The RSPCA has urged local authorities to explore relaxing locally-imposed restrictions on where dogs can be walked to help curb the possible spread of coronavirus and protect canine welfare.

Many Councils have previously introduced Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) to stop dogs being walked in certain areas – including on local sports pitches. Concerns have been raised that these PSPOs can limit suitable dog walking spots within some communities.

However, with restrictions on people’s movement now in place to help curb the spread of Covid-19, the RSPCA has urged local authorities to temporarily relax PSPOs related to dog walking to help stop unnecessary travel and to keep dog walkers exercising within their immediate communities.

Under new restrictions to tackle the virus, people may leave their home once a day for exercise. Each person in a household can use this opportunity to walk their dog – and the RSPCA has urged walkers to keep two metres away from others, keep dogs on leads and avoid contact with other people’s pets to help tackle Covid-19.

However, with PSPOs having long limited dog walking spots in some areas, the RSPCA fears without a relaxation of PSPOs, some dog walkers may feel they have to travel to exercise their dog and protect its welfare – something Councils could help avoid with a temporarily lifting of such restrictions in certain areas.

The RSPCA has also urged walkers to “keep dogs on leads” at this time – to help ensure social distancing and avoid owners having to come into close contact with one another should they have to go and retrieve their dog; or in the event of an incident which could cause a potential veterinary visit.

Dr Samantha Gaines, dog welfare expert and head of the RSPCA’s companion animals department, said: “Since the introduction of these new measures to help combat Covid-19, we’ve received many queries from dog walkers. The RSPCA is reminding the public that – while each person in a household can walk their dog once a day – it is imperative they stay two metres away from others, and avoid contact with other people’s pets when doing so.

“We know that many local authorities have previously introduced Public Spaces Protection Orders that stop dogs being walked in certain areas – including some sports pitches and fields. This has previously heightened concerns about the availability of dog walking spots near to some people’s homes.

“The RSPCA is concerned that if some dog owners do not have adequate space to exercise their dogs near their homes because of these local authority Orders, they may make unnecessary journeys – contrary to the UK and Welsh Government’s advice to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“It won’t be possible, appropriate or safe to relax PSPOs in all areas. However, where it is possible and safe to do so, we’re urging local authorities to be flexible and consider relaxing enforcement of PSPOs on dog walking – to help keep people as close to home as possible to help tackle Covid-19; ensuring more people have adequate dog walking spots as near to their home as possible.

“We know sometimes people like to use these spots to walk dogs off lead – but, at this time, we’re urging people for these few weeks to keep dogs on leads while out walking. This will help ensure social distancing and unnecessary close contact between owners, which could spread the virus.

“It is incumbent on all of us to do our bit and stop the spread of coronavirus. The RSPCA has worked with a number of other bodies interested in animal welfare to issue advice to the public – which it is hoped will support efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus and keep people and their pets safe.

“All animal charities also face being impacted by this crisis – and we’re urging the public to consider donating to support our work at this most difficult and unprecedented time. To help the RSPCA through this challenging time, please visit www.rspca.org.uk/give or call the donation line on 0300 123 8181 to help us.”

The RSPCA is also helping people to consider innovative ways they can keep their pets occupied and entertained when staying at home for long periods of time.

Dr Gaines added: “With people spending more time indoors, it is also crucial that dog owners look at ways to help keep their dogs entertained and stimulated when inside the home. The RSPCA has published advice on how we can best care for our pets at this unprecedented time – including tips for mental stimulation, stay-at-home challenges and games to keep dogs as happy as possible.”