Coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread rapidly around the world, and on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a global pandemic, issuing daily situation reports as this is a very fluid health crisis. WHO identified 90% of cases of human infection to be in China, South Korea, Italy and Iran.
The origin of this new Coronavirus strain has been identified as Wuhan city (China) and was thought to have made the jump from animals in a live-animal market to humans. The exact origin of COVID-19 is still not known for sure. What is known is that the illness is spread mainly through human-human transmission. Recently published research “yielded an estimate of 5.1 days for the median disease incubation period” and affirmed the current 14-day period of quarantine is appropriate (Lauer et al., 2020).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that the virus is easily spread “between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet)” and “through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes…It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” (CDC, 2020).
As a dog owner, I wonder whether my pets can become infected with COVID-19, or could spread it if I cough or sneeze on them, or pet them while my hands are contaminated. Others have been asking such questions too. According to Kerns (2020), the “type of coronavirus that typically infects dogs is not zoonotic; it doesn’t affect humans in any way.”
On February 28, 2020, a 17-year-old Pomeranian who had lived with a man that died of COVID-19 was tested by Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. Those samples tested “weak positive” and the dog was quarantined. A blood sample was drawn and that too tested “weak positive.”
I wonder if the dog was truly infected by his owner, or were the test results due to environmental contamination. Inanimate objects in the infected persons environment could also test “weak positive.”
According to Kerns (2020), when a person in Wuhan City is found to have COVID-19, all animals in the home are at risk of being killed. Surely, given what we currently know of the coronavirus, that is not necessary. I live in the United States, a nation with 330 million humans and about 80 million dogs, with as many, if not more, pet cats and other animals. Could they be at risk of actual infection, or even mass euthanasia as the pandemic spreads?
Seeking a more definitive answer I referred to Leung’s (2020) article that examined whether dogs can catch the virus. Referencing the quarantined Pomeranian, Leung says the following: “The real concern, animal welfare activists say, is that pet owners may panic and abandon – or even kill – their dogs and cats in response to the news.” According to Leung (2020), Wuhan officials are euthanizing animals found in the homes of infected people. Shedding more light on the case of the Pomeranian, Leung (2020) states that “David Hui, a respiratory medicine expert a the Chinese University of Hong Kong…says authorities should collect two rounds of blood samples to test for COVID-19 antibodies.”
According to reports, the first round of blood was taken when the dog went into quarantine, and the second should have been taken one week later, but that had not occurred. States Hui: “Only if there is evidence of the antibody in the blood, then we can confirm that it has been infected. If the specimen are only weakly positive, it could still be environmental contamination.” (qtd. in Leung, 2020). Adds Leung (2020): “Even if the dog has been infected, there is no evidence that it can be transmitted from dogs to humans – so experts stress that there is no need to panic.”
Indeed, with reference to pets, the CDC (2020) state that: “At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals including pets can spread COVID-19…You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a facemask.” Adds the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) (2020): “Currently there is limited evidence that companion animals can be infected with SARS-Cov-2 and no evidence that pet dogs or cats can be a source of infection to other animals or to humans.” Meanwhile, in a post titled COVID-19 and Planning for Your Pet: What pet owners need to know, Todd (2020) cites several additional valid sources of information regarding the virus and pets and offers suggestions for preparation.
The pandemic is already here, so now is the time to prepare as it runs its course in our local communities. Steps I have taken include stocking up on food supplies for humans and pets alike, including their medications. Self-quarantine is an option I am weighing each day as the situation evolves. If I need to travel somewhere in the community I will avoid human contact as much as possible, and keep latex gloves and alcohol wipes in my vehicle. Using a drive-through service rather than entering a business is another way to reduce exposure.
Most importantly, this is the time to rely upon direct and reliable sources of information, such as the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization. Listening to politicians and others (e.g. on social media) who may not always be completely informed will not help. Lives are at stake, so it is time to prepare, not panic.
Disclaimer: Information in this blog was accurate as of March 12, 2020, based upon the cited sources. For the most up-to-date information, consult the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control (see Resources).
On March 15 (2020) Dr. W. Jean Dodds, DVM posted “COVID-19 and Companion Pets” and summarized the latest statements from the American Veterinary Medical Association, the World Organisation for Animal Health and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association.
In summary, “The current spread of COVID-19 is a result of human to human transmission. To date, there is no evidence that companion animals can spread the disease. Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals which may compromise their welfare.”
The Pomeranian in Hong Kong which was suspected of infection has been tested further and it has been proven that the dog “was not showing and has not shown any clinical signs of the disease.”
Further, “There is no evidence that dogs play a role in the spread of this human disease or that they become sick.”
Photographs: © Daniel H. Antolec
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). COVID-19: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). COVID-19 and Animals: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.htm
Dodds, W. Jean (2020) COVID-19 and Companion Pets. Hemopet. https://www.hemopet.org/covid-19-and-companion-pets-march-15-2020/?utm_source=Clients&utm_campaign=bf06802482-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_03_16_03_14&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_2ab0e3771c-bf06802482-234810301&ct=t(EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_3_16_2020_10_23)
Kerns, N. (2020). Coronavirus, Your Dog and You. Whole Dog Journal: https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/blog/coronavirus-your-dog-and-you/
Lauer, S.A., Grantz, K.H., Bi, Q., Jones, F.K., Zheng, Q., Meredith, H.R., Azman, A.S., Reich, N.G., & Lessler, J. (2020). The Incubation Period of Coronavirus. Science Daily: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200310164744.htm
Leung, H. (2020). Can Dogs Get Coronavirus? One Pet Tested Positive But Experts Remain Skeptical. TIME: https://time.com/5796510/dog-coronavirus-animal-covid/
Todd, Z.(2020). COVID-19 and Planning for Your Pet – What pet owners need to know. Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fellow-creatures/202003/covid-19-and-planning-your-pet
World Health Organization. (2020). Situation Reports: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports/
World Small Animal Veterinary Association. (2020). The New Coronavirus and Companion Animals – Advice for WSAVA Members: https://wsava.org/news/highlighted-news/the-new-coronavirus-and-companion-animals-advice-for-wsava-members/