Bathing Our Furry Friends Can Reduce COVID-19 Transmission

The rapid and dynamic spread of COVID-19 necessitates that we all make changes to our lifestyles, including important measures such as social distancing, increased hygiene, and maintaining a sanitized environment.

Pet owners may need to take additional precautions, because, while there is currently no evidence that pets can contract COVID-19, a pet’s body, like any other frequently touched surface, may carry particles of the virus if touched by infected individuals.

Kitty wrapped in towelDr. Deb Zoran, a professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), informs pet owners of what steps they should be taking to protect themselves and their homes from the virus.

Just as healthy members of a household should avoid contact with anyone who may be infected, pets should also be kept away from sick or quarantined individuals.

“Everyone with pets should plan ahead and be prepared to separate from your pets when you separate from your family if you have someone become ill,” she said.

A sick person who lives with or pets an animal may “shed” the virus onto their pet, who could then infect a healthy individual who pets them; this includes all animals with fur, from dogs and cats to “pocket pets” like ferrets, hamsters, and guinea pigs.

“If a pet is living in close quarters with, sleeping with, or frequently touched by a sick person and that sick person has to go to the hospital, that pet is going to need to have a decontamination bath or have its coat wiped down with a moist towel or paper towel before that pet can stay with somebody else,” Zoran said.

Zoran also emphasizes that the risk of contracting the disease from a pet by any other means is almost non-existent based on all of the scientific evidence and the testing of pets that has occurred to date.

“If we just separate the animal as soon as the person feels unwell, has a fever, or is diagnosed with COVID-19, then these bathing precautions or concerns for being a carrier would not be needed,” she said.

It also is important to remember that any animal that comes in contact with an infected person can be cleaned to ensure that the animal is not carrying COVID-19 in their fur, according to Zoran.

“The bath process for pets should be gentle and without spraying them aggressively so as to prevent the material spraying into your face,” Zoran said. “When bathing your dog, simply get their coat wet all over and use enough soap to lather.  The soap will breakup and loosen the oils on the skin and haircoat, which is where the virus sits, and then, with gentle water, washing to remove all of the soap lather will remove anything that is attached on the coat, including the virus.”

Zoran recommends that owners use dish soap but pet shampoo or even baby shampoo, if you don’t have a specific shampoo for dogs, will work when cleaning animals for this purpose.

Dog being bathedIn addition, to avoid the splash back of soap or water onto the person bathing the pet, owners should take care to use low water pressure and wear protective clothing.

“Cover up your face with a bandana, for example. Wear goggles, glasses, or other shielding for your face. Bathe the animal slowly to prevent them from struggling, use low pressure or low volumes of water to prevent splashing,” Zoran said. “Once the bath is completed, dry the pet and remove it from the area into a kennel or other clean area.

“Then, remove the clothes you are wearing, launder these, and if you got any wash water on you during the process, take a shower or wash hands/arms or other exposed areas with soap and water,” she said.

If you have access to waterproof clothing, such as a rain suit, poncho, or even a homemade trash bag rain jacket, Zoran recommends wearing that as a barrier against the bath water.

Animals should be bathed in areas that are easily cleaned (bathtub or deep sink)—and following the bath the area should be sanitized with standard cleaning products.

If picking up a pet from a sick relative, Zoran recommends bathing the animal before traveling with the pet, if possible, or keeping the animal in a pet carrier until the pet can be bathed at the new location.  Once the pet arrives, the pet carrier can be sanitized with standard cleaning products.

Owners of pets that are resistant to baths—such as cats, hamsters, or ferrets—may want to take their animal to a veterinarian so they can be sedated before being bathed. This avoids putting unnecessary stress on the animal and reduces the risk of dirty water splashing the owner or bites/scratches that can occur during the process.

“The other alternative, when a veterinarian or a bath is not an option, is to use a wetted towel to wipe down the cat from head to tail and then top to bottom,” Zoran said. “Soap can be added to the wipe, but it must completely removed, as the cat will groom themselves and consume the soap.

“With COVID-19 and pets, it’s important to plan ahead if at all possible. But if a pet is living with a sick person, the pet can be safely cleaned will not be dangerous to other family members,” Zoran said. “People do not need to be fearful of their pets getting the virus or making other people sick, but their pets could carry it around on their fur, which means their fur is just like the surfaces in a house (doorknobs, keyboards, phones, etc.) that can be a source of virus exposure.  The biggest difference is we can’t use sanitizing wipes or hand sanitizer on fur.”

Though pet owners should be cognizant of with whom their pet has recently interacted, there is no reason to believe it is unsafe to keep their pet in their homes or to take them for walks or other activities that you can do while maintaining social distancing.

During this difficult time, pets will continue to serve as hopeful companions that see us through to healthier times.

“Pets are so important to family, and they’re so much a part of people’s peace of mind,” Zoran said. “Have a plan in case somebody gets sick, so you know that you can take care of that pet, and you don’t have to worry about it.”

