Coronavirus continues to spread around the globe leaving millions of people in distress. Day by day, numerous news about the disease hit the headlines. One recent report in particular alarms pet owners making them worry for the safety of their pets from the highly contagious virus.
On February 28, a Pomeranian owned by a woman infected with COVID-19 came out “weak positive” for novel coronavirus. Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) reports that the virus was present in the samples taken from the dog’s oral and nasal cavities.
This is believed to be the very first reported case of a domestic pet testing positive for coronavirus. Although the Pomeranian did not exhibit any symptoms of the disease, he was still quarantined by AFCD. According to the agency, “environmental contamination” may have led to the initial positive result.
Monitoring and testing of the coronavirus positive dog will continue until the results appear negative. For precautionary measures, AFCD strongly advises that pets of owners infected with coronavirus should be quarantined for 14 days.
The Rising Caution
Even before the news of the coronavirus-positive dog broke out, many pet owners in mainland China have already taken safety precautions for their dogs by letting them wear dog masks.
Zhou Tianxiao, a 33-year-old online retailer from Beijing, initially sold dog masks designed to protect dogs from pollution. When the coronavirus rapidly spread in Wuhan and neighbouring cities, Chinese dog owners rushed to buy the special face masks for dogs.
According to Zhou, the pet masks are functional although they might not be on par with medical masks for humans. He added that the primary purpose of the mask is to stop pooches from licking or eating the food from the floor, block out smog, and safeguard them against the virus.
Hong Kong SPCA’s chief veterinary surgeon Jane Gray clarified that putting a mask on pets is not beneficial. It would only cause them distress that could result in panic. Gray advised pet owners to stick to observing basic daily hygiene which can lower the risk of contracting the virus.
The Real Truth Behind Coronavirus in Pets
Lack of Evidence
Coronaviruses are known to thrive on surfaces and objects. The virus could attach itself to the surface of a cat or dog although they hadn’t contracted the disease. Therefore, the quarantine is conducted by AFCD to observe if the dog has been actually infected by coronavirus or because of environmental contamination.
Sheila McClelland, the founder of Hong Kong-based Lifelong Animal Protection Charity (LAP), wrote on a letter addressed to the authorities of Hong Kong that: “Present evidence suggests that dogs are no more of a risk of spreading (coronavirus) than inanimate objects such as door handles.”
McClelland further stated that there is no published research that indicates the accuracy of coronavirus test in canines. At present, the World Health Organization is monitoring the Hong Kong dog’s tests for coronavirus to understand how it was transmitted.
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According to Gray, whilst cats and dogs can get coronaviruses, the virus strains they typically get are not the same strain associated with the coronavirus outbreak and thus don’t cause respiratory problems. At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that the coronavirus can be transmitted from dogs to humans.
Brennen McKenzie, VMD, a veterinarian with Adobe Animal Hospital in Los Gatos, California, also shares that currently there is a low risk of contracting the disease from cats and dogs. Whilst our pets contract and spread viruses between one another, these are genetically distinct from human viruses. Due to this genetic distinction, pets do not easily pass diseases on to one another.
As stated by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the primary method of the disease to spread is from human to human contact. This occurs either by being close to an infected person or from droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs.
Experts unanimously agree that good hygiene is one of the best methods to avoid contracting coronavirus. Follow these tips to keep yourself and your pets safe from this disease:
Clean your pet’s kennel, bed, water, and food bowls regularly.
- Wipe your pet’s paws with antiseptic wipes after they have strolled outside, especially if you live in the city.
- Do not let your furry friend skip bath time.
- Make it a habit to wash your hands thoroughly before and after touching your pet.
- Avoid being in contact with wild animals.
If you are infected with COVID-19, here are a number of things you should do as advised by the CDC:
- Limit your contact with pets and other animals.
- Assign another family member to take care of your pet.
- If you are in quarantine, your pet should also be quarantined.
The Enemy is Fear
The spread of fear is a bigger threat than the transmission of coronavirus according to animal rights experts and veterinarians. A letter to the government from Lifelong Animal Protection Charity (LAP), a group that helps rehome animals in Hong Kong, states that the announcement about the coronavirus positive dog has caused a major panic to the general public.
Many pet owners fear that their dogs and cats might end up getting forcibly quarantined. Worse, people might abandon or kill their pets. Dog owners might also suffer from stigma and find it difficult to walk their pets outdoors.
In the city of Wuhan, which is the centre of the pandemic and has been under lockdown for more than a month, numerous pets have been trapped in apartments without their owners. According to Wuhan Small Animal Protection Association volunteers, they have rescued hundreds of pets abandoned in apartments.
Meanwhile, Furry Angels Haven, a group dedicated to rescuing homeless and neglected pets in Wuhan, said that since the outbreak started, there had been a significant rise in the number of abandoned pets.
In Hong Kong’s case, there hasn’t been any sign of an increase in pet abandonment or abuse according to McClelland and Gray. They observed that there was an increase in people planning to export their furry friends overseas. It suggests that these pet owners are contemplating to leave the city.
Pets are Not a Threat but a Source of Comfort
Gray reminds pet owners that pets are not culprits of coronavirus. Instead, they are great sources of comfort amidst the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic. Pets can help lower blood pressure and lessen the amount of stress of their owners.
Marco Leung, a seventy-year-old Hong Kong resident, shared that his furry pal was doing just that and helped him cope. He knows that pets are not susceptible to the new coronavirus but he also acknowledges that the virus can stick on their fur. Thus, he has been taking precautions such as washing his dog after walks.