COVID-19 is here. Is my pet at risk ?

By March 7, 2020 March 26th, 2020 Pet Health

Can my pet be infected with COVID-19 ?

The coronavirus known as SARS CoV-2 – and the illness it causes, COVID-19 – is pulling off new tricks and continues to spread worldwide. There is much we still don’t know about this contagion – how it came to be, how to stop it and it’s long-term affects on human and animal populations.

Scary times, to be sure.

The most vulnerable appear to be people with compromised immune systems and the elderly, although anybody – including animals – can carry this virus. In some cases, many would not even know they have it.

Although most countries have protocols in place to help ease the spread, there is presently no vaccine available to halt a potential pandemic in its tracks. We say ‘potential’ pandemic because the World Health Organization (WHO) has not declared one…yet.

That’s the bad news.

The good news – in Canada, at least – is that we’re receiving the latest information on how to combat this virus on a daily basis.

Here’s what we know so far.

What is SARS CoV-2 ?

SARS CoV-2 is a new coronavirus strain that was first identified in Hubei Province, China and has been steadily spreading across the planet since December 2019. Patients who came down with disease all had connections to the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan China.

It is believed that it was passed from animals (likely bats) to humans though markets selling live fish, meat and wild animals. These are known in the region as “wet” markets and are common in many parts of Asia.

How does COVID-19 spread and what are the symptoms ?

COVID-19 is largely spread through respiratory droplets. To become infected, individuals generally must be in close proximity (within six feet) of someone who is contagious and has come into contact with these droplets, either through sneezing or spitting.

It is also known that someone can contract COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own face. However, this is not thought to be the principal mechanism causing the spread of the virus.

Signs of COVID-19 can appear within two to 14 days after contact and include fever, cough, runny nose and respiratory problems. It is also possible that some people can carry the virus and not experience any symptoms. Yikes.

Now that we’ve completed a short primer on this coronavirus, how might this affect our pets?

Have any companion animals been infected by Covid-19?

Recent news that a dog tested positive for COVID-19 in Hong Kong has caused concern among pet owners all over the world. 

The dog – reportedly a Pomeranian – was repeatedly tested over a number of days and follow up tests revealed that it had tested “weak positive” after it’s owner had previously tested positive for the virus.

International disease specialists at the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) determined the dog has some degree of Covid-19 infection, likely caused by human-to-animal transmission. It was concluded that the pet had contracted the virus from its affected owner.

Can Covid-19 be transmitted from humans to pets?

The short answer is ‘yes’. The finding above makes it pretty clear that the infected dog – albeit at a low level – was a case of human-to-animal transmission.

Experts at the University of Hong Kong and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) support this conclusion.

The good news is…

They don’t suspect the virus can cause severe illness in dogs, or that dogs are spreading the virus back to humans. Also, the dog has remained healthy. What isn’t known is whether this virus can generally cause sickness in dogs, or just not in this particular dog.

People, as with animals, can be infected with SARS CoV-2 without getting ill or showing symptoms. It’s still too soon to imply what this “weak positive” result means in the wider canine picture.

As a pet parent, are there any precautions I should take?

At this stage, there are no specific precautions pet owners can take, regardless of the pictures in the news from China of pets in face masks. Only in the unfortunate event that you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and have a pet or other animals, it is recommended (until more is known) that:

  • Avoid close contact with your pet – do not cuddle or kiss them, do not let them lick your face, sit on your lap or sleep in your bed.
  • Sounds obvious, but avoid coughing and sneezing on your pet. Not a good practice in the best of times…
  • Wash your hands before touching or feeding your pet or other animals.
  • Limit your pet’s contact with other people and animals.

If you haven’t been diagnosed, snuggle with your pets. Take them for walks. Don’t change their routine. Animals can have a very comforting effect on their owners, especially in times of uncertainty. And remember, when you’re calm, your pet is calm and better off for it.

Also, wash your hands. Often.

Can I get this virus from other pets when travelling to other countries?

It’s certainly possible.

Although the outbreak of COVID-19 is largely spread from person to person, experts agree that the virus likely originated from bats and passed through an intermediary animal source in China before being transmitted to humans.

Because the virus that causes COVID-19 originated in animals, the Government of Canada recommends “travellers, and especially those who travel to an affected country or region, avoid contact with animals and animal products, including wild meat and wet markets.”

Sounds like good advice.

If you are considering travel or already booked a vacation, be sure to check your travel insurance coverage and the latest health notices for the region you plan to visit. It is vital that you receive the most up-to-date advice prior to traveling.

Travel Advisories from the Government of Canada

 

Additional Resources and Latest Updates on COVID-19

For the Veterinary Profession and Pet Lovers: Worms and Germs blog by Drs. Scott Weese and Maureen Anderson

Government of Canada – COVID-19 FAQ

Government Of Ontario – COVID-19 Latest from Public Health

The World Health Organization

 

 

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