One of my neighbors told me the other day that many people in China are getting rid of their dogs for fear they are carrying the coronavirus. She said they were just turning them loose and letting them fend for themselves. Since then, I’ve seen several reports where government leaders in Hong Kong are asking people not to abandon their pets, so what she says must be true. Isn’t that heartbreaking? I know there are many questions out there regarding our pets and the coronavirus but reacting in such an extreme fashion is cruel and inhumane.
There is one thing for sure: You can read a lot of nonsense online about the coronavirus. There is so much false information, rumors, and even conspiracy theories circulating on the internet. We need to be careful where we get our information. Follow only reliable sources, like the CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or WHO – World Health Organization, and a variety of reputable Veterinary sites.
It is not our intention to provide medical advice at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts. Any pet questions or concerns regarding this new virus or any medical issue should always be directed to a veterinary professional. Using only credible sources, we hope to provide our readers with the most up to date information on what we currently know about the virus and how it affects our pets.
What is the Coronavirus?
The coronavirus is nothing new. These viruses have been around for a long time and are commonly circulated among humans and animals. Coronaviruses are a large group of far-reaching viruses with many strains, but the one we are seeing now, the COVID-19, has never been seen in humans before.
These viruses can cause respiratory and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms. Remember SARS? It was a respiratory coronavirus. And MERS? It was a respiratory coronavirus. Even the common cold stems from a coronavirus. The newest coronavirus, the COVID-19, was isolated from a cluster of human pneumonia cases in China.
Types of Coronavirus in pets
Dogs and cats actually have their own coronaviruses: The canine coronavirus and feline coronavirus. Originally the canine coronavirus was an intestinal disease, but a newer type causes respiratory disease. The canine coronavirus is part of the new Canine Respiratory Disease Complex that includes testing for both kennel cough and distemper, both of which affect a dog’s respiratory tract. Feline coronaviruses can infect the intestines and are also recently being studied as a cause of upper respiratory infection. It is believed that many canine and feline diseases are mutations of their respective coronavirus.
Human coronaviruses are spread from person to person through coughing or sneezing, close contact, or touching a surface with an active virus on it. It is likely that the virus could be transmitted from animal to animal via respiratory secretions and contaminated objects as well, since that is generally how viruses spread among animals.
It is still considered rare that an animal coronavirus infects humans, but it has happened in the past and is believed to have happened with this new strain. SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) is believed to have come from bats via civet cats. MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) is believed to have come from bats via camels. The new COVID-19 (CO-from corona, VI-from Virus, D-from Disease, 19- from the originating year of 2019) is also believed to have come from bats, via a live animal market in China.
Can we become infected by our pets?
That being said, many strains of the coronavirus’ are zoonotic, which means they can be transmitted between people and animals, but there is no current cause for alarm. The WHO and the CDC are quick to reassure pet parents that “there is no reason to think that any animals, including pets in the United States might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus.” They go on to say, “At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals can spread COVID-19.”
To my knowledge, there have been only two pets that have tested positive for the COVID-19. A 17-year-old Pomeranian in China was quarantined after testing a “weak positive” for the virus last week. Just yesterday, a dog in Hong Kong tested positive. Both dogs apparently acquired the virus from their owners, who had previously been diagnosed with COVID-19. Fortunately, neither dog shows any symptoms of being sick.
Gail Golab, chief veterinary officer with the American Veterinary Medical Association, said in an email that the dog’s lack of symptoms could mean it [they] “has a low level of infection, but that replication of the virus in the dog has not been sufficient to cause the dog to become ill.” Given that, she said, the AVMA’s advice to pet owners is as follows: Focus on hygiene, and if ill, stay home and away from pets — “including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food.”
Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and OIE, World Organization for Animal Health have advised that there is “no evidence that companion animals can spread the virus. Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals which may compromise their welfare.”
Coronavius: Best Practices
In all honesty, we shouldn’t fear pets, but maybe they should fear us! They are the victims in both of the above cases as these two dogs contracted the virus from their guardians. If you are sick with COVID-19, it’s common sense to avoid contact with other people in your family. Let that rule also apply to the pets in your family. Wash your hands before and after handling your pets and avoid “kissing” and snuggling. If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, ask someone outside of your household to care for your pets until you are well. If you have no choice but to care for your own pets, wear a face mask and keep contact with your pet at a minimum. The WSAVA, World Small Animal Veterinary Association, also recommends that if you are the one caring for a pet that belongs to someone who has been diagnosed with the virus, you should also wear a facemask. COVID-19 may remain viable on a variety of surfaces for hours to days and frequently touched surfaces should be properly cleaned with products that have EPA-approved viral pathogen claims. Keeping an exposed animal away from other animals should be considered a best practice as well.
Coronavirus Vaccinations for your pets
There are vaccinations available for canine and feline coronaviruses, but these viruses are quite different from the COVID-19. There is no evidence that available vaccines provide protection from COVID-19. Also, there is no cause to put any sort of respiratory apparatus on our pets. Testing for COVID-19 in pets to monitor this new viral pathogen and its characteristics is forthcoming. The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the College of Veterinary Medicine has recently purchased the needed equipment to test for the new COVID-19 in pets. Hopefully, it will be available to other veterinarians soon.
So, for now, stay calm, take good care of yourself and your best friend, and stay on top of the latest information on this new coronavirus. We will provide you with any further information should it be warranted.