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Veterinarian unmasks the fear for pets

Once an unfamiliar sight in Australian cities and towns, face masks are now increasingly commonplace, which is an adjustment not just for humans – but their four-legged friends too. To help with this change, Greencross Vets is sharing their top tips for how to familiarise pets with people wearing masks, and help reduce any stress and anxiety.

Dr Magdoline Awad, Chief Veterinary Officer for Greencross Vets, said; “2020 has certainly been a year of change and it’s a time of adjustment for our pets too. Our furry companions will be unfamiliar with seeing us wearing masks, so helping them adjust is important in order to minimise any distress.

“Introducing our pets to masks slowly can ease them into feeling comfortable and help them form positive associations when they are surrounded by people wearing masks outside of the home too.”

Dr Magdoline Awad’s top tips, in order of priority, for helping pets feel more comfortable with the changes:

  1. Always take things slowly – remain calm when wearing a mask around your pet to avoid alarming them. Pair the masks with something that they value e.g. treats or praise
  2. Only start wearing a mask when your pet is relaxed and calm
  3. Only reward calm and relaxed behaviour and stop when they exhibit any fear. Don’t force it and always allow them to initiate any interaction with you
  4. Start with short sessions and gradually increase the time spent
  5. Social distancing is still important. Your dog doesn’t need to go out with you all the time. It’s better that they stay at home unless you are taking them on their routine walks or to the vet
  6. Always supervise dogs around children and masks – COVID-19 is no different
  7. Dogs love routines and predictability in their lives. It reduces stress and anxiety so stick to routines even during COVID-19
  8. Puppies should be exposed to novel things early in life in a safe manner – so introducing masks slowly and rewarding calm behaviour is important, given that masks are mandatory in Victoria
  9. And, of course, do not put masks on your pets!

With much of Australia still spending more time at home, Dr Awad is reminding pet parents to keep pets stimulated while ensuring they still get plenty of rest and the ability to retreat to a safe area when they need to.

“If you can, keep going on walks with your dogs, while practicing social distancing. Cats may feel stressed if their owners are around more, so make sure you have enough litter trays, hiding spaces, scratching posts and provide them with the ability to view the outside. Try and limit changes to their normal routines,” said Dr Awad.

“Also, try not to overfeed your pets on treats. While at home, we are inclined to feed our pets more, but any treats should be included in their daily calorie count to stop them from putting on weight,” Dr Awad added.

For more information visit www.petbarn.com.au and www.greencrossvets.com.au