Tips for wearing masks around pets

Pic of Emma Slattery and her dog Lexi. Photo by Damjan Janevski. 211319_03

Jessica Micallef

Masks are the newest accessory residents are donning in a bid to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

But the RSPCA is urging pet owners to consider how the introduction of facemasks may impact their furry friends.

RSPCA Victoria behaviourist Nikki Johnson said it would not be surprising if pets reacted differently to their owners wearing a mask.

“One of the main ways pets communicate with their owners is by facial expressions,” she said.

“Masks remove much of this form of communication so it would not be unusual for them to feel uneasy with this new change.”

Ms Johnson said it was important to pair the experience of introducing facemasks to pets with something desirable including a treat, fun game, praise or affection.

“This will help them associate the mask with something positive,” she said.

“If you note your animal is showing fear, and it is safe to do so, consider removing or lowering your mask to normalise the situation and help them read your facial expressions.”

The RSPCA encourages pet owners to wear plain masks of pale colour, avoid masks with faces, eyes or mouths and to keep eye contact with the animal while wearing a mask.

“Pets usually respond better to change when it is slow or gradual,” Ms Johnson said.

“It’s important to give them time to investigate the mask.”