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 editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

When to be Concerned about Coronavirus with Your Pet

The 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak has been at the front of many health professionals’ minds, especially with the World Health Organization’s recent declaration of the virus as a public health emergency of international concern.

a black cat lays next to a brown spanielAlthough the threat of the mutated 2019-nCoV strain should be taken seriously, veterinarians at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) discuss how this dangerous variant of coronavirus is different from strains that may infect your pet dog or cat.

Coronaviruses are fairly common and often mild infections in cats and dogs, contributing to illnesses such as Infectious Tracheobronchitis Complex (ITB), also known as kennel cough.

While there are also forms of coronavirus that can be more serious, and even life-threatening, for pets, Dr. Deb Zoran, a professor at the CVM, emphasizes that “the coronaviruses that infect animals do not infect humans unless the virus mutates—which is what 2019-nCoV did in the Wuhan, China region.”

However, Dr. Kate Creevy, an associate professor at the CVM, assures pet owners that “at this time, we do not believe humans can catch (any form of) coronavirus from their pet.”

In addition, veterinarians do not currently believe that pets are susceptible to the 2019-nCoV mutated virus.

“There is no evidence that the disease can be transmitted to animals, or that animals are involved in current transmission of the disease to humans,” said Dr. Wesley Bissett, director for the CVM’s Veterinary Emergency Team. “The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention does recommend avoiding animals if traveling to China and to not handle pets or animals while sick.”

Since the more commonly encountered coronaviruses are species-specific, cats ill with a coronavirus are able to transmit that virus to other cats, but not to dogs. Similarly, dogs are able to pass canine coronavirus to other dogs, but not to cats.

For this reason, Zoran says it is best practice for owners introducing a new pet into their household to separate the new animal from their other pets until the new animal can be examined by a veterinarian, or until the owner is sure their new pet doesn’t have signs of ill health (which may be a week or more).

Cats infected with coronavirus may exhibit mild diarrhea, fevers, jaundice, fluid acclimation in the chest or abdomen, and weight loss, depending on which strain of the virus is present.

Dogs infected with a coronavirus may have either an intestinal or respiratory variant, Creevy says. Canine intestinal coronaviruses typically cause mild diarrhea and may resolve without veterinary intervention.

“Dogs infected with respiratory coronavirus alone, or with other ITB complex pathogens, typically show mild nasal discharge and coughing,” Creevy said. “In most cases, they will recover on their own with supportive care including rest, steam therapy to soothe their cough, and soft food that’s easier to swallow with a sore throat.”

As with all viral infections, there are antiviral drugs that can help slow the virus effects in the body, but clearing the infection requires the infected individual’s immune system to do the work.

Dog owners can protect their pet from disease by practicing good hygiene for their pets and themselves, including avoiding contact with areas that have feces from other dogs, and washing their hands after contact with dog feces. Pet dogs should be well-nourished, receiving the correct anti-parasite medications, and vaccinated against preventable infections.

“For cats, since there are no effective vaccines for either coronavirus, the best prevention is good health and hygiene practices, and especially litterbox cleanliness, as the virus is present in feces,” Zoran said. “Owners should clean their cat’s litterboxes daily and make sure they have enough litterboxes, at least one per cat to avoid over-crowding.”

When possible, owners should keep their pets away from other animals that are sick and should seek veterinary care if their illness does not resolve, worsens, or if they have concerns about their pet’s well-being.

Humans coming into contact with pets should take care to wash their hands, and avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency also recommends avoiding contact with other people who are sick and staying home if you feel unwell. For more information, visit the CDC website.

By keeping with their usual practice of good hygiene and staying up to date on official information surrounding outbreaks such as this one, pet owners have little to worry about in the case of the novel 2019-nCoV coronavirus strain behind the Wuhan outbreak.

“Dealing with emerging viruses is always difficult, because when a new virus emerges, we cannot predict its behavior,” Creevy said. “For instance, more Americans are currently infected with the flu and more Americans are at risk of death from flu than from 2019-nCoV.  But 2019-nCoV is capturing all the news attention because it is more unpredictable. It’s appropriate to pay attention to 2019-nCoV while we try to figure out what it does, but it’s also essential to keep preventing flu, which is far more likely to affect most Americans.

“Similarly, for pets, there is a possibility that 2019-nCoV has mutated in a way that it could affect pets, but that is unlikely,” she said. “It’s OK to be aware of that and pay attention to emerging news, but it’s even more important for owners to understand the things that we already know coronavirus can and does do.”

“The first, and most important, thing to remember is that most coronaviruses are very specific to the species they infect—meaning the cat coronaviruses don’t infect dogs or humans and vice versa,” Zoran said. “As with all viruses, a clean environment, healthy diet, and good husbandry is the best way to ensure that viruses don’t cause problems for you or your pet.”

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 editor@cvm.tamu.edu.