We know that the novel coronavirus originated in animals – but how does it affect domesticated animals? Can pets like cats and dogs be infected?
It turns out that last week, the first dog in the world had tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) requested for the dog to be put in quarantine. For the time being, he isn’t showing any symptoms and he will be repeatedly tested until the result comes back negative. The department strongly advised that the pets of people who are infected stay in quarantine for 14 days as well.
And yet, both the AFCD and the World Health Organization (WHO) believe there is no reason for worry, as there is no actual evidence that cats and dogs can be infected with the disease. It is believed that the way animals interact with the virus is more similar to the way the virus interacts with inanimate objects (the virus can live on surfaces, but it isn’t clear for how long). The AFCD is currently testing the infected dog in order to verify that claim.
According to experts, the quarantine of pets is worthwhile, as it allows scientists to learn more about a disease we know relatively little about – how it acts and relates to pets.
The COVID-19 outbreak did have some hard consequences on pets and pet owners. In the Chinese city of Wuhan, the center of the epidemic, pets have been trapped alone in apartments while their owners were stuck outside the city. Organizations, such as the Small Animal Protection Association and Furry Angels Haven, operating in the city, have reported rescuing hundreds of abandoned pets since the lockdown was enacted about a month ago.
An animal charity in Hong Kong expressed concern over the “tremendous amount of panic” the publication of the tested dog has caused. Cat and dog owners are anxious about their pets being forcibly quarantined, and there is a risk of dog owners being unfairly stigmatized. In extreme cases, panic could even lead people to kill or abandon their pets.
In order to avoid such unpleasant situations, there are certain measures that can be taken to keep you and your pets as safe as possible during the outbreak.
Firstly, there is no benefit of face masks on pets. Some pet owners in mainland China have been fitting their dogs with tiny face masks, but it is of very little value and could cause distress for the dog, in the words of Hong Kong’s SPCA’s chief veterinary surgeon Jane Gray.
Instead, pet owners should just focus on good hygiene. Wash hands thoroughly with soap after touching a pet, and if you are especially concerned, you can occasionally wipe your dog’s paws after a walk outside. It’s important not to overdo it, as it can eventually dry out the dog’s paws.
Be prepared – It’s recommended that pet owners lay the grounds in case they are diagnosed with the virus and are not able to take care of their pets for a while. That includes:
• Identify a friend or a relative that can pet sit or take care of your pet during that time
• Make sure you have extra supplies like crates and food
• Research boarding facilities
• Make sure your pet’s vaccinations are up to date
• Make a list of the medication your pet requires, if any. Include dosages and instructions and double-check you have an extra week or two’s supply
• Make sure your pets are wearing an identification tag or are microchipped
If you have been diagnosed with a mild case of COVID-19 and are staying in the same space with your pet, the CDC instructs are as following:
• Wash your hands before touching or feeding your pet
• Do not sneeze or cough on your pet
• Avoid snuggling or kissing your pet
• Do not allow your pet to come in contact with other people or animals.
It is important to remember, these measures are cautionary. The best thing you can do for your own well-being and that of your pet is to remain calm and cautious.