Coronavirus and Pets

Latest on COVID-19 April 6

Sadly, there is now firm evidence that this disease can easily cross species boundaries. A tiger in the Bronx Zoo has been tested and confirmed positive for COVID-19. Other big cats there seem to be afflicted as well. It appears as though they contracted the disease from an asymptomatic keeper.  They are all anticipated to make a full recovery.  But the take-home point is that now there is definitive evidence for easy cross-species transmission.  This may affect pet owners in the coming months.  The symptoms the big cats were expressing were respiratory, with coughing being the most obvious sign.  Use good sense and caution around pets that seem to have developed a cough in the next few months.  Isolate them as you would a family member and use a mask and gloves when interacting with them. 

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 its 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.

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 Raccoon dogs were found to harbor SARS virus 17 years ago, 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 estimate 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 appointment up just a bit.






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