What Role Do Animals Play in the COVID-19 Crisis?

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If you have a cat or a dog at home, it’s probably been on your mind: What role do animals play in the COVID-19 crisis?

News of pet cats and dogs — even tigers and lions — testing positive for the virus is enough concern for the CDC to issue guidelines for pet owners.

Two cats in New York presented mild respiratory symptoms but are expected to make full recoveries. One cat is believed to have caught the virus from its owner, who was positive for COVID-19. Officials believe the other cat was infected by an asymptomatic or mildly ill household member or through contact with a neighbor.

The CDC said it is aware of these cases in pets and confirms it appears that it can spread from people to animals in some situations. Out of an abundance of caution — it’s asking people who are sick to avoid contact with animals until more is learned about this virus.

The good news is based on the limited information available to date, the CDC believes the risk of animals spreading it to people remains low. There are no confirmed cases of pets spreading the virus to humans.

Still, officials are urging you to treat your pets as you would any other human family members to prevent infection.

According to the CDC, if a person inside the homes gets sick, isolate them from everyone else including pets. Avoid contact with your pet including, petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding.

“If you are sick with COVID-19 and your pet becomes sick, do not take your pet to the veterinary clinic yourself. Call your veterinarian and let them know you have been sick with COVID-19,” states the CDC. “Some veterinarians may offer telemedicine consultations or other plans for seeing sick pets. Your veterinarian can evaluate your pet and determine the next steps for your pet’s treatment and care.”

If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.

One dog trainer says he's received an abundance of phone calls over the last month regarding a sudden change in dog behavior in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Many of Dale Buchanan's clients voiced concerns about excessive barking, chewing, and some aggressive behavior.

If you have an indoor/outdoor cat that you let out occasionally, you might want to keep them indoors or in a controlled area for now.

The same goes for dogs when going out for a walk. Pet health expert Lauriston Crockett, who runs Plano-based pet nutrition company The Gift for Life, said it’s important to maintain the same social distancing with dogs as you would with humans.

“What we also really have to be careful about is these animals are walking along, what they are sniffing and what you’re doing, so you need to keep them a little bit closer don’t keep them off a leash,” he said.

Doctors said the virus can live on hard surfaces for hours to days depending on what that surface is but since fur is porous, the risk of transmission is low. However, the harness, leash and collar around your pet is a different story.

Crockett recommends wiping your pets’ paws, snout and fur with vet-approved pet wipes as extra protection for your home.

“Another thing we have to be careful of is don’t use toxic wipes when wiping down your pets. Let’s stick to the pet shampoo and let’s make sure that it’s designed for cats or for dogs. You can’t really cross the two because sometimes there’s products in the dog shampoo that can poison the cat,” he said.

The CDC is echoing those suggestions:

  • Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
  • Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals.
  • Don’t let people pet your dog.
  • Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.
  • Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
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