With many Americans under order to shelter at home and leave only for necessities, we’re spending more time than ever with our pets.
Wet puppy noses and sandpaper cat kisses may be a balm for our souls during this time of stress and extended social isolation. But can our physical closeness to our pets affect our health — or theirs?
Here’s a look at the latest advice from experts about keeping everyone in your household safe.
— Can pets become infected with the new coronavirus?
It’s incredibly unlikely.
There are many kinds of coronaviruses out there, and some of them can make cats and dogs sick. Scientists, however, say it is highly unlikely that our pets can be infected by SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
The World Health Organization has said there is no indication that a dog or cat can transmit the virus to humans or to any other living thing, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not received any reports of pets becoming ill from exposure to it.
“At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19 or that they might be a source of infection in the United States,” according to the CDC.
Perhaps this will help put your mind at ease: A prominent veterinary diagnostics firm has reported testing thousands of cats and dogs for the virus, and not one has tested positive.
“It appears that companion animals are not infected easily with SARS-CoV-2,” said Dr. Gail Golab, chief veterinary officer for the American Veterinary Medical Assn. “We have little to no evidence that they become sick, and there is no evidence that pets can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to people or other pets.”
You can read up on further information from the AVMA about pets and COVID-19.
— But what about those reports of dogs and cats testing positive?
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department in Hong Kong has found SARS-CoV-2 in two pet dogs, a 17-year-old Pomeranian and a 2-year-old German shepherd. Tests also found the virus in a cat belonging to a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Another 15 dogs and eight cats in Hong Kong have tested negative, according to the AVMA.
A sick cat in Belgium has been found to have the virus, though tests by the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain there have not determined whether the strain is the same as the one that infected its owner.
For now, veterinarians and animal infectious disease specialists agree that there is far too little information to draw any firm conclusions from these isolated cases in the face of hundreds of thousands of human infections around the globe.
Experts also agree that they won’t be able to conclusively say more until rigorously tested scientific data become available.
“We need to wait to see the science,” said Shelley Rankin, a microbiologist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. “Show me the science!”
— So I don’t need to worry that, if I become sick, my pet could get it from me?
No, but you can still take precautions.
Animal healthcare experts agree that although there have been no cases in the United States of a human passing the virus to a pet, the best practice for anyone infected with coronavirus is to treat their companion animal the same way they would a human: Avoid all unnecessary contact.
“If you’re sick, practice social distancing,” Rankin said. “The big thing is to not be in contact with anyone else — dogs, cats or humans — when you’re sick.”
In practice, that means pet owners who are diagnosed with the virus should avoid petting, snuggling or otherwise being in physical contact with their pets, said Dr. Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club. They should also be sure to inform their veterinarian about their illness.
If possible, a healthy household member ought to feed and take care of the animal, Klein said. If there is no one available to do so, ill caretakers ought to wear a face mask and wash their hands before and after feeding and otherwise caring for their pets.
And as unpleasant as this thought might be, Rankin said pet owners should have a Plan B in case they aren’t around: “If you live on your own with an animal, then you should be planning a little bit for what to do with your dog or cat if you get sick and have to be hospitalized.”
— What are the chances that I’ll get the virus from my pet?
It’s highly, highly unlikely.
There are no reported cases of a pet transmitting the virus to a human. It is remotely possible, however, if the following sequence of events occurs: Someone who is sick with COVID-19 sneezes or coughs. Their infected droplets touch a pet’s fur. Then another person quickly touches the same patch of fur and touches their eyes, nose or mouth before they’ve washed their hands.
In other words, incredibly unlikely.
“According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the American Veterinary Medical Assn. and others, to date, there is no reason to believe that any animals in the United States are the source of COVID-19,” Klein said.
— Is there a test I can get for my pet?
There aren’t any that are widely available, and even if there were, experts recommend against it at this time.
“Companion animals presenting with illness or injury should receive veterinary care. Where appropriate, testing for infectious diseases that commonly cause companion animal illness should be conducted,” Golab said. “Because the situation is ever-evolving, public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals out of an abundance of caution. In the United States, the decision to test will be made collaboratively between local, state, and federal animal and public health officials.”
Golab added that California and other states had classified veterinarians as essential service workers, so they can continue to operate during the shutdown.
Rankin says it’s not clear that tests should be conducted on pets when there aren’t enough resources to test people who may be sick.
“There are ethical issues about veterinary labs stockpiling reagents in case we need tests for animals when these reagents are necessary right now … to test samples from humans,” she said.
— Should I make sure my pet stays inside, or is it safe to go out?
Follow your existing routine, experts agree. It’s good for your pet — and for your own mental health.
“Fresh air is good for you and your dog,” Klein said. “Pets rely on a routine and can sense an owner’s mood and feelings. We do know that they respond to an owner’s feelings of happiness, anger, sadness, and even anxiety.”
He advises spending time with outdoor pets on walks or playing games such as fetch. Grooming indoor and outdoor pets will also provide comfort.
“It may also decrease your anxiety level by making you think of something other than what’s on the news. It can be a win-win situation for both of you,” Klein said. “As always, pet owners should be sure to wash their hands before and after interacting with their pets.”
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