Can dogs or cats get or transmit the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)?
If you have been sent into an online media panic spiral from the current coverage of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), you may find yourself wondering whether the virus could harm your pets, and if they could potentially pass it along to you or others.
Currently there is no evidence that the virus causing COVID-19 can be transmitted from companion animals, such as dogs and cats, to humans.
I'm no infectious disease expert, but I have summarised here the latest advice and findings from reputable sources to help keep all concerned pet parents concerned and up to date. All information is up to date as of the time of writing. Check with your doctor for the most up to date advice relevant to your location.
There have been some reports of dogs and cats testing positive for COVID-19
You may have read some reports in the media in the past few weeks concerning dogs and cats of COVID-19 patients which have tested positive for the virus, as well as a tiger in a New York Zoo. There is also emerging scientific evidence that appears to suggest cats and ferrets can be infected with the virus and possibly pass it to other animals.
While these reports are concerning, it's important for pet parents to remember that cases of human to pet transmission are exceedingly rare and have only ocurred in animals who were in close contact with an infected human and in most, if not all, reported cases the pets have made a full recovery or never showed symptoms.
Pet owners who test positive for COVID-19, or suspect they may be infected should follow similar hygiene precautions with their pets as they should with other people - minimise direct contact and have other unaffected household members feed and care for your pet if possible. Ask your doctor and refer to the United States Centre for Disease Control's factsheet for more detailed advice about caring for household pets if you are a COVID-19 patient.
Can I catch COVID-19 from patting a dog's fur? While it is possible to contract COVID-19 by touching a surface contaminated with the virus, this mode of transmission appears to be more likely from a smooth surface (eg. plastic, steel) than a porous surface (pet hair, paper). For this reason it's very unlikely that you could pick up the virus from patting your pet. Bearing this in mind, as part of good hygiene measures it's advisable to wash your hands well after patting or playing with your pet.
If you are self isolating due to potential COVID-19 exposure, ideally see if another person can take your pet and care for them during the duration. If this is not possible or you are experiencing a lockdown situation, take steps to ensure your pet will still have daily access to essential needs including food, water, shelter, exercise and social interaction.
At times like these when anxiety, loneliness and boredom are more prevalent, the proven positive effect pet ownership can have on our mental health is more important than ever.
What do I need?
Aim to have at least 2 weeks of food, cat litter and treats on hand as well as plenty of toys to stave off boredom. If your pet is on a special veterinary or prescription diet or is on regular medication make sure you have at least a few week's supply on hand as there could be delays in supply.
As Australia's largest online only pet store, Pet Circle are experienced in providing safe, efficient and contactless delivery and are working hard during this disruptive period to ensure pet parents have access to all the pet food and supplies they need.
At this stage, cats who are normally allowed access outdoors can be let out as usual. Try as much as possible to stick to the usual feeding routine for your cat, avoid feeding them in excess as this could quickly result in obesity (even if they take the opportunity of having you at home to beg incessantly!). For indoor cats, you may find it useful to work regular play sessions into your daily routine, try a range of toys including teasers, interactive toys and chase toys.
Although you cannot walk your dog beyond the garden fence, it's important to dedicate time to play and activity in place of your daily walk routine. For quiet times, make use of treat dispensing, interactive toys and KONGs filled with treats, dry food, wet food or a little peanut butter. When it comes to play time, get creative and set up a treasure hunt or teach them how to play hide and seek. Now is the ideal time to perfect that new trick! Just jump on YouTube if you are looking for inspiration or ideas.
Coronaviruses are nothing new and chances are, if you've had your fair share of common colds, you've already had at least one encounter them. The term 'coronavirus' refers to a whole family of viruses, in humans they tend to cause upper respiratory tract illness (like the common cold). Other animal species have their own coronaviruses, for instance a relatively common coronavirus affecting cats is Feline Infectious Peritonitis.
Coronaviruses are RNA viruses, which broadly put means they bind with certain cell receptors to gain entry, and once inside they 'trick' the cell into reading their RNA and replicating the virus. It is the body's immune response to this process which is primarily responsible for the symptoms of a coronavirus infection
Coronaviruses get their name from their appearance when viewed under an electron microscope. The proteins on the outside of the virus are arranged in a halo formation and look like a crown, for which 'corona' is the latin root.
The issue with COVID-19 is firstly, that it is a novel (new) corona virus, so none of us have established immunity against it. Secondly, this while most coronaviruses of humans appear to affect only the cells of the upper airways, this particular one also appears affect the cells of the lower airways and lungs, which means it can cause more serious breathing difficulties.
For more up to date information regarding COVID-19 including symptoms, prevention, control and more, please visit the World Health Organisation's website.