Local health officials continue to educate the public on how to stay safe during the pandemic, but we are now seeing more COVID-19 cases in pets, reported Sophia Choi of WSB-TV, a news channel in Atlanta, USA. Choi investigated the said risk after a dog across a state border in North Carolina tested positive for COVID-19.
Choi spoke with mom of two dogs, Nikole Allen, who expressed concern about her dogs being infected with the virus after hearing reports of positive cases in pets. One such case is a pug named Winston who tested positive in North Carolina, which is the first documented US case of the virus among dogs. Winston lives in Chapel Hill with a COVID-19-infected family.
It’s natural for pet owners to be fearful of the virus infecting their pets, stated Pharr Road Animal Hospital veterinarian Dr. Seth Colman. In fact, the hospital has received calls and emails from alarmed pet parents. The risk is low considering that there are only a handful of cases of pets contracting the virus across the globe. Still, how can we protect ourselves and our pets from the virus?
Survey On Pet Interactions, Concerns About COVID-19, and Vet Care
YouGov, a global public opinion and data company, found that 67% of owners hug their pet, 43% kissed their pet, and 74% played with their pet. Other activities done by the pet owners were watching TV together (46%), going on holiday (20%), shopping (6%), reading a book to them (2%), and eating together at the same time (14%).
45% of owners walked with their pet, 27% said they visit their friends or family with their pet, and 77% admitted that they talk to their pets. When asked if owners kiss their pets on the lips or let them lick their face, 25% answered “I do” and 72% said they don’t. Only 3% said they don’t know.
In another survey by Vitus Vet, a veterinary practice management software, 52% of Vitus Vet users said they are feeling more loved or comforted than usual by their pet. Exercise was a popular activity, with 53% saying they had more playtime at home and 39% stating that they took more frequent dog walks. 36% of owners took many photos or videos of their pets while 22% stated that their pets make regular appearances in video calls with their colleagues.
Regarding COVID-19, 33% were not at all concerned about the virus affecting their pets, with 58% of pet owners saying they had some concern. 21% asked whether their dogs can play with other dogs so long as owners practice social distancing. 46% of respondents asked if COVID-19 sticks to pet hair or fur. The most concerned US states were Connecticut, New York, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Kentucky. The least concerned states were Colorado, Wisconsin, Utah, Ohio, and Maine.
However, pet care is still a reality as 19% said they conducted a wellness check during the outbreak while 6% sought emergency care. Even so, most owners are prepared as 82% said they have a copy of pet records. Sadly, 69% of owners do not have a pet first aid kit at home.
Kissing Your Pet Is A Huge No
A lab experiment suggested that cats can spread the virus to other cats without any of them exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, according to the Associated Press. Scientists who led the work indicated the need for more research into whether COVID-19 can spread from people to cats and vice versa. Virus expert Peter Halfmann noted pet owners concerned about that risk should exercise “common sense hygiene.” Hygiene practices include avoiding kissing your pets and keeping surfaces clean to reduce your chances of contracting the virus that your pet might shed.
Halfmann and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin conducted the lab experiment and published it in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers extracted the virus from a human patient and infected three cats with it. Each cat was housed with an infection-free cat. In five days, the virus was found in all three of the animals. The cats did not sneeze, cough, lose weight, or have a high body temperature. “If a pet owner looked at them ... they wouldn't have noticed anything,” Halfmann noted.
Dr. Colman agreed, “Try to avoid contact with your pet such as snuggling or kissing, you know licking and being kissed by the animal sharing bedding or food.” COVID-19 infected individuals are more likely to transmit the virus to animals when they are in close contact with them, explained Dr. Catherine Barnette, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based veterinarian and contributor to Great Pet Care, quoted Michelle Pugle of Healthline, a online medical information and health website. Owners that cuddle with their pets or handle their belongings while ill may be more likely to spread infection, she added.
Protecting Your Pets From the Virus
There is no need to modify family behavior if everyone at home is healthy, according to experts. However, if you or another family member is exhibiting signs of the virus, you should treat your pet as you would any family member. For example, you can separate sick pets from healthy ones.
“The best way to protect your pets from COVID-19 is to limit their exposure to sick individuals,” stated Dr. Frank Esper, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital in Ohio. Aside from avoiding physical contact with your pets, it is recommended to wash your hands after handling your pet’s water bowl and other equipment if you live alone and must care for it while ill. Keep your cat indoors and walk your dog on a leash while keeping a safe distance from other owners and pets.
The Ever-Evolving Research of COVID-19-Infected Pets
Esper noted that in one report, 10% of cats made antibodies against the virus, which is not necessarily a cause for concern. He emphasized the difference between a pet contracting COVID-19 and a pet spreading it to humans. Many animals can contract an infection in previous pandemics, but this does not mean that the animals are infectious to humans.
Esper concluded, “There will still be a lot of research to determine what, if any, role animals play in the spread of this virus. However, this coronavirus doesn’t need an animal’s help to go from person to person.”