Pets: Caring for your cat during COVID-19

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By Sarah Liu

The COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders have drastically changed the daily routines of entire families – humans and pets.

Dog parks and day cares have been closed, and social distancing may reduce or curtail daily walks. Likewise, cats – full-time indoor and indoor-outdoor – find their routines disrupted simply because human family members are now home all day.

As pet parents, it is our responsibility to minimize the stress of changes and take the proper precautions to ensure our companions’ mental and physical health during the outbreak. Below are a few tips for cat owners to support and protect your feline friends during these uncertain times.

Practice good hygiene

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low, but it appears that in some situations, the virus can spread from people to animals.

To prevent spread, keep your cat indoors if possible, and do not let it interact with people or animals outside your household. Wash your hands before and after interacting with your cat, regularly clean food and water bowls, and do not share food, dishes or eating utensils.

Have a plan

Are you the primary caretaker for your cat? Reach out to trusted friends and family to make arrangements for back-up care should you become sick or require hospitalization. If you lack a support network, contact your veterinarian or local shelter for options in temporary boarding or subsidized care.

For example, the Animal Welfare League of Arlington’s Companions in Crisis program can provide short-term care for pets in health or housing emergencies. Always have carriers, food and necessary supplies available for relocation. Make sure vaccinations are up-to-date and necessary medications are clearly labeled with names and dosing requirements.

Use caution when cleaning

During the outbreak, it is important to keep your home clean. However, most of the chemical products that prevent the spread of COVID-19 are toxic to pets. Cats can be poisoned a number of ways, whether ingesting a product directly, indirectly ingesting via self-cleaning, absorbing chemicals through the skin or inhaling through the mouth and nose.

Signs of poisoning can include drooling, lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, redness or inflammation of affected areas or respiratory signs such as sneezing, coughing or difficulty breathing. If you suspect your cat has been exposed to toxic household cleaners, contact your veterinarian immediately or call Animal Poison Control.

Get help with expenses

The pandemic has caused financial hardship to many. If you’re having trouble affording pet food or veterinary expenses, look into programs designed to assist pet owners.

The Animal Welfare League of Arlington has a pet food pantry and low-cost veterinary assistance, including spay and neuter services. The shelter even maintains social distancing by delivering food directly to your door. The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria also hosts a community pet pantry, and Senior Services of Alexandria offers a delivery service, “AniMeals” on Wheels, to eligible area seniors.

Enjoy the quality time

Social distancing and sheltering in place are great opportunities to spend extra time bonding with your cat. If you’ve gotten lazy about Fluffy’s grooming or hygiene, this is a perfect chance to develop daily or weekly routines for brushing, nail trimming or even tooth brushing.

In addition, with more hours at home, you can find time to bring out your cat’s inner kitten. Dust off some old cat toys, or find internet tips for making new ones, and spend a part of the day playing. The exercise will benefit your cat, and watching their antics will be a relaxing stress reliever for you.

In addition, cuddling with your cat can improve your overall mental and even physical health. Studies have shown that the sound of a cat’s purr can calm stress, lower blood pressure and even heal infections, bones and muscles.

The writer is a longtime volunteer with King Street Cats. She lives and works in Alexandria. For more information about King Street Cats, go to www.kingstreetcats.org.

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