In these unprecedented times, we are all scrambling for accurate answers and information about the public health response in this pandemic. Since a good number of us own pets, I’m going to share information from the animal experts about the disease interface between humans and companion animals, what we can do to stay healthy and some of the animal public health needs that have resulted from the government directives.

Can pets get sick from COVID19?

As of March 19, the American Veterinary Medical Association states that there is no evidence that companion animals can get sick from COVID-19. And according to IDEXX Reference Laboratories, “the current understanding is that COVID-19 is a human-specific disease and is not expected to result in reverse zoonotic disease (transmission from humans to animals) in pets as a result of exposure to their infected owners.”

The AVMA references two cases in which “the virus may have spread from the infected people to their dog(s),” but none of the dogs showed signs of the disease. The dogs were quarantined as a precaution. “Because the situation is ever-evolving, public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals,” according to the AVMA. However, no COVID-19 pathogen has been found in any early sample screenings of clinical specimens sent to the IDEXX Reference Laboratory which is monitoring for the emergence of the disease in animals.

Can pets infect people with COVID19?

The College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois, states that “although pets cannot become sick from COVID-19,” they could serve as a conduit of infection between people if a person with COVID-19 sneezes, the droplets land on the pet, and is touched by another individual. The veterinary experts believe the risk is low, as the most transmission is from airborne droplets between humans, not from contaminated surfaces. Fortunately, the virus has a short survival time on soft surfaces, like fur. Until more is known, however, all the public health experts recommend that animals living with sick owners should be kept away from contact with others during the quarantine or incubation period. If a pet owner is hospitalized with COVID-19 and the pet needs boarding, contact your local veterinarian for the established protocol in your area.

Can I take my dog to the dog park, the groomer or a boarding kennel?

As of this writing, you can take your dog places unless government directives state otherwise. Ask the owners of other dogs present if anyone in the family is sick to remind you to wash your hands after you or your dog touches another dog. This is sound advice every time you are in contact with animals. For at-home pet-friendly activities explore the website.

If a family member has or might have COVID-19, his pets should be kept away from public spaces during the duration of the illness. As a further precaution, the University of Illinois site recommends that "visitation to nursing homes and long-term care facilities by service animals and their handlers should be discouraged at this time.”

Pet service providers may use special safeguards, such as extra cleaning of surfaces and limiting the numbers of people in the lobby, but good businesses already use sanitation methods that are effective for most pathogens, including COVID-19. Most important is to limit viral transmission among humans.

If my pet gets sick or injured, can I get veterinary care?

While we are under social distancing directives, it is understood that we can continue with essential activities, such as visits to veterinarians. However, the AVMA is encouraging veterinarians to “reschedule elective procedures and all nonessential appointments so as to limit staff and public exposure” and help conserve some of the supplies that human hospitals might need.

If a pet gets sick and has been exposed to a human with COVID-19, the AVMA is asking owners to contact your veterinarian.

Interestingly, the AVMA is encouraging the use of telemedicine and other forms of technology to meet some of the needs of pet owners. To date, veterinary practices have been slow to embrace technology. In a brief survey of local veterinarians, I found some are open for business as usual whereas others have restricted their practices per AVMA guidelines.

How are animal shelters and rescue organizations coping with the directives?

Actually, the shelters and rescues are doing well. People have stepped up to foster, adopt, rescue, and transport to keep the animals alive and the shelters empty. If you are at home and have the resources to adopt or foster, search animal shelters and rescue websites for instructions. If you want to help transport pets to rescues in other areas, email or find California Transport on Facebook.

The UC Davis Koret School of Shelter Medicine site states that “(f)or some animals, spay or neuter surgery prior to adoption or foster may be deemed essential to either encourage placement, support the human-animal bond, or be in the best interest of the animal (e.g., pyometra).” The shelters and spay-neuter clinics will make that decision on a case by case basis.

Stay informed, look out for yourself and others, and love your pets who need your assurance and comfort too. We will get through this.

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