The simple answer is no. It’s understandable that many of us are feeling concerned about the possibility of contracting COVID -19, but to turn our attention towards dogs and cats would be entirely misguided.
Pets are great companions and they shouldn’t pay the price of our fear by being abandoned or cruelly mistreated. We’re urging people to continue to protect their pets by trying to avoid crowded places for dog walks and keeping their time outdoors to a minimum where possible until we know more about the transmission of the coronavirus.
Just last month, heartbreaking images of pet dogs and cats emerged from China’s Hubei Province - their eyes glazed over, their bodies lying lifeless on the pavements, some surrounded by a pool of their own blood. The fear of catching the virus had terrified their owners, believing their pets could be carriers - they were thrown from the windows of the high-rise tower blocks. People’s fears were leading to cruel and unnecessary loss of life.
While not common, some authorities have reported pets being killed (either by force or humanely euthanized) or abandoned as a precaution. Thankfully, this doesn’t appear to be the common response, and most people realize this is a completely unnecessary reaction to the coronavirus rumor mill.
COVID-19 is frequently being compared to the SARS outbreak of 2003 as it bears striking similarities. Just like with SARS, there were also fears that pets could spread the disease. By the end of the epidemic, just eight cats and a dog tested positive for the virus, but no animal was ever found to transmit the disease to humans.
Recently, the world turned its attention to Hong Kong, where an elderly, 17-year-old Pomeranian dog has tested ‘weak positive’ for coronavirus. A dog of this age might typically be quite vulnerable to infections, yet it is still showing no signs of disease relating to COVID-19. Experts will be monitoring the dog and will be repeating the test in the coming days, although more tests need to be done.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) announced the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in two pet cats. These are the first pets in the United States to test positive for COVID-19.
The cats live in two separate areas of New York state. Both had mild respiratory illness and are expected to make a full recovery. COVID-19 infections have been reported in very few animals worldwide, mostly in those that had close contact with a person with COVID-19.
It’s still early days, and experts are unsure how the disease interacts with companion animals. There have been questions on whether the dog in Hong Kong has actually contracted the disease, or just that the virus is being harbored in its body. After all, the dog was in close proximity to its owner, who does have the disease. For a dog to contract coronavirus, the disease will have had to mutate to enable it to latch on to dog cells. Right now, we don’t know for sure if this is the case, so this example tells us very little.
In the NY cases announced this week, a veterinarian tested the first cat after it showed mild respiratory signs. No individuals in the household were confirmed to be ill with COVID-19. The virus may have been transmitted to this cat by mildly ill or asymptomatic household members or through contact with an infected person outside its home.
Samples from the second cat were taken after it showed signs of respiratory illness. The owner of the cat tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the cat showing signs. Another cat in the household has shown no signs of illness.
It’s also important to consider that the genes of dogs and cats are very different from the genes of humans. While it looks as though the coronavirus might have originated in a bat, it’s a mystery how the virus jumped from bats to humans, and if there was another animal in the middle, bridging this gap.
Until more information about COVID-19 and pets is learned, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:
Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals.
Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.
Pets are great companions and they shouldn’t pay the price of our fear by being abandoned or cruelly mistreated. We’re urging people to continue to protect their pets by trying to avoid crowded places for dog walks and keeping their time outdoors to a minimum where possible until we know more about the transmission of the coronavirus. Cats should be kept indoors at all times. This should also serve as an important reminder to be a responsible pet owner by microchipping, vaccinating and neutering your animals. For pets belonging to a household with COVID-19 infections, we recommend pets are also placed in quarantined facilities where possible or kept isolated from other animals at least.
Our message is clear – we need to look after our animals and not panic. There is no evidence showing that pets can be the source of infection of coronavirus. All around the world, dogs, and cats improve and add value to our lives. Pet ownership has been shown to lower blood pressure, particularly during stressful times. They keep us company, protect homes and livestock, and can learn to do extraordinary tasks – so let’s make sure we keep them, and ourselves, protected.
World Animal Protection is a U.S. registered charity EIN #04-2718182
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