Dogs and cats — as well as livestock — appear to have little to fear from the coronavirus pandemic.
While the outbreak is believed to have started when mutated viruses spread from infected animals — likely bats — bats to humans in a Chinese wet market last year, there is almost no evidence to suggest the new virus poses a significant threat to domestic animals.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), only three pets in Hong Kong (two dogs and a cat) and three in the U.S. (two cats in New York state and a dog in North Carolina) have tested positive for the coronavirus. Additionally, eight big cats in the Bronx Zoo — five tigers and three lions — have tested positive.
Health authorities believe that in each case, the animals became infected through contact with infected owners or zookeepers. Each animal experienced a mild respiratory illness and recovered.
“The evidence is overwhelming at this point that COVID-19 is a people problem,” San Francisco-area veterinary practice owner Dr. Carrie Jurney says. “Animals are a very, very, very minor footnote in this story.”
Authorities typically hasten to add there is no evidence to suggest that pets or livestock can transmit the virus to people; however, because dogs, cats and other domesticated animals have long been known to be susceptible to other strains of coronavirus, AVMA veterinarians recommend:
• Animal owners without symptoms of COVID-19 should continue to practice good hygiene during interactions with animals. This includes washing hands before and after such interactions and when handling animal food, waste or supplies.
• Owners should not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
• Cats should be kept indoors when possible, to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
• Dogs should be walked on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet of distance from other people and animals. Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.
• Until more is known about the virus, people infected with COVID-19 should restrict contact with pets and other animals, just as they would humans.
Reduced contact can pose a challenge for disabled persons who rely on service animals. In those cases, only basic care should be provided for the animal, with little to no petting, hugging, snuggling or sharing of food.
Authorities advise against routine testing of pets or livestock for the novel coronavirus, and they discourage putting masks or other protective gear on animals.
The major challenge for pets is a familiar one: Who will care for them if their owners fall ill.
Officials at the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago encourage all pet owners to make a plan that starts with identifying a close family member or trusted friend who can shelter and care for the pet for as long as necessary. That person should ensure their home is ready at a moment’s notice to be hospitable and safe for the ill person’s animal. There should be a sleeping space, an ample supply of food and a line of contact with the animal’s regular veterinarian.
For people unable to find a relative or friend to take their animal, the Anti-Cruelty Society — like a number of its counterparts across the nation — maintains an online Home-to-Home Shelter Bypass service designed to match animals in need with private homes that can take them in. The purpose of the service is to keep animals out of shelters and off the streets.
Hed: Vets are staying busy
By Joan Hadac
As a business deemed essential by government officials in states where “non-essential” commercial entities have been ordered closed during the coronavirus pandemic, a typical veterinary medicine practice seems about as busy as a hamster on a wheel. This is especially true in states that are allowing veterinarians to handle more than emergencies.
“We have been crazy busy,” says Daniel Scogin, a veterinary technician at Abbot Animal Hospital in Chicago. “I think there’s been a lot of pent-up demand out there [for routine services], and we’re seeing it now.”
Aside from the hectic pace, the biggest challenge appears to be to reducing the likelihood of veterinary medicine employees being infected with the coronavirus.
“The biggest risk to us is people,” says Ontario Veterinary College Teaching Hospital Infection Control Chief Dr. Scott Weese. “You’re much, much, much more likely to get sick from a person.”
Most veterinarians and their employees know that well.
“I can tell you, as a practicing veterinarian in a place with a lot of community transmission, my techs are scared right now,” Dr. Carrie Jurney says, and notes techs are the employees who meet pets and their owners outside the building.
Weese says veterinary practices appear to be doing a good job keeping their employees at a safe distance from pet owners who may be infected, but there is another concern.
“The other big risk factor is the staff in your clinic,” he says. “It’s a team effort. If you’ve got 10 staff members in your clinic and nine are socially distancing really well, but the other one just came back from the beach somewhere in Florida — mixing with other people — that’s not helping, right? Social distancing only works if everyone does it.”