Although only a small number of companion animals have tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, pet owners may experience anxiety about the best way to care for their pet amidst a pandemic when stories about confirmed cases in pets begin appearing closer to home, such as those recently reported by the United States Department of Agriculture in Texas, California, South Carolina, and Georgia.
Dr. Deb Zoran, a professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that pet owners can maintain a high standard of care for their pet but should be sure to do so while following the appropriate Centers for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines.
Owners concerned about taking their canine companions on walks or to the dog park should not avoid these activities, provided pet parents practice proper social distancing and follow mask guidelines for themselves.
“To date, there is no evidence that dog-to-dog or dog-to-person transmission of the virus is a likely mechanism for SARS-CoV-2 spread, especially in the outdoor environment, where aerosolization of respiratory droplets (the primary means of coronavirus transmission) must occur repeatedly and in a place where the aerosol is not dispersed by moving air or by the dogs moving around,” Zoran said.
Zoran says that the key is for humans to exercise the proper precautions during these activities, as the few pets that have been infected likely have been infected by their owners.
“Dogs playing together at a dog park are much more likely to share or get infected with more common canine respiratory infections, such as Bordetella, or kennel cough, and canine flu,” she said.
Also key is that if an individual within your household develops COVID-19, they should be separated from other humans as well as from pets to prevent infecting them. Pets in close contact with infected individuals have been known to test positive for SARS-CoV-2.
“To date, no specific signs of SARS-CoV-2 infection have been described in clinical studies of dogs or cats with COVID-19, since it is uncommon,” Zoran said. “But, if a pet living in a household with a COVID-positive person develops a fever, respiratory signs (sneezing, coughing, runny eyes, nasal discharge) or gastrointestinal upset (vomiting or diarrhea), then the pet should be considered to be possibly infected with the virus, too. In this case, the pet should be taken to their veterinarian, preferably by a well person or pet sitter living outside of the household.”
Owners also should prepare for the well-being of their dog in the event that they themselves are infected. Zoran recommends finding a trusted individual to care for your furry friend while you isolate to protect your pet from infection.
“If a person with COVID-19 requires hospital care and has a pet living with them, and there is no one else living in the house to take care of the pet, the pet will have to live in a temporary shelter or veterinary hospital and be quarantined for 14 days,” Zoran said. “Thus, it is highly advisable that you make plans ahead of time for care of your animals in the event that you or members of your family get sick.”
Although caution is paramount in such uncertain times, owners who remain informed and follow appropriate guidelines should feel confident in their ability to continue providing a healthy, full life for their dog.
“At this time, even with newer cases, the role of pets in the transmission of COVID-19 appears to be a very low likelihood,” Zoran said. “The key is to think about your pet’s care and do your best to avoid contact with your pets if you become ill to reduce the likelihood that they will get infected.”
Pet owners wishing to stay informed on how to keep their animal and human family safe should consult reputable sources, such as the American Veterinary Medical Association’s COVID-19 resources or the CDC’s current guidelines.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.