How to take care of your dog during lockdown

You can bet that if you have cabin fever your dog does too, here's how to make your pup's home experience more jolly and healthy

As coronavirus continues to dominate the headlines, many will now be considering how best to tackle life in self-isolation. Staying at home for such a long time will be difficult for everyone, but for dog owners it creates extra challenges. Keeping yourself healthy while in isolation can be tough enough, without having to think about how to keep your canine occupied, exercised and in good health too. 

Fortunately, if you are stuck at home with a dog to occupy, there are plenty of ways that you can keep your pooch entertained and fighting fit. Dr Jessica May, lead vet at video vet service FirstVet, has all the tips you need to keep your dog happy, healthy and stimulated in the absence of outdoor walks.  

 

Make mealtimes interactive  

Combining exercise with fun is the best way to keep a restless dog happy and healthy. Mealtimes can be a fantastic opportunity for play if you are prepared to be creative. Putting your dog’s food in a KONG is one great way to add a welcome challenge to the feeding process.  

These rubber containers mean that your dog must chew and chase the toy to get to their food, making meals a more active part of the daily routine. They are also great for satisfying dogs’ natural urge to chew, which also makes them less likely to gnaw on your sofa! This element of play can also help to keep your dog interested in food if they are losing their appetite. 

 

Use treats to encourage exercise 

Just as you may use treats as rewards for good behaviour, snacks can be used to encourage your dog to keep moving while walks are in short supply. You can do this by hiding treats around the house for them to sniff out through the day. This encourages them to avoid being too sedentary, as well as being a fun scavenger hunt.  

Try to make these gradually harder to find each day. You can do this by changing where you hide the treats and putting them in less visible places. You can also try putting treats around the garden, so that your dog has more space to run around while looking for the secret snacks. Laying a trail can also help to distract dog owners who are feeling a bit of isolation-related boredom! 

 

Train the senses 

Self-isolation also presents a chance to improve on dog training, as many owners will now have more uninterrupted time with their pets. Of course, dogs are known for their keen noses, so it is a good idea to try to stimulate their sense of smell through training. “Guess the hand” is a good exercise for keeping dogs on their toes and training their nose.  

For this game, you will need a strong-smelling food, such as chicken, turkey or a small amount of cheese. Take a scrap of this food and hold it in a loose fist and tell your dog to “find it”. After they have sniffed around enough to know that you are holding the food, you can open your fist to give them the treat.  

Once they have got the hang of it, you can add in an empty fist to make them work harder to find their snack. When you want to make it even harder for your dog to outsmart you, try putting the treat under a cup and shuffling it between empty cups. If you need to make the challenge more difficult, just add more cups! 

 

Counting calories 

The correct balance of diet and exercise will help your dog achieve a healthy weight. Although it is best to give your pet as much exercise as possible while you are in self-isolation, they may still not achieve the same levels of physical activity as they would normally. This makes it even more important to keep an extra eye on their diet.  

Meals and treats are incredibly useful for keeping dogs occupied and active but be careful not to go overboard. Treats should always be used as part of a balanced diet. Making activities out of mealtimes can help to make the most of food but always be sure to monitor how much your dog is eating to keep them healthy while they are spending more time than usual indoors.  

Doing a Body Condition Score every 2-4 weeks can be a useful way to help you monitor your pet’s weight (picture). In general, your dog’s chest should be wider than their abdomen and you should be able to feel their ribs without a thick layer of fat*. If your dog doesn’t meet these criteria, it may be time to cut down on their food.  

Read more: Lessons I learned from my old dog

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