We know many pet owners have questions about whether the coronavirus affects their dogs and cats — and are also worried about the implications of veterinary clinics needing to change the way they provide care due to social distancing rules.
There's also a lot of new puppy owners left scratching their heads wondering how to socialize their puppies while social distancing.
I sat down (virtually, of course) with Paws & Play host, Mia, to talk about what pet owners need to know about coronavirus and their cats and dogs, including awareness around everyday hazards that are potentially even more dangerous now that everyone is home all the time. Listen to the podcast below and let us know what questions you have in the comments!
Can Dogs or Cats Get COVID-19?
IMPORTANT NOTE: There are still many (many) details to be learned about how this novel coronavirus can affect cats, dogs, and other animals and, like everything else about this global pandemic, this is a rapidly changing situation with new information learned every day (sometimes multiple times per day). We will do our best to keep the most up-to-date information for you here, but you are also encouraged to keep an eye on the list of reliable pet-related COVID-19 resources listed at the end of this blog post.
UPDATE (Apr. 6, 2020): Since this podcast was recorded on March 24, 2020 there have been a few more cases and studies of this novel coronavirus in cats and dogs (and also one in tigers and lions!).
There was a cat in Belgium that tested positive for this novel coronavirus. The cat lived with a woman who had herself tested positive for COVID-19. There was a (very) small study done in China to begin to evaluate whether or not cats, dogs, ferrets, and other animals could truly become infected with this COVID-19 virus and if they could then pass it along to other members of their same species (i.e., cats to cats, dogs to dog, etc.).
[It is important to note that not only was this study very small, but it was done under laboratory conditions which aren't exactly representative of "real world" (i.e., "in home") conditions, and the results of this study were released pre-publication and prior to "peer review." This last step, of pre-publication release of the results, isn't typically done, but was done because of the rapidly evolving nature and implications of this global pandemic.]
The results of this study showed that cats (and ferrets) can "catch" the COVID-19 causing virus and infected cats can pass it along to other cats. Ferrets could also "catch" it, and also pass it along to other ferrets.
Dogs, on the other hand, appeared to be far less susceptible to truly becoming infected with this novel coronavirus and they don't appear to be able to spread it to other dogs even when they do.
Most recently, there has been a group of lions and tigers at the Bronx Zoo that had been exhibiting respiratory signs and lethargy that required medical investigation. Since these cats were showing signs that were similar to COVID-19 in people, and since one of the Zoo handlers had recently tested positive for COVID-19 himself, one of the tigers was anesthetized and tested for this novel coronavirus. The result came back positive.
What does this all mean, what more do we now know? Taking all of these new cases and studies together, here's what we can suspect most strongly at this point (as well as what it now means and what you can/should do):
- Cats can become infected by COVID-19 causing novel coronavirus, and they can pass it from cat-to-cat when they do. The most likely way that cats in homes can become infected with the COVID-causing virus, is from infected people. (Note: There is no current evidence to suggest that infected cats can pass it along to people.)
Even more important than normal, it's best to keep all cats indoors (to prevent them from becoming infected by another cat or another person outside). If you are sick and either suspect you have, or are confirmed to have COVID-19, it's best that you isolate your cats away from you and have someone else in your home feed and otherwise take care of your cats, if possible.
Wash your hands before petting your cats and cover your coughs/sneezes with your elbow or a tissue also whenever you're around your cats. If your cat develops signs that could be consistent with COVID-19 infection (e.g., decreased energy, decreased appetite, difficulty breathing, coughing (which, in cats, looks more like trying to hack up a hairball, but nothing comes up), call your veterinarian or your nearest veterinary ER for instructions on what to do. It could be COVID-19 infection.
- Dogs do not appear to be very susceptible to becoming truly infected with the COVID-19 virus. The virus may attach to some of their cells, but doesn't appear to be readily able to actually gain access to those cells to begin their reproduction and cause true infection.
If you are sick and either suspect you have, or are confirmed to have COVID-19, it's probably still best to take the precaution of keeping your distance from your dogs and, if possible, have someone else in your home feed, walk, and otherwise take care of them.
Wash your hands before petting your dogs and cover your coughs/sneezes with your elbow or a tissue also whenever you're around your dogs. If your dog develops signs that could be consistent with COVID-19 infection (e.g., decreased energy, decreased appetite, difficulty breathing, coughing), call your veterinarian or your nearest veterinary ER for instructions on what to do.
It's not likely to be COVID-19, but those are concerning signs anyway and could be an indication of a range of conditions, some of which could be very severe in their own right (e.g., heart failure, canine influenza ("dog flu"), pneumonia, and others).
Can Pets Spread Coronavirus on Their Fur?
There's a thing called fomites, which is basically any inanimate surface. Dog and cat fur and skin can potentially be a fomite. There was a study that shows this novel coronavirus can live on different surfaces.
The thing that we can take some cautious optimism in is that dog and cat fur is more of a porous surface. It's more likely that because it's porous and it's fibrous that the virus can't exist and live and remain viable and infectious on a pet's fur for very long.
