Rutgers alumna and veterinarian offers insights on keeping our furry friends happy and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic  

The COVID-19 pandemic shifted many veterinary clinics from routine to emergency-only appointments – leaving pet owners to address minor injuries and basic grooming issues normally resolved by professionals.

Veronica Jones, D.V.M., an emergency medicine veterinarian at NorthStar VETS in Robbinsvile, N.J., and a 2009 graduate of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, says pet owners don’t have to weather the coronavirus storm alone and provides tips on when and how to visit a vet, at-home remedies and the best ways to keep your pet safe and healthy during this crisis.

Veterinary services are essential during this time of crisis. In these unusual times, should pet owners hold off on nonemergency visits?

Pet owners should call their primary vet first for any health issues. There are places that discourage routine appointments, but some veterinary clinics are still open or offer telehealth services for mild issues.

However, diarrhea, vomiting, pets with cancer or with chronic illnesses like kidney disease are the types of cases that definitely warrant a visit to the office. If your vet can’t assist you, or if your pet is very sick, you should bring your pet to an emergency vet hospital. At our practice, no clients are allowed inside the building, so we offer curbside triage. Our technicians will come outside and assess the pet and then bring it in for the doctor to evaluate.

Veronica Jones, DVM
Rutgers alumna and emergency medicine veterinarian Veronica Jones
Photo courtesy of NorthStar Vets

What if my pet gets a cut? How can pet owners treat these minor injuries at home? 

You can use hydrogen peroxide once for an initial cleaning of the cut. If you don’t have hydrogen peroxide on hand, mild soap and warm water will do wonders for a wound. Afterward, you can apply a triple antibiotic ointment like Neosporin to help the cut heal.

When it comes to wounds, pets like to lick them to try and heal them. I’d recommend putting on a collar with a cone to prevent them from licking and infecting the wound until it heals.

How can I bathe my dog at home, and how often?

Dogs need to keep their natural scents and oils, so a bath every six weeks should suffice. You can use your bathtub for a small dog, or a kiddie pool or a hose outside for a large dog, and a regular dog shampoo unless your dog has allergies and needs a special shampoo.

Products for pets aren’t as heavily regulated as products for humans, so I advise pet owners to look at the shampoo ingredients and avoid heavily scented shampoos.  

What about claw trimming?

When you hear a “click” or “clack” on a hard floor, that sound is an indication that a pet needs a nail trim. Cats can file their claws down themselves on scratching posts or cat trees. Dogs won’t do that. Dogs have darker nails than cats, so you have to be careful that you don’t cut the quick at the bottom of the nail, which is full of blood vessels and will be painful if broken.

You don’t have to trim all of the dog’s nails in one sitting. Give them a treat after a few clips and let some time pass in between to allow them to adjust to the process.

Social distancing is making us all a little stir-crazy, and taking the dog for a walk can be a good distraction. But, how much is too much exercise for a dog? 

Older dogs don’t need as many walks, especially because they can have joint issues. For younger dogs, a walk or chasing a ball around the yard is good activity for them two or three times a day. Just don’t overdo it. Once you get back to your normal schedule, your dog won’t be getting hourly walks with you.

There have been increasing reports that cats and dogs have tested positive for COVID-19. Should I be concerned that I can catch the virus from my pet?  

At the moment, regular testing for pets is not being done, and pets are only being tested when they show COVID-19 symptoms and other illnesses have been ruled out. There have been reports that a few cats and dogs have tested positive for COVID-19. However, we’re hearing from the CDC and the veterinary community that infection rates are low in pets, and they have very mild symptoms. We understand that these pets contracted the illness from humans, not the other way around.

However, we should limit our interaction with others - and that includes pets - to reduce potential spread. If you’re the only person coming into contact with your pet, then that’s OK, but I’d recommend postponing play dates with pets from other households until the crisis subsides.

If I contract COVID-19, should I let someone else take my pet to care for it?

I would recommend having a plan for someone else to care for your pet in the event that you need to go to the hospital and won’t be around to care for your pet.

Animal shelters are full of volunteers and animals that need homes. Is it a good idea to adopt a pet during this crisis?

If someone wants to adopt a pet now, then I wouldn’t deter them. But, right now, we’re working at home, and, later on, we may not be. So, make sure it’s a pet you will be able to handle when you go back to your normal routine. 

Since we’re not at this point entirely sure about pets and COVID-19 risk, you will want to wash a newly adopted pet when you get home.