Can dogs and cats transmit COVID-19? According to the World Health Organization, "There is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19. COVID-19 is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently and thoroughly."
According to the University of Wisconsin Shelter Medicine, "The greatest risk of COVID-19 exposure to staff, volunteers and the public at animal shelters comes not from animals, but from other humans. Interventions to reduce risk of COVID-19 infection are the same at an animal shelter as in other aspects of daily life."
Social distancing with animals: What do I need to know? Be sure to follow your city and state guidelines that might be unique, but you should still be able to take your dogs on walks and runs. However, you should avoid dog parks and other public spaces where large gatherings could potentially occur. Use standard social distancing protocols. Take time to connect with your animals at home. You can teach pets of any age a new trick or two!
If I have tested positive for COVID-19 or if I am sick and think I might have it, should I limit contact with my pet? According to the US Department of Agriculture, "You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a facemask."
Similarly, the OIE states, "There have not been any reports of companions or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, and currently, there is no evidence that they play a significant epidemiological role in this human disease. However, because animals and people can sometimes share diseases (known as zoonotic diseases), it is still recommended that people who are sick with COVID-19 limit contact with companion and other animals until more information is known about the virus... When possible, people who are sick or under medical attention for COVID-19 should avoid close contact with their pets and have another member of their household care for their animals. If they must look after their pet, they should maintain good hygiene practices and wear a face mask if possible."
Do we have to worry if a pet was exposed to COVID-19? According to the University of Wisconsin, "There is no current evidence that pets are able to transmit the virus to humans or other animals either as a fomite or if infected."
If a pet has been exposed to COVID-19, to be abundantly cautious, the University of Wisconsin advises that bathing might reduce fomite potential: "There is currently no evidence that pets serve as fomites with the potential to spread the infection to humans - but in abundance of caution - bathing could reduce any potential. A) Dogs- Bathing dogs on admission with any shampoo is likely to remove any virus present on the haircoat, as hand washing does for human hands. B) Cats- Because cats are more challenging to bathe, groom themselves regularly, and do not require walking outside for exercise/elimination bathing may not be in the best interest of the cats or caregivers. See below for animal handling precautions."
We also recommend changing leashes and collars after the bath. The old ones may be placed in the washer or otherwise disinfected. To be prudent, it would be best to keep old disinfected collars at a distance for a minimum of three days.
How can pet ownership benefit us during this time of social isolation? Pets are scientifically proven to improve health, especially emotional, social, and mental health. Benefits include but are not limited to: better sleep, lower anxiety, increased social support, increased self-esteem, decreased muscle tension, decreased fear levels, decreased stress levels, decreased feelings of loneliness, increased immunity, and prevention of certain sicknesses.
Would it be a prudent time to adopt? With the virus impacting operations of all businesses and nonprofits, animal shelters are no exception. The need for foster and adoptive families is greater than ever. And because more and more workers will be at home for the next few weeks, it just might be the perfect time to bring home a new canine or feline family member. That being said, potential owners must be aware of the possible obstacles of adopting during a pandemic, like limited business hours and restricted socialization opportunities.