Worried About Your Dog Or Cat And Coronavirus? Here's What To Know

No, your pet is not likely to catch the virus, but there are precautions you should be taking, vets say.

If you’re a pet owner, working from home in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic means you’re spending a lot of extra time with your furry friend.

That’s great news overall (has your pupper ever gotten this much attention?), but it also might heighten your worries about how the coronavirus could affect your pet: If you think you have it, could you pass it onto your dog or cat? Have any household pets contracted the virus at this point? Should you include your pet in your preparedness plan? And what do you do about potty time if you’re self-quarantined?

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Below, veterinarians and other animal experts address some of your top pet-related coronavirus concerns.

Can my animal become infected?

Anxieties are already running high and if you’re a pet owner, your concerns might be elevated after hearing that the first dog who tested “weak positive” for coronavirus infection died at home in Hong Kong this week.

First, for some background: The dog, a 17-year-old Pomeranian, was put in quarantine in late February after his owner contracted COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The owner has since recovered. The Pom never showed symptoms, even as it was repeatedly tested during its quarantine.

A total of five tests from its nasal and oral samples reportedly returned “weak positive” results for the virus ― but the dog was eventually allowed to go home after samples came back negative.

“Although the dog from Hong Kong had multiple weak positive test results for the virus, antibodies were not detected in the dog’s blood, suggesting the dog may not have been infected,” Jane Sykes, a professor of small animal medicine at the University of California-Davis school of veterinary medicine, told HuffPost.

“The tests used to detect the virus have the potential to detect both viable (‘alive’) and nonviable (‘dead’) virus, and any virus detected may be just virus that happens to be contaminating a dog’s nose or haircoat,” she explained.

The dog died on Monday, after being released over the weekend. (The owner won’t allow an autopsy report, so the exact cause of death is unknown, but hey, the little guy was 17 years old.)

The World Health Organization and other experts still say there is no meaningful evidence that pets can spread the infection.

Things could rapidly change, of course, but experts we spoke to stressed the same thing: Your pet isn’t likely to get the coronavirus or give it to you.

“I think we are far enough into this pandemic that if animals were, in fact, able to be infected, we would have already heard of a report on an ill dog and/or cats presenting to various veterinary hospitals throughout the world,” said Jerry Klein, the chief veterinary officer of the American Kennel Club.

A man with a mask and his dog take a walk in Madrid, Spain, on Wednesday.
A man with a mask and his dog take a walk in Madrid, Spain, on Wednesday.

Could they be a carrier through their fur?

Sure, it’s possible that the virus could live on your pet, just as it may live on any other surface in your home. That’s where good hygiene comes into play: Wash your hands before and after you pet them, bath your dog or cat more frequently than you normally would ― and avoid those doggy or kitty kisses and snuggle sessions. (Hard, we know!)

“Until we can be sure of things, we suggest taking precautions,” Sykes said. “But again, there is currently no evidence that pets develop COVID-19.”

If I think I’m infected, should I keep my distance from my pets?

If you’re exhibiting mild symptoms of the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests you should limit contact with your pets, just as you would with people. If possible, have a non-positive member of the household care for the animal.

If you must care for pets while sick, the CDC suggests you wear a face mask and wash your hands before and after interacting with them.

“You may not be able to completely prevent contact but you can limit the amount of time spent in close proximity,” J. Scott Weese, a professor at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College, told HuffPost. “You can also practice good hand hygiene and avoid getting near the heads of animals.”

Yep, your dog needs to social distance as well. 
Yep, your dog needs to social distance as well. 

Should I include my pet in my family’s preparedness plan?

Yes, definitely include your pet in your emergency planning. They’re important members of your family, right?

Klein said it’s smart to purchase at least two weeks of food items and pick up any medicine they may need. (In other words, be prepared ― but no need to go overboard and hoard the Kibbles ’N Bits and Meow Mix from your neighbors.)

While you stock up, don’t forget non-food, ancillary items such as poop bags and kitty litter.

Is it OK to take my dog for walks?

Unless you’re under strict self-quarantine orders, you’ll need to take your dog out for regular walks so they can go potty and exercise. That’s good for both you and your pet’s mental well-being ― just be sure to stay six feet apart from other people and pets you come across.

What if you need to self-quarantine and avoid the outside? If you live in an apartment or don’t have a backyard, you’ll have to train your dog to use pee pads (or make use of fake grass or sod patches).

Ettel Edshteyn, a certified trainer at Karen Pryor Academy and owner of New York’s Poodles to Pit Bulls Clicker Training, told The New York Times how to do this: You want to normalize the situation for your pup, so act like you usually do before going for a walk. Grab your dog’s leash and the poo bags and ask him if he needs to go pee pee (or whatever you normally say as a cue). Then, introduce him to the pee pads.

“Walk your dog to the area where you want them to go during a time when you think they need to potty,” Edshteyn said. (For most pets, that’s in the morning, after exercising or mealtime, or after a nap.)

If your dog isn’t getting the picture and refuses to go, Edshteyn said don’t sweat it: Go about your day, then watch for signs that your dog needs to relieve himself and simply try again.

Is it OK to let my pets socialize with other pets?

Out of an abundance of caution, you might want to avoid that doggy get-together with your friends or doggy daycare. As with general social distancing, the goal right now is to limit all types of contact as much as possible.

“Just like we don’t want people mixing in large groups, we don’t want pets mixing in large groups,” Weese said.

Keep up with the latest updates on the coronavirus at our live blog.

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