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COVID-19, Personal Wellbeing

Quarantine and Pets: How to Help Pet Owners Adjust

Put down the clippers: pet owners may be looking to start grooming and running their pets while in COVID-19 quarantine. Here's how to communicate best practices.

Kara M. BurnsMS, MEd, LVT, VTS (Nutrition), VTS-H (Internal Medicine, Dentistry), Editor in Chief

Kara Burns is an LVT with master’s degrees in physiology and counseling psychology. She began her career in human medicine working as an emergency psychologist and a poison specialist for humans and animals. Kara is the founder and president of the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians and has attained her VTS (Nutrition). She is the editor in chief of Today’s Veterinary Nurse. She also works as an independent nutritional consultant, and is the immediate past president of NAVTA. She has authored many articles, textbooks, and textbook chapters and is an internationally invited speaker, focusing on topics of nutrition, leadership, and technician utilization.

Quarantine and Pets: How to Help Pet Owners Adjust
Photo by Dejan Dundjerski/shutterstock.com

Pet owners across most of America are under strict stay at home orders to help flatten the curve in COVID-19 cases, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. As owners spend more time at home, they are also spending more time with their pets. Also, as non-essential and routine services are on hold for many veterinary hospitals, there appears the perfect storm for owners to try and take on DIY services themselves.

Veterinary nurses must be ready for this next wave of questions and preempt potential injuries occurring from well-intentioned owners. For example, the Google search “Why is grooming essential for pets?” spiked more than 1,650% last week

We are familiar with the health benefits associated with spending time with pets—increased exercise, going outside, and socializing. Regular walking or playing with pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels. Pets can help manage loneliness and depression by giving owners companionship. Studies have shown that the bond between people and their pets can increase fitness, lower stress, and bring happiness to their owners.²

With all that pets give us, during this time of social distancing from humans, owners want to give back. Certain tasks that may have been completed at a veterinary hospital are now on hold due to the directive that non-essential procedures in veterinary hospitals not be performed. Pet owners are wanting to groom their pet, trim their nails, begin an exercise routine with them, etc. However, this is a great time for veterinary nurses to communicate with pet owners that it may not be as easy as it looks and advise on what and how to do certain things properly.

How to Help Pet Owners Dealing with Coronavirus Quarantine

Q: My pet’s fur is looking unkempt and disheveled. What is the harm in brushing the pet and/or cutting mats out of the fur?
A: The veterinary nurse should praise and support the pet owner wanting to groom their pet. However, they need to educate the owner to ensure grooming is being done properly and is not leading to an even bigger issue.

Encourage brushing and discuss the steps to start brushing a pet. Begin slowly and as tolerated by the pet. Advise the owner regarding the correct type of brush or comb to use based on the fur of the pet. Also, it is wise to advise against the cutting of mats. It is difficult for an owner to determine where the pet’s mat ends and the skin begins. I personally have seen large lacerations on pets as well as ear pinna cut off by well-intentioned owners who simply did not know what they were doing when grooming. This situation can quickly become an emergency.

Q: My pet’s nails are starting to grow longer. Is there harm in cutting my pets nails?
A: The answer is twofold. If the owner has been trimming their pet’s nails and can visualize the “quick,” then it is more than likely OK for an experienced owner to trim their pet’s nail. However, if this is a first-time nail trim by the owner now is probably not the best time to try it.

Owners need to understand what cutting the quick of the nail will do as well as how to properly restrain the pet for the nail trim. Again, although well intentioned, issues may occur for which the pet owner is just not equipped to handle.

Q: Now that the country is social distancing and I am at home with my pet, I want to begin exercising. Walking or running with my dog seems like a great idea!
A: Exercising with your pet is a wonderful way to keep the human-animal bond strong while improving the health of both the pet owner and the pet. However, the veterinary team must again take the lead in educating the client to start slowly and build up to a longer, more vigorous workout.

Starting the first day by running for 5 miles often will not work for the owner or the pet. Advise owners on an exercise regimen for the pet. Start gradually and set goals. Watch how the pet reacts to the exercise and follow up with the owner. Exercise is necessary for good health and is a great way to break the monotony of the stay-home restrictions that we are now facing.

There are many types of exercise as well—throwing a ball or frisbee for the pet, playing with toys, and yes walking are all encouraged. Indoor cats can be walked on a harness and leash. Also, playing with interactive toys, laser pointers, etc., are ways to engage with cats and get them moving. And “TV catnip” is a great way to stimulate cats by having them interact with TV or social media avenues that are featuring fish, birds, etc.

As veterinary nurses, we must continue to educate pet owners, even as the new normal has clients that are social distancing and wanting to try new things with their pets. Remember working with pets comes easier to us, because we are in the veterinary profession and have been working with animals.

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1. Google Trends. trends.google.com/trends/story/US_cu_4Rjdh3ABAABMHM_en. Accessed April 2020.
2. CDC. Healthy pet, healthy people. https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/index.html. Accessed April 2020.