Vet Q&A: How can I get my pet used to people in facemasks?

by PDSA Vets | 3 July 2020 #VetQ&As

As lockdown eases and we start to go out more, you might need to wear a facemask to help stop the spread. Covering our mouth and nose is necessary, but can be scary for our pets, especially as they’re a new addition to our lives

Our pets can tell a lot about us from our faces. They learn to recognise our expressions and get used to seeing people without facemasks, so it can be a real worry if they see us or other people with facemasks on all of a sudden. It can also change the way we sound to them which can be worrying.

Obviously, our pets don’t understand there’s a pandemic and that we need to wear facemasks sometimes. They just see us suddenly covering our faces, or go to the vet to see that they’re covering their faces, too.

We need to ‘de-sensitise’ our pets to facemasks, just as we should for any object at home which might be strange to them. This means introducing something to them in a slow, positive way so they see it’s nothing to be scared of.

Check out our step-by-step guide to help your pet adapt.


Step one – introducing the mask

Don’t put your facemask on straight away and expect your pet to be OK with it. Some pets might accept it, but most will probably be a bit freaked out. Firstly, let them see the mask in your hands, let them sniff it and look at it so they can get used to the sight and smell of the mask. Try popping a facemask on but don’t cover your mouth – just have it round your neck so they can get used to seeing it there.


Step two – covering your mouth

Now that your pet knows the facemask exists, it’s time to get them used to seeing your face covered. Start by covering your mouth and nose with your hand for a few seconds while doing something your pet enjoys (like their favourite game!). If they seem calm and happy, reward them. Keep doing this for longer periods until they seem comfortable. Remember to stop if they seem scared or worried.


Step three – talking with your mouth covered

Still with your hand, now you can start talking to your pet with your mouth covered. This will help them get used to hearing people with their mouths covered. Again, reward your pet when they are calm and happy and only increase the amount of time you do this for very gradually.


Step four – wearing the mask

Now that your pet is happy with the idea of your mouth being covered and the way you talk when it is, it’s time to build them up again with the mask. You’ll want to start just a few seconds at a time again and reward them when they’re happy and calm. As they become used to seeing the mask on your face, gradually increase the time it’s on for and start to introduce talking in it. Again, this should start as a few seconds at a time then gradually increase how long you have the mask on and speak for.


Step five – everyday usage

Once your pet is happy with you wearing and talking in the mask, you can start to get it out at random times during the day. Remember to reward any calm behaviour with a tasty snack or game and go back a step if they become worried. This should help them start to see facemasks as a normal part of everyday life and stop them being as worried.


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