Now, how long 'for very long' is? We don't know. So we take precautions — wash your hands! Whether it's after touching your dog or before touching them, just wash your hands and that will be huge.
So do we have to worry about getting it from your cat or dog's fur? It depends. We could. It's probably a relatively low risk.
But if you're already in a high-risk group, take more precautions. If you are elderly or otherwise at risk of getting this novel coronavirus, consider not touching your pets or be very careful to wash your hands afterwards.
I would suggest that people play it really safe. Don't rub your face on your dog and cat's coat and don't let them lick your face because why take that risk?
Now, that's easier said than done. All of this is about doing what you can. What's practical and what's possible. Everything is about mitigation.
How Is Veterinary Care Impacted by Coronavirus?
Veterinary practices and veterinary services have been deemed essential, which is very important. There is routine care and other emergencies, like diabetic pets or cats that are getting urethral obstruction. We still have puppies and kittens that need to complete their vaccination series so we don't wind up with a rash of parvo or distemper on the other side of this.
We need to make sure that we keep veterinary teams and pet owners as healthy and safe as possible. This is why many practices are moving things to curb-side drop-off and not letting people in the practice and doing all the disinfecting procedures.
We're all trying to flatten the curve, so practices have been asked to scale back and put off routine procedures like dentals. A routine spay or neuter or dental cleaning, if it can be put off another two months when hopefully we can get back to these things, great.
What this is allowing us to do as a veterinary profession is not use as many disinfectants, it's not going through the gloves, masks, gowns, the surgical drapes and all these things as quickly. Things that our human medical counterparts need, and our paramedics and fire departments need as first line defenders.
We don't want to burn through those things just to do an anal gland expression that isn't a concern. Right now is not the time to do those things. The more gloves, masks, gowns, drapes, disinfectant and surgical supplies we can conserve on the veterinary side, the less likely the human side will experience backorders, and that is literally a matter of life and death.
That's why things are changing at veterinary practices right now. Fortunately, veterinary telemedicine was starting to accelerate anyway. More and more veterinary practices are trying their hand with telemedicine.
For some of those routine things, that can be done and that can save people from having to go out of the house and increase their risk.
We're a social species, and so that helps and it also helps us get the care we need for ourselves and for our pets.
Connecting with our Pets While Social Distancing
In this time of social distancing, having our pets around is magic. This is such an amazing time for us to potentially slow down a bit because we sort of have to. Maybe work on things like training and playing with our cats and dogs more and feeding them from interactive toys, or teaching them a new trick.
Why not get some fresh air and take your pup on a "sniffari"?
This does several things. One it keeps our pets entertained and keeps their stress down, it can help them lose weight. It can keep us off the couch and away from Netflix, and hopefully from putting on the 'Covid 19' pounds. It's fun, it's something different.
And at the end of all of this, when hopefully the world returns to whatever normal will be, maybe we'll have cats and dogs that are better behaved and better adapted to our world and our homes. That could be a silver lining in all of this.
Increased Risks for Pets During Quarantine
Many people are trying to stay active and entertained while social distancing. With kids at home, things like arts and crafts and other hazards are more accessible. Read more about how to prevent common pet emergencies during quarantine in this article.
These hazards always exist, whether it be making homemade play-dough or sewing and knitting. Thread and yard are very common linear foreign bodies in cats, so making sure to clean things up — and don't forget the needles that are attached to those!
A lot more people are probably baking. If you're using xylitol, that is deadly for dogs even in very small amounts. We're also typically baking with chocolate, so be really careful there, especially with kids in the house.
We're also hopefully cleaning our homes more regularly and disinfecting. Some people might be inclined to save a step and mix this bleach and ammonia product or two different cleaning products. Some of those combinations can be dangerous and deadly, not just for pets but also people. Follow labels closely.
You might think to open the window to let some fresh air in, if you've got a cat be extremely careful. Make sure to have a sturdy window screen because we don't want a cat to suffer from high-rise syndrome.
Now is a great time to teach your kids how to cut snack bags to prevent pet suffocation.
If you're anything like my household you're snacking and eating more. In order to prevent pet suffocation it is incredibly important to make sure to not leave these snack bags around your home. It is also important that when you're finished with the bag, you cut them along the bottom and side to make them a flat sheet.
Be aware. Take extra precautions to be safe and avoid problems so you can focus on the fun silver linings of corona quarantine.
To help keep you informed, here are some trusted resources to check out:
- The Worms and Germs Blog
- World Organisation for Animal Health
- American Veterinary Medical Association
- University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine
Related Articles:Getting and Raising a Puppy During COVID-19
Socializing Your Puppy While Social Distancing
How to Prevent Common Pet Emergencies During Quarantine
Working From Home: How to Help Your Dog Stay Busy (and Quiet)
10 Boredom Busters for Your Dog
Feline Urethral Obstruction: Be Aware
Cat Stress: The Signs to Look Out For