March has proven to be a real challenge worldwide as new information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic has been growing exponentially. A number of pet parents have expressed concern about how to protect themselves, and their pets. Let’s look at the realistic risk to pets and their care -givers from this novel virus.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause gastrointestinal unease in some mammals (pigs, cattle) and respiratory signs in others (birds, humans). A plethora of coronaviruses exist, and they are typically quite species-specific, meaning they infect and cause disease primarily only in one species. For example, bovine coronavirus causes diarrhea in cattle, and equine coronavirus can cause colic in horses, but neither animal develops disease from the other species virus.
A lot of human coronaviruses exist as well, including the relatively harmless one associated with the common cold. In 2003, an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in humans was attributed to the SARS-CoV coronavirus crossing the species barrier from Chinese palm civets. From 2019 to 2020, we have witnessed yet another outbreak of SARS, this time a global pandemic from SARS-CoV-2, more commonly known as COVID-19.
To date, there is no strong indication of COVID-19 causing disease in dogs or cats or being transmissible between humans and these pets. While there are dog and cat coronaviruses, these are associated with mild diarrhea (dogs) and peritonitis (cats), not respiratory disease. These coronaviruses are not transmissible to humans, and dogs and cats cannot contract them from humans. It is very unlikely that the COVID-19 virus can infect and cause disease in dogs and cats, or that it can be transmitted from humans to dogs or cats, and vice-versa.
That being said, one dog, kept by an infected human, has been reported to have tested positive for coronavirus. Initial testing, according to the Hong Kong SAR Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, (AFCD), yielded positive oral and nasal swabs, with follow-up testing days later yielding only a positive nasal swab. Rectal and fecal samples were negative on both testing dates. This one incident could potentially be a case of transmission from human to dog, but there is (as of yet) no evidence that dogs and cats can develop disease attributable to COVID-19 or be a source of infection to animals or humans.
So, what does this all mean? It means that pet parents should take safety precautions to protect themselves and their pets from disease – just like everyone else. Basic hygiene, including hand washing, social distancing if feeling sick are prudent recommendations at this time. It may be prudent to consider where you exercise your pets – possibly avoid busy city centers where you will likely interact with large crowds.
If your dog or cat comes into contact with someone who is confirmed or suspected to be infectious, bathe them to reduce the risk of bringing the virus into your home carried on their hair and skin – just like you would with yourself. Simple protective practices for yourself and your pet can go a long way to staying healthy. Remember, in addition to coronavirus, it’s also flu season, so these recommendations aren’t any different than those that would be recommended for combatting the flu.
Facemask are one more thing to consider. Veterinary clinics have become targets of break-ins for those wanting to steal facemasks. Surgical facemasks will not protect you or your pet, from contracting COVID-19. These masks are designed to prevent aerosolization of particles from the surgeon’s mouth from contaminating the patient’s surgical site. There is no research to suggest that these will offer any protection to the wearer from any external infectious process. Neither you, nor your pet, will benefit or keep each other any safer by wearing a mask.
Enjoy yourselves and your pets, and we’ll get through this together.
Best wishes and tail wags,
Dr. Sarah Dodd