Coronavirus and Pets

Follow Up on Dogs as Carriers – March 23

There may now be some weak evidence that dogs can harbor the COVID-19 virus. Again, the news is all over the media, who seek to scoop each other with the most horrific news possible. Some of them should confine themselves to scooping other things. However, in fairness, I have done some research and the story about the two dog household in Asia, where the German Shepard tested positive and the mixed breed dog was negative, but the owner was positive, seems to be legitimate. The CDC still steadfastly maintains that there is no cause for abandonment of pets. And since the chain of transmission is being ignored by the press, there is an inherent assumption that the dog gave the disease to the owner. Maybe, but what if the owner gave the disease to the dog? The media are running the same piece over and over, always with the same assumption embedded, that the dog gave the disease to it’s owner.

Although I believe that the media has a critical role to play in dissemination of important information that is instrumental in advancing truths about this pandemic that the current US Administration would rather you didn’t know, sensationalism always sells, and this piece about the German Shepard is the media at its worst.

Have a sensible approach to the possibility of cross-species transmission with pets and their people, but other than not eating after them, kissing them or rolling in the grass that they just pooped in, be skeptical until more information from the CDC or other labs such as Harvard medical, conclusively demonstrates otherwise. Even then, should they be abandoned, OH HELL NO. They will need to be quarantined and treated with the same respect, compassion and caution as any ill family member.

Stay safe and stay home.

Update March 18,

A dog in Hong Kong may have died of COVID-19. Or not. The dog was very old and under stress.

The WHO and the CDC advise that there is still no hard evidence that domestic pets carry the disease, that they can transmit it to their owners, or visa versa. This news story is hitting all of the media right now, and is guaranteed to cause unnecessary panic in some people. First the news was that the dogs test results were negative, then that they were a weak positive. In, short this story cannot, cannot, be trusted to indicate a new type of threat. Just use common sense and treat pets with the same mitigation measures that you would use with any family member.

Further, at this juncture, if it were me, I would not allow my toddler to let the doggie lick their cookie and then proceed to eat it themselves, which I have seen many parents do. On the other hand, I would never have allowed that to begin with, so that would be no change for me. If you routinely share your own food with your pets, you might want to reconsider that behavior until we know more.

Stay safe and stay home!

Another update 2/14/2020

I had an interesting conversation with a pet lover here in the US who knows very little about wildlife. She was concerned that armadillos carry the new COVID 19 flu virus and could give it to her pets who could then give it to her. Talk about fake news. I think she heard this on talk radio, but I’m not sure. Just to be clear, the mammals that have been tied to this disease are bats and pangolins. Pangolins are a strictly Old World family of animals, more closely related to carnivores than to armadillos, although both types of species are classified as ‘insectivores’, animals that have no teeth because they subsist on insects only, and therefore don’t need teeth. They do look a bit alike, but they are not the same thing. Armadillos can transmit leprosy, so playing with them with bare hands is certainly not advisable. But they are absolutely not the same thing as pangolins, and there is no evidence whatsoever that they are presently reservoirs for this new disease and will give it to your pets. The best advice is to just let both kinds of animals be.

This is a New World Armadillo

This is an Old World Pangolin

Earlier Postings on this topic for the last 3 weeks below.

 

A study published Friday in the medical journal JAMA found that 41% of the first 138 patients diagnosed at one hospital in Wuhan, China, were presumed to be infected in that hospital.

 

At this announcement, I felt it might be important to encourage readers once again to get their animals to the vet sooner rather than later for routine treatment. We do not know yet for certain the role that animals may play in this contagion, if any, what role we play, and whether this disease can be easily transmitted ‘species to species’ at this time. It seems very likely that bats once played a part, but now humans in hospitals are transmitting the disease to other humans in hospitals. Not the first time in history that this has occured, for sure, and brave medical workers are always at risk in their jops, no less so than firemen or the police, in many ways. But my purpose in this blog is to facilitate an understanding of the importance of the human-animal bond, and confidence in an animal’s health is critical to that. So although the good news is that this disease is apparently spreading less quickly than some contagions in the past, the bad news is that it may spread in unexpected ways.

 

Another quick update. As of February 4, there are at least 20,000 cases (diagnosed) of this virus outbreak and nearly 500 people have died. This is not completely unprecedented, in fact, it’s well below seasonal flu infectious and mortatily rates each year in the US, where as many as 60,000 deaths have occurred in one year’s time periodically in the last two decades. This is certainly part of the reason that the WHO has not declared this illness to be a pandemic, yet.

The perception that this disease is far worse than seasonal flu is mistaken, at this time. It is the perception that this disease may be the next Ebola, that is creating more distress than the actual virus itself. Shortages of items such as face masks are the most premier example. Even though China is churning out 20 million masks PER DAY, there is now a global shortage. At some point, science and manufacturing will catch up, but for now, I would advise my friends and neighbors in the US to make sure you have plenty of pet food on hand, face masks, hand sanitizer, and most importantly, a good and kind word for the folks you do meet while walking the dog or shopping in the supermarket. During times like these, people need to be extra compassionate.

