While the veterinary community is still dealing largely with unknowns amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, most of what they do know might come as a relief to pet owners.
COVID-19, a potentially deadly respiratory illness, is believed to have originated from exotic animal food markets in Wuhan, China — but domestic dogs and cats themselves do not appear to be carriers.
“At this point, we’re encouraging people to interact with their animal as normal,” West Village Veterinary Hospital‘s Dr. Daniel Smith tells The Post, adding that as a precaution, pet owners should “keep interaction between your pet and other people to a minimum.”
The World Health Organization currently reports there is “no evidence that companion animals/pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus.” However, the first dog to test positive for coronavirus died in Hong Kong Monday, causing alarm for many pet owners.
Here’s everything we know about how the coronavirus interacts with cats and dogs so far:
Animals are not thought to spread the disease
“There is no evidence that animals or animal products imported from China or other countries pose a risk of spreading coronavirus in the US,” the New York State Veterinary Medical Society declares in a new pamphlet on COVID-19. “At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals including pets can spread the coronavirus.”
Be careful not to expose your pet to the virus
Those who are sick with the coronavirus should “restrict contact with any animals just like you would around other people,” the VMS pamphlet continues. A healthy household member should take care of the pet, or if that is not a possibility, the infected individual should wear a face mask and wash their hands thoroughly before and after feeding, walking or interacting with the pet.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol, ensuring the correct amount of gel is applied. However, 20 seconds of washing with “soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers at removing certain kinds of germs,” the agency reports.
There is one case of a dog testing positive
In late February, a Hong Kong coronavirus patient’s pet dog tested “weak positive” for a “low level” of the virus after oral and nasal tests on Feb. 26 at an animal care facility. The dog, which did not exhibit any symptoms, was put into a two-week quarantine, after which it tested negative before dying Monday.
“The repeated earlier test results support this being a true infection,” J. Scott Weese, a professor at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College, told the Washington Post. “It wouldn’t be surprising for this to be a low-grade infection because dogs are not thought to be very good hosts for this virus.”
However, Hong Kong health officials report the dog may not have actually been carrying the virus but tested positive due to “environmental contamination.”
NYC’s Smith again stresses that “there’s no evidence at this point that there’s transmission from animals to humans.”
Animals may be ‘fomites’
While there is not yet solid evidence that animals can carry the virus, they still may be fomites for it.
“A fomite is a surface that can transmit disease,” says Smith. “Anything can be a fomite.”