With all the information and stories going around about COVID-19, many people have had questions about what it means for their pets! I’m Dr. Sarah Sharp, IFAW’s Animal Rescue Veterinarian and I’m here to answer some of your most common questions about COVID-19 and your pet’s health.
1) Can my pet give me COVID-19?
At this time, there is no evidence that animals (including pets) can spread COVID-19 to people. The predominant route of transmission for COVID-19 is person-to-person through droplets. So it’s extremely important to wash your hands and keep social distancing from other people.
At this point, there appears to be very little risk of companion animals getting sick from this coronavirus. Two dogs whose owners were sick with COVID-19 tested positive for the virus, but they did not show any clinical signs of disease. There were also two pet cats that tested positive, one of which was reported to have respiratory signs at the time. We do not know as much as we would like to about this virus, and information is likely to continue to evolve. However, with over 2.5 million human cases worldwide and only four reported natural infections in pets, the risk to these animals appears to be quite low. Additionally in the US, IDEXX reference labs have tested thousands of pet dogs and cats for the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) and none have come back positive. Most species, including dogs and cats, have their own types of (species-specific) coronaviruses that are different from the virus causing the current pandemic and pose no threat to people.
2) Didn't COVID-19 come from animals?
Current evidence suggests that the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) came from an animal source and then jumped to humans. The exact source is still unknown, but the genetic sequence of the current virus is most similar to a coronavirus found in horseshoe bats, meaning they are probably the original source. Another species, known as an intermediate host was likely also involved in the original transmission. The origin of this virus is thought to be a wet market in Wuhan, China.
While animals are implicated in the origin of the disease, there is currently no evidence that animals are playing an ongoing role in its transmission. This means as far as we know, there is no reason to be worried about contracting COVID-19 from pets or wildlife in our everyday lives.
3) What if I get sick with COVID-19, can I give it to my pet?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) are advising people who are ill and may be shedding the virus to take extra precautions when handling their pets. In an abundance of caution, the CDC recommends separating from your pets when you are ill, just as you would another member of your household. If possible, other household members should be the primary caregiver for your pets until you recover. There is a low risk that pets could carry the virus on their fur for a period of time (much like the virus can live on doorknobs), but it is unlikely to live on pet fur for very long, if at all. Right now, we don’t know everything we’d like to know about this virus, and given the current global pandemic situation, the best thing to do is to play it safe.
If you still have to take care of your pet when you are sick, wear a face mask and minimise your direct contact with them as much as possible. Wash your hands before and after handling them, their food, toys, bedding, etc.
Please make an emergency pet plan now in case you or someone in your household gets sick. Talk with family members and friends who could care for your pet in their home. Discuss how you would transport the pet and how they would need to wash them with soap and water as soon as he or she arrives. Make a copy of your pet’s medical record to send along. This is the time to check your pet’s collar and ID tag for updated information. Also call local pet boarding facilities to see if they are accepting emergency boarding requests. Many organisations are helping to offset boarding fees through donations if you are hospitalised https://redrover.org/news/coronavirus/.
4) What do I do if my pet gets sick?
If your pet becomes ill, the best first step is always to call your local veterinarian and arrange a visit to their clinic. Because of COVID-19, a trip to the vet now may look very different from what you are used to. Most veterinary practices are doing their part to flatten the curve, so some are seeing emergency cases only and many are maintaining a no-contact policy during this pandemic. This means that you may be asked to stay in your car and call the hospital when you arrive, a vet nurse will collect your pet directly from your car, take him or her into the hospital where he/she is examined by a veterinarian, and the veterinarian will then call you to discuss their findings and diagnostic and treatment options. I know it is hard not to be with your pet during their visit to the vet, but rest assured that veterinarians will do their best to help your pet and get him/her feeling much better!
If you or someone in your household is sick with COVID-19, it is very important to notify your vet clinic prior to your arrival. This will allow them to take extra precautions when interacting with you and your pet that will help prevent the spread of this disease.
5) My pet is very social! I feel guilty keeping them inside during my home quarantine, what should I do?
As long as it is still permitted by your national and regional restrictions, you can walk your dog outside of your yard but be sure to keep 6 feet away from other people and their dogs. Do not let your dog interact with other dogs or people! I know this can be disappointing for them, but it is a small price to pay for everyone’s benefit. Remember, this is only temporary and the better people (and pets!) are at social distancing, the faster life can get back to normal.
Play in your yard or move furniture around to make space for some games inside. Some fun things to consider: agility course with household items, read to them, sing to them, make toys from old socks or sweatshirts, draw them, have video chats with other pet parents, and share ideas!
If you let your cat outside please consider keeping them inside during the quarantine. If that is not an option, minimise contact with him or her when inside.
This is also a good time to remind everyone to maintain good hygiene when interacting with pets, by washing your hands before and after petting or snuggling with your furry companions. This is true of everyday life, not just in the times of COVID-19.
6) Do I set new schedules now that we are home quarantining?
Remember that your pet doesn’t care what the reason, you are home and they love it! Keep to routines so their systems and behavior remain stable. Eating times, bathroom breaks and exercise. This will be good for you too!
Maintain fresh water as always.
If you order pet food online keep in mind delivery times may vary due to high demand of deliveries. Plan ahead and try to maintain a one-month stock of food and treats.
If you are facing financial hardship because of the pandemic there are many local pet food pantries that can help. These amazing organisations make appointments to minimise exposure.
7) I want to do something to help others with pets or local shelters who are struggling during this crisis, what can I do?
First, thank you so much for being so thoughtful!
Staying healthy and flattening the curve is the BEST thing you can do.
Stay up to date on what your local veterinary clinic, pet food bank and animal shelters need by visiting their websites.
Consider purchasing something from an organisation’s Wish List on various shopping sites to make sure they get exactly what they need so nothing goes to waste.
Consider donating your time if they need help with answering calls or emails.
Consider a monetary donation to support their work now and in the future.
Continue being a responsible pet owner and setting a fabulous example for your friends, family and community.
Spread the word of the good work your local animal welfare providers do all year long. Kindness and gratitude should be the only thing we are spreading these days!
We are all in this together and we must do our part to minimise potential COVID transmission. Try to cherish the extra time with your pets at home and give them lots of love and attention (but not too many extra treats!). We need our pets now more than ever – they offer us great comfort in these unsettling times and almost always bring a smile to our face, which I know I personally need a lot more of right now! Remember that this is only temporary and the better we are at social distancing and flattening the curve, the sooner life will get back to normal for both us and our pets.