One bright side to this whole mess, China has now placed a temporary ban on all wildlife markets. Many NGOs are pressuring the government to make the ban permanent. Since China consumes more wildlife, particularly endangered species, than any other nation on earth, the pressure they place on dwindling resources is enormous. Eating an endangered species is now the new yuppie thing to do as a display of conspicuous consumption among the young people there. Bear in mind that China is not the only culprit in wildlife trade, legal or otherwise. The county that imports the largest number of animals annually for the pet trade, you guessed it. The US. Another update in a few days.

 

Quick update on 2/1…Snakes as the originator of this virus is now officially debunked. Bats are still a potential source, but not confirmed. There is little information right now as to which animal species are being tested. Since Civets and Raccon dogs were found to harbor SARS virus 17 years agon, it is reasonable to assume that they are being tested now.

 

It is important for pet owners to note that civets are often referred to as civet cats, but they are not cats, not even close. They are more closely related to the mongoose. Raccoon dogs are neither raccoons nor dogs, they are, however, in the canid family. They are more closely related to crab-eating foxes than to domestic dogs. Nevertheless, like dogs, they can harbor a number of coronaviruses, including SARS, so it is not impossible they harbor this current novel coronavirus as well.

There is no cause for concern in the US at this time, but if this pandemic continues to grow at its present rate, in 4-6 weeks it might be best to avoid dog parks for a little while. At the present time, human to human transmission rates appear to be 2.6 persons infected per one person exposing them. At the time of this writing there are over 12,000 people identified, while virologists and others who study pandemic spread estimates that there are probably 75,000 folks who have the disease worldwide. Some will have such mild symptoms that they will never have to see a doctor, as with any flu outbeak. Approximately 20% of those exposed will have severe symptoms and 5% will die. While this is a much lower mortality rate than the Spanish Flu (20%), what makes this pandemic unique is how long it takes for symptoms to be expressed AND a person is contagious long before the onset of those symptoms. At the current rate of spread, almost 5 million people may have been exposed by the end of this month. If this turns out to be the case, avoid dog parks and vet clinics for routine procedures. If you need to take your pet to a vet for annual vaccinations, teeth cleaning, or other non-critical procedures, you might want to move your apppointment up just a bit.

 

Earlier post below.

Now that this novel virus has infected nearly 10,000 people worldwide, as of this date, people may be wondering about the idea that the virus jumped from animals to humans. It does seem highly likely. It was also only a matter of time before something like this occured in Asia in particular due to their eating habits. We in the West have a very different relationship to the natural world than Asians do and this cultural difference may make it dificult to understand and relate to the origins of this outbreak.

Bats are now considered to be the most likely originator of the disease, as was true with SARS and MERS (two prior pandemics cause by a coronavirus). Their have been intermediary carriers of the disease such as civets and camels. That is a case of a mammalian virus jumping from mammal to mammal. This new disease seems to defy prior evolutionary restrictions on species to species transmission of this disease by quite likely having jumped from bats, to snakes, to humans.

A sampling of academic papers and medical journals indicates widespread disagreement as too which species caused this outbreak. Chinese scientists all say snakes, while prominent Brazilian researchers say nonsense, it had to be a mammal, probably bats. Both are commonly found for sale in Chinese wildife markets. Bats are often sold live, fried, or in soup. There are few health control laws or enforcement for the majority of these markets.

The modes of transmission from bats are almost too numerous to count.


If it is snakes, then the same holds true. “Snakes are highly esteemed by the Chinese as a tasty, nutritious delicacy. Natives of the southeastern coastal province of Kwangtung are especially fond of snake dishes. The more poisonous the snake, the higher the price. A favorite dish is cobra cooked with chicken and cat. It has the fancy name: “dragon-tiger-phoenix party.”

The gall of the snake is especially valued. It is usually eaten raw. The customer goes to a snake shop (found in back streets of Taiwan cities), chooses a snake, and waits for it to be killed. He puts the still warm, dark-green gall in a small cup of Kaoliang wine, and downs it at a gulp. The gall is said to be good for the eye.

Another favorite in Taiwan is snake wine. The brewing method is to soak a whole poisonous snake, skin, bone and all, in two gallons of Kaoliang wine. The vessel is tightly sealed, then buried deeply underground. After a year, the snake will have completely dissolved and the white Kaoliang is deep yellow. This wine is believed efficacious in curing rheumatism and ailments of the eye.” This text is courtesy of Tawain Today in a post dated 1/31/2020.

There is as yet no evidence that THIS coronavirus is found in domestic dogs and cats. These pets do have their own share of coronavirus that can result in syptoms such as kennel cough in dogs. In cats, a related coronavirus (FIP) has a much higher mortality. For a good article on this, click on the link below:

PETMED

Again, there is no evidence that this novel coronavirus has jumped to dogs, cats, or other pets and these pets are in turn infecting humans. There is therefore no reason to get rid of your beatutiful ball python or red-tailed python pets at this point, or any other pets for that matter. This is an evolving story, however, and I will try to keep readers updated every 48 hours.

 

Stay safe out there and practice common sense.

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