Will Covid-19 Affect My Pets?by Carissa Andrews - April 27th, 2020
Everyone has been on high alert since the coronavirus quarantine went into effect last month. Many have been wondering when the next shoe will drop. Over the past couple of weeks, new evidence has been presented that suggest animals could be more susceptible to the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 in humans. In turn, this has many pet owners wondering if they can catch the coronavirus from animals.
While the specific moment that caused this pandemic is still under question, there is evidence linking the COVID-19 strain to contact with the bat population. Some think this could be undercooked bat from a Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, China. Genetic sequencing seems to show a link between the novel coronavirus and that of coronaviruses in the horseshoe bat population. However, no bats were sold at the market, which suggests a different animal may have been acting as the intermediate host. What animal this host was is still under scrutiny.
However, what is important is the fact that coronaviruses not only affect humans, but also our animal companions. While not all coronaviruses can cross-infect, SARS-CoV-2 (which is the strain known to cause COVID-19 for humans) seems like it may be one of them. On Sunday, April 5th, a tiger at the Bronx Zoo was the first infection case of an animal in the United States when she tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. The 4-year-old tiger, Nadia, along with six other tigers and lions have fallen ill due to what is believed to be an infected employee.
While Nadia was the first animal in the US, she is not the first animal worldwide to test positive. A household cat in Belgium was diagnosed the last week of March, as were two dogs from Hong Kong. All of them were in direct contact with owners who had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.
CAN I CATCH THE CORONAVIRUS FROM ANIMALS?
This news has obviously sparked concerns about transmission of the coronavirus from pets. Because cats and dogs, and other pets are in close proximity to their human owners, it’s important to ask the question of whether or not humans can get it from their furry companions. (Or vice versa.)
As a matter of fact, the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) all state that there is currently no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets or livestock, can spread COVID-19 infection to people. So, if anything, the risk is actually higher the other way around. This means pet owners with COVID-19 pose a greater risk to the animals in their life than the other way around.
SIGNS TO WATCH OUT FOR
As of the time this article was written, there are no cases of pets being diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 in the United States or Canada. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be alert and aware of the symptoms.
Unfortunately, most cats and dogs don’t exhibit any clinical signs or symptoms of infection. But since the leading health organizations all seem to agree that humans cannot contract the coronavirus from their pet’s respiratory droplets, this doesn’t seem to matter. However, there could still be some pets who do show symptoms and may need to be seen and treated by a vet. If you’re worried your furry companion might be infected, the number one symptom appears to be the same for them as it is for us: a persistent dry cough.
If you notice a new or unusual cough from your animals, bring them in to the vet to know for sure.
HOW TO PROTECT PETS
Our pets love us and want to be around us. I personally have two husky puppies and I know the moment I sit down on the couch; they want to be right on top of us. Our animals make us feel good and are incredible at relaying unconditional love. But since our pets are actually more vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission from human to animal, here are some precautions for pet owners to take into consideration.
1. Get Tested
You are their first line of defense. If you believe you may have contracted COVID-19, the first thing you can do to protect your pets (and others in your household) is get yourself tested to know for sure.
2. Social Distance
If you have been confirmed or are suspected to have COVID-19, hand over all care duties to someone else. Consider isolating yourself to a specific space in the home to limit exposure. This means no snuggles, kisses, or pets until you’re all better.
3. Keep Pets Home
Do you live in an area with high confirmed cases? Consider keeping your pets home along with you. Avoid taking them on long walks in typically high-traffic areas during the times of the day where you know more people will be out with their own animals or on their own walks.
4. Wash Hands
We all know about how critical it is to wash your hands right now. This is also true when in contact with your pets. Wash hands before and after petting them, giving them their food, picking up their waste, etc. If you do take them on walks, it might even be a good idea to wash off their paws when you come back inside.
5. Get Animals Tested
If your animal has been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 and you now suspect they have contracted the disease, the first thing you want to do is contact your vet to see what kind of testing they have available in your area and how to care for them properly.
6. Isolate Pets
Should your pet be diagnosed with COVID-19, limit their access to one or two rooms of the home and keep them out of contact with any pets who do not have the disease.
DON’T BE THAT GUY
A guy in Florida abandoned his dog because he believed his dog could infect him with the coronavirus. Even when officials told him he was safe to bring her home, he refused. In China, animal shelters are being over-run with abandoned pets and even people in the United States worry that fear and misinformation could lead to more of the same all over the world.
In fact, when asked, the majority of people in my circles were concerned about people using the flashy headlines as an excuse to abandon their pets.
“Personally, I’m concerned that some people are going to dump their pets...using this as an excuse. I think people are in a state of self-preservation and the headlines catch their eyes. Sometimes they don’t read articles fully...” said Jenn Sackett of Grand Rapids Minnesota.
Stacey Brooks from Akron Ohio echoed Jenn’s sentiment, “I have two dogs, five cats, one bearded dragon, one spotted python, one cali kingsnake, one bullfrog, and some fish. I figure they are all safe within my home and property. My dogs are the only ones to go outside. I would take precautions around them the same as I would if they were my kids. But I am concerned that people will use this as a reason to get rid of their pets.”
We cannot stress this enough: there is no evidence your pets can spread COVID-19 to you. Do not use the coronavirus as an excuse to ditch your pets.
Just like with humans, there is no vaccine for pets available at this time. The Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) is working on vaccine trials using ferrets, who appear susceptible to the disease. However, we are still a ways out from having a working vaccine. The important takeaway here is to know that while animals can be infected by the novel coronavirus, it’s actually humans infecting them—not the other way around. So, keep a level head and remember to treat your pets like the family members they are. They need you now, more than ever.