Experts say there’s little danger of pets contracting COVID-19, but be mindful anyway

The small number of pets testing positive for the novel coronavirus has set a good number of us with furry roommates to wondering if we should worry? The short answer is, no. The postscript is: keep an eye open.

Last month, in Hong Kong, two dogs tested positive for COVID-19. At the beginning of April, a tiger in the Bronx Zoo was the first animal in the United States to be confirmed to have the disease. About a week later, two cats in two separate homes in New York State became the first house pets in the U.S. to test positive, and several news outlets reported that a pug in North Carolina contracted it, though the dog hasn’t yet been recorded as a confirmed case by the Center for Disease Control or the World Organization for Animal Health.

In all of the cases, one or more family members or a zoo caretaker had the virus, and the transmission in all cases appears to be human-to-animal not vice versa. All the animals have recovered except for the first dog diagnosed in Hong Kong; he died shortly after, but he was 17 years old and had a few underlying conditions. Whether the virus caused his death is unknown as the owner refused an autopsy.

As of this writing, there are 1,031,659 reported cases of humans contracting COVID-19 in the U.S. while only four cases of animals, as reported by the World Organization for Animal Health.

“CDC is aware of a small number of pets, including cats and dogs, reported to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after contact with people with COVID-19,” said CDC spokesperson Katharina Grusich, “In the United States alone, there are 94 million pet cats and 90 million pet dogs. We are still learning about this virus, but it appears that it can spread from people to animals in some situations.”

Keep one eye open

Grusich’s comment about scientists and the rest of the world still learning about the virus reminds us to not panic but to remain watchful. The World Organization for Animal Health describes COVID-19 as an emerging disease—we really don’t know what we don’t know about it.

The CDC states that the chance of a human contracting COVID-19 from an animal is extremely low, and there are few cases of it, but there are symptoms that you can watch for. They include:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Lethargy
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite

Of course, if they exhibit any of these symptoms over a couple of days, make that phone call. It could be novel coronavirus but more likely some feline flu or canine catarrh, which could be even more serious.

“If your pet is showing any of these signs, bring your pet to the veterinarian,” said Dr. Greg Perrault, operator of Cats & Dogs Animal Hospital in Long Beach. “It’s most likely something other than COVID-19.”

Perrault added that there’s still a lot of testing that needs to be done concerning the disease but agreed that at this time, he and his colleagues don’t believe that COVID-19 poses any significant threat to pets.

Help keep the herd healthy

“There is no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of COVID-19, and the human outbreak is being driven by person-to-person contact,” wrote Malinda Larkin, the American Veterinary Medical Association’s senior news editor. “However, these health organizations do recommend, out of an abundance of caution, that people ill with the coronavirus limit contact with animals.”

Yes, there’s a lot we don’t know about the novel coronavirus, but there’s plenty that we’ve learned about it. One thing is the need to prevent its spread in both humans and animals. We’ll do our pets a huge favor by following these guidelines:

  • Don’t touch the random dog or cat, and don’t allow other people to touch yours. At the very least, there’s a possibility that the virus could travel on fur and deliver itself to another human.
  • Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people—one of the New York kitties was an outdoor cat. [Hey, keep your cats indoors no matter what’s outside, and that’s the point.]
  • Yes, go for a walk with your dog. It’s good for you both. But Long Beach law requires dogs to be leashed when outdoors, and common sense does, too. Maintain six-feet of distance from any species.
  • For now, avoid dog parks. Chances of contact increase when you have a bunch of off-leash dogs romping, smelling each other and jumping on random people.

Hopefully, you’ll avoid the virus. But if you’re sick now, and to be on the safe side if you’re not, a few more guidelines:

  • It’s going to be painful to your soul, but no cuddling, rubbing noses, kissing or sharing the bed or food from your dish.
  • If possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you’re sick. Please don’t invite anyone in to do it.
  • If you’re going to be your roommates’ sole caregiver, wear your mask—gloves, too, are helpful.
  • Wash up before and after interacting with your pet.
  • Make sure now that your animals have food, meds and all their immunizations for at least two weeks in case you get sick or there’s a disruption of medical-supply delivery for anything they might require.

As for face masks for pets—you can order them, of course. Makers are savvy to trends. Masks can’t hurt, and they might help. (Besides, they look awful cute. Huh, Senua?)

Check the CDC COVID-19 page for more information about pets during the pandemic.

Stay current with the latest COVID-19 developments on the Long Beach Post’s live blog.

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Kate Karp is the Pets Columnist for the Long Beach Post covering the world of animal activism, pet adoptions and lots of cute cats. She’s called Long Beach home since 1994 and has written for the Post for about 10 years. Kate’s day job is as a copyeditor, which she discovered a love for during her 30-year tenure as a teacher. She describes the job as “like taking the rough edges off a beautiful sculpture.”