Joan Merriam: Coronavirus and your dog
First, a disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian, an epidemiologist or a virologist.
What I am is an inveterate reader and researcher, and not the least bit hesitant to ask for advice from professionals like these. All of which I’ve done for this article.
Many people are raising questions about interactions with their dogs in light of this coronavirus pandemic. Can my dog get the virus? Can I get the virus from my dog? Can I give the virus to my dog? How can I protect my dog from this virus?
And as many questions as people have, there are just as many answers — many of them uninformed or downright false.
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So, let me give you the facts from legitimate experts like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and IDEXX Small Animal Health laboratories (the main provider of diagnostic products and services to veterinary practices, including tests and laboratory systems).
Can my dog get COVID-19?
As of this writing, we simply don’t know for sure. A week ago, the answer would have been no — but the situation is extremely fluid, and new information comes out every day. Here’s what the AVMA says: “While (three companion animals) are reported to have been infected…infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations agree there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets spread COVID-19 to other animals, including people.” The CDC echoes this, saying it has “no evidence that companion animals can spread COVID-19.”
In addition, after testing thousands of samples from dogs and cats, data from IDEXX shows no cases of COVID-19.
But what about those dogs in China being infected?
The fact is, two dogs living with an infected human in Hong Kong tested “weak positive” for the COVID-19 virus. Experts presume that the owner may have shed virus onto the dogs’ fur, but that it never actually infected the animals. Sadly, after showing no symptoms, being tested as negative, and being released from quarantine, one dog, a 17-year-old Pomeranian, has died — but veterinary experts are unsure of its cause of death.
But I heard that dogs do carry coronavirus
There are many different types of coronavirus — in fact, one of them causes our old friend, the common cold! Although COVID-19 doesn’t seem to cause disease in pets, other coronaviruses do. For instance, the canine respiratory coronavirus contributes to canine infectious respiratory disease complex (also known as “kennel cough”), and canine enteric coronaviruses can cause intestinal infection leading to diarrhea, particularly in younger animals. So yes, dogs can become infected with coronaviruses, but at this time, we don’t believe they can carry COVID-19.
Can I get COVID-19 from my dog?
It’s highly, highly unlikely. Remember: there’s no evidence of active transmission from dogs to humans, in any of the countries where COVID-19 exists. If you’re concerned, just be sure to wash your hands before and after interacting with your dog, avoid being kissed or licked, and avoid sharing food with your dog.
What about cats?
I know this column is about dogs, but many dog-lovers also have cats. You may have read that cats can be infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and it appears that’s true. That being said, while cats can become infected and spread it to other cats, that data is based on lab experiments in which only three cats were deliberately infected with extremely high doses of the virus — much higher than are found naturally — and placed in cages next to uninfected cats. None of the infected cats showed symptoms of illness, and only one of the three exposed cats caught the virus.
So where does that leave us?
For now, healthy pet owners in the U.S. don’t need to do anything other than follow basic hygienic precautions such as washing their hands with soap and water before and after contact with any animal, including dogs and cats. If you test positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to it, experts recommend that you restrict contact with your animals: not only do you want to avoid exposing the dog to the virus, you also want to prevent them from exposing others to the virus that may be on their skin or fur.
One other thing to take away from all of this is that the facts about COVID-19 are as changeable as the weather has been this winter. What we can be sure of is that our companion animals are important members of our family, maybe even more so in these days of such social isolation. They rely on us to keep them safe, to protect them, and to care for them just as we’ve always done.
Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Joey, her Maine Coon cat Indy, and the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.
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