COVID-19 is sweeping across much of the world, leaving us concerned and wondering what we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
Naturally, this includes our pets as well.
One of the main questions that everyone’s asking is: can the virus be transmitted between people and pets? While the disease is most prominent in humans, are we going to find Coronavirus in dogs or Coronavirus in cats?
If you’re searching for answers, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ve sourced advice from some of the top veterinarians as well as guidance from WHO (World Health Organization) and the CDC (Center for Disease Control) to bring you up-to-date on what we know about Coronavirus in dogs.
First up, it’s important to understand the virus –where it comes from and how it operates.
COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus, a category of virus that’s aptly named for its crown-shaped circles that can be seen when viewed under a microscope.
There are a number of different types of coronaviruses –and they all vary considerably across the board –from relatively mild colds to the far more severe and notorious Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
It’s worth noting that coronaviruses have their origins in animals, although they usually stay within their own species. However, occasionally the viruses end up crossing into another species. In many cases, this isn’t too much cause for concern. Usually, the result is what’s known as a “dead-end virus” –it spread from an animal to a human, but it ends there and isn’t able to spread from human to human. Every so often, though, a virus becomes a novel human-adapted virus, finding a way to jump species, while enabling the efficient spread between humans. This eventually leads to an epidemic and is what happened with SARS and MERS, which had their origins in civets and camels.
But that doesn’t mean that COVID-19 can be passed back and forth from humans to their pets.
While the disease originally would have had its origins in an animal; possibly a bat, that doesn’t mean that it can simply travel back and forth between different species at random.
“Coronavirus itself has been around forever,” explains Oakridge Veterinary Clinic Veterinarian Dr. Nell Griscom. “Dogs get it, cats get it, but they are different varieties of coronavirus. As far as we know, the COVID-19 is not contagious to dogs and people can’t get it from their dogs or give it to their dogs or cats.”
Dr. Brennen McKenzie VMD, a veterinarian with Adobe Animal Hospital in Los Gatos, Calif., agrees.
“The risk to and from pets appears low at this time,” Dr. McKenzie says. “Animals spread viruses between one another that are genetically distinct from human viruses,” he continues. “The genetic distinction makes it extremely difficult for humans and their pets to pass diseases on to one another. (Except for the rabies virus, which is known to be transmitted from dogs to people. In the US, rabies is rare because dogs are required to be vaccinated against rabies.)”
Note: For a fascinating look into COVID-19, its origins and spread from animals to humans check out: How do animal viruses like Coronavirus jump species by Tara C. Smith, a professor of epidemiology at the Kent State University College of Public Health.
What About the Dog in Hong Kong?
News of a dog in Hong Kong testing positive for the virus last month has sparked rumors of potential cross-species transmission of COVID-19.
The animal in question was a Pomeranian belonging to a COVID-19 patient in Hong Kong. The animal had tested “weakly positive.” There were traces of the virus on his nasal cavity and mouth. The dog himself, however, did not show any signs of the virus.
The most likely scenario experts say, is that although the animal had traces of the virus, having been in contact with a person who had the virus –but he wasn’t necessarily infected with it.
Another explanation could be that he was infected, but had a low-level infection. In some cases, viruses can infect a species but not cause illness in that species, nor become transmissible to others.
“The dog had low levels of the virus in its nose and mouth…and could have picked it up from the patient with the virus—or from surfaces he had touched,” explains Rachel Barrack, DVM, CVA, CVCH and founder of a concierge practice, Animal Acupuncture in New York City. “Since dogs’ noses and mouths come in contact with just about everything, it is hard to say.”
WHO is continuing to keep tabs on the situation, but maintains that there’s still no evidence that household pets can transmit COVID-19.
So far, the Pomeranian in question is the only dog in the world to have tested positive for canine coronavirus.
What Should You Do With Your Pets If You Contract COVID-19 or Self-Isolate?
For people with pets, there’s no such thing as over-prepared. It’s a good idea to create a contingency plan ahead of time –just in case.
If You Self-Isolate
If you end up coming in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 and needs to self-isolate, the best option is to have someone else look after your pet for you during this period (usually 10-14 days).
If this isn’t possible, you can keep your pet with you, but it’s best to try to keep them in a separate area of the house. Wash your hands after feeding them, and avoid petting them, being licked, kissing, and sharing food.
If You Test Positive
Additionally, the CDC recommends that if a person does test positive for coronavirus, they should restrict contact with animals, just as they would other humans.
It’s a good idea to start talking to friends or family early on, to see if you can make arrangements for someone to take your dog in for you should the need arise.
Experts say there’s no need to worry, that transmission between humans and pets is highly unlikely. It’s also not advisable for your pet to wear a mask –experts say these are generally a bad idea for animals, and could even restrict breathing.
Still, it’s worth taking some precautions, to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. Even though there’s a very low risk of human-to-pet transmission, there’s still the issue of contamination. Experts believe that the virus can live on a surface for up to three days. A pet’s fur, for example, could potentially act as a surface.
There are some basic hygiene rules that you should follow anyway, for general health, and to help keep the risk of contamination down.
WHO recommends washing your hands after playing with or cuddling your dog. Aside from COVID-19 concerns, there’s the very real risk of a bacterial infection such as salmonella and E. coli –this type of bacteria can easily pass between pets and people.
“If you have a pet that becomes sick after contact with people infected by COVID-19, it is important to contact your veterinarian,” says Dr. Barrack.
“But remember it is highly unlikely that a dog, or a cat, could be infected,” she adds.
Just make sure you call your vet ahead of time and inform them of the situation, don’t just bring your pet in. The vet should be informed that the pet was in contact with someone who has COVID-19.
Keeping Healthy: The Best Way to Protect Your Family (Human and Pet) From COVID-19
The following advice comes from the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association.
Practical measures to protect yourself and your family from this or any other contagious respiratory illness include:
- Washing your hands often with soap and water. If none are available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. See WHO’s recommended handwashing technique.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick or have a fever.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Maintain more personal space between you and other people than you might usually.
- Vaccinate your pets as recommended by your veterinarian. (Note: Respiratory diseases Bordetella, parainfluenza, and canine influenza are the most common vaccine-preventable respiratory diseases in pets).
- If you become ill with the COVID-19 coronavirus, please wear a well-fitted mask to help prevent the spread of the virus and limit contacts with other humans and your pets as recommended by your physician.
Practice good hygiene, keep a sensible distance from people –especially those who may be unwell, avoid crowds, and of course, make sure your pets are up-to-date on their shots.
At this point, there’s a lot that we don’t know about this virus, particularly when it comes to contamination and spread. But there’s still a lot that we can do to help our families, including our beloved pets, to stay safe –and to help limit the spread of disease.