home or not. While surface transmission does not appear to be a main source of infection, it is possible that spread of the virus via objects or surfaces can potentially occur. If you touch a contaminated surface (like a doorknob) and then touch your face, you could potentially be infected with the virus.

There have been a limited number of reports of dogs and cats testing positive for COVID-19, after being infected by their owners. At this time, it is unknown whether an infected dog or cat could pass the virus to another human. Therefore, it is important to handle pets that have had potential COVID-19 exposure with caution. Keep in mind that to date, there are millions of human cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and fewer than 100 cats and dogs have tested positive, many of which have not exhibited signs or become ill.

Remember, you are not only responsible for protecting your own health, but also the health of your clients. We are all in this together. Even if you are at relatively low risk of serious complications associated with COVID-19, you want to minimize the risk that you could spread the virus to others, who may be at a higher risk.

How can dog walkers avoid contracting or spreading disease during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The most important things you can do to minimize your risk of infection, and minimize the risk of transferring infection to your clients, is to be cautious when interacting with clients when entering their homes.

Consider the following:

  • minimize the amount of time that you spend in client homes.
  • if the client is home, maintain a distance of at least 6 feet and wear a face mask.
  • wash or sanitize your leashes daily.
  • wash your hands (or use hand sanitizer) frequently during the course of the day, especially after touching surfaces that may be contaminated.
  • avoid touching your face.
  • limit close contact with pets belonging to individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Finally, maintain a distance of at least 6 feet (2 meters) from other people while out in public. This may influence where you walk your clients’ dogs. Seek out routes that are uncrowded, so that you can minimize your interactions with others. Wear a face mask if you will be in an area with a higher density of people.

How should dog walkers communicate with owners during this time?

Communicate with your clients regularly during this pandemic. Having information about your clients’ health can help you avoid taking unnecessary risks.

Ask your clients to notify you if:

  • anyone in the home develops respiratory signs or fever
  • anyone in the home has been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19
  • anyone in the home has possible occupational exposure to COVID-19 (for example, an emergency room physician)
  • anyone in the home or their close contacts has traveled to a high-risk location

Keep in mind that you are not only trying to protect yourself; you are also protecting your other clients.

If a client has respiratory signs or has been exposed to COVID-19, take appropriate measures to protect yourself and your other clients. Avoid being in proximity with the client and, if you must interact at a distance, ensure that both of you are wearing masks. Contact your local health department if you have questions or concerns.

Clients at high risk of occupational exposure also deserve special consideration. Consider walking these dogs later in the day, in order to minimize potential spread to other homes.

Finally, if you develop any signs of COVID-19, including cough, fever, and/or shortness of breath, it is important that you stay home from work. Create a plan for this scenario now, before you become ill, so that you can quickly update your clients and move forward with your backup plan.

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