How to Care For Your Dogs When You’re Not Well


All the world’s viruses seem to be having their way with us at the moment. I don’t think I know anybody who isn’t sick right now, just getting over being sick, or caring for someone else who is sick – and dreading getting sick themselves. (That last part is me; my husband has been down for an entire week with fever, sore throat, cough, lethargy, etc. And my sore throat just started – ACK!)

One of the rough parts of being sick is having to take care of your pets, no matter how terrible you feel. It’s one thing if there is someone else in your household who can step up to handle feeding, walking/pottying, and other care chores when you don’t feel up to it, but many of us are either on our own, or partnered with housemates who just can’t seem to manage any more than the most basic pet-care tasks.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of writing about this topic early on in the pandemic, or even when everyone in my house (husband, self, visiting grandson) got Covid last summer. Maybe because, thank dog, we got through that fairly easily – whereas this current virus (or, who knows, more than one virus?) has been delivering more of a knockout punch, and has me worrying about how I’m going to keep Boone from alienating all our neighbors with barking or eating all our furniture if I can’t get him out onto a trail for more than a week. At not quite one year of age, his low-management good behavior lasts no more than 48 hours after an off-leash hike or playdate with another adolescent dog. Try to go any longer than that, and some package is going to get chewed or buried, shoes will be relocated to the back of the pasture, neighborhood walkers will be barked at for the full length of our 2-acre corner-lot fence, and so on. Mischief will be made!

Contemplating the potential for destruction as I take my rising temperature, I remembered that we’ve previously published two articles that were about, at least tangentially, how to care for and exercise your dogs when you are not operating at full power. Both this article and this one were written by authors who were sidelined by physical incapacity (surgery, in the first case, and age-related physical limitations in the second) rather than illness – but they both offered good ideas about caring for your pets when you are not at your physical best.

Though our Training Editor Pat Miller wrote this article about how to keep your dog entertained (and out of trouble) when he is supposed to be kept quiet (after surgery for a broken leg or a repaired ACL, for example), many of its suggestions could be used to occupy a young or energetic dog when you aren’t feeling up to taking him for his usual walks.

Back-up caregivers

I would also encourage any dog owner to have a short-term and a longer-term emergency caregiver lined up, just in case. What if you had a car accident or a stroke – or even needed to be hospitalized for a few days with Covid or RSV? We all should have at least one person, and a backup or two (if possible), who could (and would) care for our dogs for a day or three in case we are incapacitated, short-term, for any reason.

And, though this is a much more difficult “ask,” we all should have a plan for our dogs’ long-term care if we were out of commission for something more like weeks or months. Is there anyone who could take your dogs for that long? A neighbor, family member, good friend, co-worker? Think about who might be a candidate, take them out for lunch to discuss it with them, and make sure that they would be enthusiastically on board.

And – maybe this is just the impending illness getting me down – we should also have a plan in place for who would take our dogs if we passed away. This in-depth article is a fantastic guide to setting up a Trust for your pets, which would cover everything they would need (except you) in the event of your untimely death.

Forgive me for feeling a bit dark at this festive time of year! I think I’m going to hand out some frozen food-filled Kongs to my three dogs and go back to bed. I don’t want this cold taking me out!


  1. Nancy! I love your articles and WDJ !! I have been a subscriber for many years and have given subscriptions as gifts to many friends and relatives. I print out articles that I want to use for reference, even though I have saved all of my WDJ issues. Thank you so very very much for providing this great resource for all of us crazy dog owners!! Paws down, WDJ is the best resource for reliable and honest info in the canine world…