By Tanni Deb
Whether on YouTube or a social media platform, you’ve probably seen recent videos and photos of dogs and cats donning face masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, the coronavirus has infected more than two million individuals across 180 countries, leading people to not only keep themselves covered during the outbreak, but their pets as well. It’s a frightening time and no doubt your pet’s health is important, too. While preventive medication for ticks and fleas for your dog or cat remain crucial health measure, you may also be wondering: exactly how contagious can the virus be when it comes to our furry friends? And can the virus be transmitted between pets and humans? We looked into the facts.
Which Animals Have Caught COVID-19 in the U.S.?
On April 22, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported the first confirmed cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), known to be a direct cause of COVID-19, in pet cats in the U.S. Both infected cats live in the state of New York and are showing mild symptoms. Experts believe the first cat may have caught the respiratory sickness “by mildly ill or asymptomatic household members or through contact with an infected person outside its home” since individuals in the household were not sick. The second cat’s owner had tested positive for the virus before the cat showed any symptoms. The USDA reported that both cats are expected to recover.
Additionally, on April 5, federal officials announced that a 4-year-old tiger at New York’s Bronx Zoo was the first known infected animal in the U.S. Six additional tigers and lions in the zoo have also fallen sick after developing symptoms that include dry coughs, wheezing, and a lack of appetite. Officials believe an employee at the zoo infected all seven animals. Thankfully, the animals are expected to recover but the condition of the employee is unknown.
Has the Coronavirus Infected Dogs or Any Other Cats?
While the coronavirus is primarily transmitted from person to person, there have been a few international cases of the infection spreading to pets after being in contact with people who have the respiratory illness. Two dogs and a cat in Hong Kong, as well as a cat in Belgium caught the virus shortly after their owners tested positive.
In the Chinese city of Wuhan, ground zero of COVID-19, researchers tested 102 cats from veterinary hospitals and owners with the coronavirus, as well as some strays. They discovered that 15 of the 102 cats tested positive for the antibodies of SARS-CoV-2. As a result, the researchers believe infections in cats can occur in “other outbreak regions.”
Can Pets Spread the Virus to Other Animals?
A group of researchers at Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China set out to investigate whether infected animals can pass the coronavirus to other species. They first experimented by placing doses of SARS-CoV-2 into the noses of five domestic cats, three of which were placed into cages next to uninfected felines. After two of the cats were later euthanized, the researchers found “viral RNA” in their upper respiratory tracts. The team also later realized that one of the uninfected cats tested positive for the virus. The researchers believe it likely contracted the virus through airborne transmission. Additionally, they detected that the now infected cat along with the three exposed felines produced antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.
The researchers conducted similar experiments on other animals and found that SARS-CoV-2 can affect ferrets for a little more than a week without causing a major disease or death. Additionally, they discovered that “dogs have low susceptibility,” while livestock such as chickens, ducks and pigs are not vulnerable to the virus at all.
Can Pets Infect Humans With the Coronavirus?
According to the CDC and USDA, there is currently no evidence suggesting that animals can spread the coronavirus to humans. However, since the virus can be transmitted from people to animals, the CDC recommends pet owners who experience symptoms to avoid all contact with their pets, including petting, kissing, and sharing food. The health institution also encourages contagious people to employ a trusted friend or a family member to take care of their pets while they are sick. If that’s not a possibility, owners should wash their hands before and after each interaction and wear a cloth face covering around their pets.
How to Prepare Pets for a Quarantine
Even if you are not sick, the best way to protect yourself and your pets from falling victim to the coronavirus is by staying home and avoiding large public spaces or dog parks. Also, when walking dogs on a leash, it is pertinent to maintain a six-foot distance from others.
Individuals who are quarantined in an apartment with their dogs may have to train their pet to use the bathroom indoors. A way to do this is by placing potty pads in the apartment, and then pretend that you are getting ready to go outside for a walk by grabbing a leash and a disposable bag. Lead your dog to the pads and cue him or her to do its business. Make sure to clean-up properly afterwards and follow personal hygiene habits to avoid infectious diseases.
According to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), make sure to have two weeks’ worth of food and treats, as well as litter if you have a cat. If your companion friend is a gerbil, a hamster, a rabbit or a guinea pig, stock up on fresh produce for them. Additionally, along with any prescription medication, it’s a good idea to have preventive medication for ticks and fleas for your dog or cat, as these parasites can carry other diseases that can spread to pets and humans.
Lastly, keep your pet engaged and entertained with games, which can also help them get some kind of exercise at home. Hide food inside toys or under mats, play hide-and-seek or create an obstacle course using household items – like boxes – that your pets can crawl through.
While it’s essential to keep your pets active and happy, it’s more crucial to keep them safe. And right now, the best way is at home.