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Dogs, Cats and the Corona Virus

by Irene Hislop

25 March 2020

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The novel corona virus is a disturbing new reality affecting every aspect of our lives as the Covid 19 pandemic sweeps the globe. Our daily lives have been up-ended, and things we never gave a second thought are now coming under scrutiny to see if they are safe. That includes our pet dogs and cats.

While the jokes are flying online about how happy dogs are that we’re home socially isolating ourselves, pet owners also have real concerns. We want to keep our fur babies safe, and we want to make sure they don’t somehow pose a danger to anyone. This is a novel virus, meaning it is new. Researchers are learning more every single day, so the information available changes. As of right now, things look good for our pets. According to the World Health Organization, there is so far no evidence of dogs and cats spreading Covid 19. So, yes, snuggling and playing with  your pets are safe and healthy ways to cope with isolation.

Indoor pet cats are masters of social distancing and self-isolation. They are not bringing in anything from outside. If your cat normally goes outside, this might be a good time to keep busy making a DIY catio so your fur baby can enjoy some fresh air without leaving home. There are no reports of cats spreading this virus, but it is still a very new virus and we don’t know everything yet.

But what about that thing your neighbour shared about her aunt’s work colleague’s brother knowing someone who heard about a dog with corona virus?

Did Dogs Test Positive for Covid 19 in Hong Kong?

Yes, two separate dogs in Hong Kong are reported to have had a positive test for the corona virus that causes Covid 19.  It is important to understand the facts here. One dog, an elderly Pomeranian,  was the pet of a person was ill with Covid 19. A small amount of the virus was found in the dog’s nasal cavity. The dog was not sick, nor did the dog pass the virus to anyone. The test showed a weak positive result. The dog was held in quarantine, and died shortly after being released. However, this individual had other medical issues and quarantine is extremely hard on dogs. The second dog, a German Shepherd, also lived with an owner who had Covid 19. This animal is still in quarantine. In both cases, the households included two dogs and only one in each home tested positive.

 Experts believe the dog simply sniffed in some of the infected droplets when its owner coughed or sneezed. Part of the danger of this disease is how easily it spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Droplets go everywhere, and so do dog’s noses.

Walking Your Dog Safely during a Pandemic

Most dogs, like most children, have energy to burn and if they don’t get the exercise they need, they can get destructive. While children can be encouraged to exercise safely indoors or in the garden, dogs are harder. Should you walk your dog right now?

It is important to limit our time outside in public spaces to the minimum. If you have a small older dog who can get an adequate amount of exercise indoors or in your own garden, it is safer to avoid walking that dog in public. However, if you have high energy dog and not enough space at home to provide enough exercise, you might decide walks are not optional. In that case, you can take some simple steps to walk your dog as safely as possible.

  • Walk at times when fewer people are out such as early in the morning.
  • Avoid popular routes and seek out places to walk with few others around.
  • Keep your dog on a short lead and well under control to make social distancing easier.
  • Remember to keep your distance. Stay two meters away from anyone you encounter on your walks.
  • Avoid touching trash bins when depositing any poop bags.
  • Follow all the basic rules in place now – don’t touch your face, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds when you get home, etc.

The less time out in public, the better for everyone. Even if you are walking your dog, your pet might be calmer with some extra playtime inside. Dogs love tug-of-war. Depending on your home, you might be able to play fetch in a hallway. Puzzle toys containing treats will also keep dogs happy and busy.

Advice for Pet Owners Who Get Covid 19

Unfortunately, many of us will become ill with Covid 19. We can’t predict how severely it might strike any individual, but this is the time to make a plan for how your dog or cat will be cared for if you are seriously ill. If one member of a household becomes ill, experts recommend that person have no contact with anyone else in the family including any pets. We are still learning about this new virus, so it is advisable to err on the side of caution.

If you live alone with your pet, you may not have any choice but to continue caring for them. In addition to all of the recommendations for your own care, try to keep some distance with your pet. Wash your hands carefully before and after caring for them.

While those videos of pets wearing face masks are cute, your dog or cat does not need a face mask. (Your local health care providers do, so please don’t waste them!)

Corona Viruses 101

When searching for news about pets and the corona virus, it is essential to know that there is not one, single corona virus. Corona is a family of viruses, and that family includes other viruses that can and do infect pets such as dogs and cats. But those viruses are not involved in the current pandemic.

Canine corona virus diseases are not Covid 19. They are viral illnesses that affects only dogs. While the bugs that cause canine respiratory corona virus and canine corona virus disease are members of the broad family of corona viruses, these are not new illnesses. Canine corona virus poses no danger to humans.

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Irene Hislop

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