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COVID-19 FAQs with Dr. Kean

Dr. Allison Kean, DVM, cVMA
HSBV Chief Clinic Veterinarian

Here are a few commonly asked questions we are receiving, and topics veterinarians around the world are discussing…

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that can cause a range of symptoms, including a runny nose, cough, sore throat and fever. Some are mild, such as the common cold, while others are more likely to lead to pneumonia. They’re usually spread through direct contact with an infected person.

The coronavirus gets its name from the crown-like spikes on its surface (‚Äúcorona‚ÄĚ in Latin translates to ‚Äúcrown‚ÄĚ). The genus coronavirus is composed of at least three groups that cause mild to severe enteric, respiratory, or systemic disease. Other well-known coronaviruses are SARS and MERS.

Are there coronaviruses in animals?

Coronaviruses are common in several species of domestic and wild animals, including cattle, horses, dogs, cats, ferrets, camels, bats, and others.

Did this coronavirus spread from animals to humans?

Although not common, coronaviruses can be transmitted from animals to humans. Bats can be reservoir hosts for viruses which can cross species barriers to infect humans and other domestic and wild mammals. In the last two major coronavirus outbreaks that were transmitted to humans, transmission occurred through intermediate hosts: the masked palm civet (SARS) and dromedary camels (MERS).

Health officials are working to identify the animal source of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCOV), now known officially as COVID-19 or Corona Virus Disease. Investigations are ongoing. The first infections were linked to a live animal market in China, but the virus is now spreading from person to person.

Can my pet contract the COVID-19 coronavirus?

A very small number of animals¬†have been reported¬†to be infected with the virus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 after close contact with people who had COVID-19. It’s important to remember that viruses can sometimes infect a species but not cause illness in that species, nor become transmissible to others.

Dogs

Two dogs in Hong Kong tested positive for the virus but did not show signs of illness. Both had contact with COVID-19 positive human cases.¬†Hong Kong officials state that there is¬†currently no evidence that pet animals can be a source of COVID-19 for humans or that the virus can cause the disease in dogs.¬†If your dog is usually at home and doesn’t contact other dogs or people, and no one in your household has¬†COVID-19, the odds that your dog would become infected are highly unlikely.

Cats

Studies suggest cats might be susceptible to the COVID-19 virus, and they might be able to transmit it to other cats. This finding is not surprising to scientists and veterinarians due the natures of feline susceptibility to coronaviruses. We do not have evidence that cats can pass COVID-19 to people though. We think cat owners should be informed, but not concerned, and certainly you should not stop interacting with or caring for your cat, particularly if you are well. Out of an abundance of caution, you may want to keep your cat inside away from other cats. If you are sick with COVID-19 symptoms, have someone else care for your cat if possible, and wash your hands thoroughly before and after contact.

Ferrets

Small scientific studies show ferrets are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and may develop illness. What does this mean for ferret owners? If you are sick with COVID-19 symptoms, have someone else care for your ferret if possible, and wash your hands thoroughly before and after contact. It also means ferrets may be able to play a role in human vaccine development.

Tigers

While not a household pet, tigers have shown to be susceptible to this virus. The USDA confirmed SARS-CoV-2 in one tiger at a zoo in New York. This is the first instance of a tiger being infected with COVID-19. Samples from this tiger were taken and tested after several lions and tigers at the zoo showed symptoms of respiratory illness. Public health officials believe these large cats became sick after being exposed to a zoo employee who was actively shedding virus. The zoo has been closed to the public since mid-March, and the first tiger began showing signs of sickness on March 27. All of these large cats are expected to recover. There is no evidence that other animals in other areas of the zoo are showing symptoms.

Veterinary Testing

Veterinary testing service IDEXX has¬†evaluated thousands of canine and feline specimens¬†during validation of its new veterinary test system for the COVID-19 virus and obtained no positive results. The specimens used for test development and validation were obtained from specimens submitted to IDEXX Reference Laboratories for other animal health PCR testing needs. While this is good news, we have not reliably tested animals who have had contact with confirmed COVID-19 cases.¬† The USDA has guidance about pet testing ‚Äď testing is not readily available for animals at this time.

Can my pet infect me with COVID-19?

Per the CDC, “At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19 or that they might be a source of infection in the United States.”

Transmission primarily occurs person-to-person when there is contact with an infected person’s bodily secretions, such as saliva or mucus droplets in a cough or sneeze. Transmission via touching a contaminated surface or object (also called a fomite) and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes is also possible, but appears to be a secondary route. Smooth (non-porous) surfaces (counter tops, door knobs) transmit viruses better than porous materials (paper money, pet fur) because porous and fibrous materials absorb and trap the virus, making it harder to contract through simple touch.

If you want to be very cautious, don’t let other people outside of your household handle your pets at this time‚ÄĒthe exception being if your pet needs veterinary care. Since we have all been asked to stay 6 feet away from other people when out of our homes, this is achievable.¬†Social distancing applies to the whole household, not just the human members!

As a matter of everyday health, it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets to help avoid transmission of more common illness-causing diseases and infections.

What should I do if my pet needs veterinary care?

If your pet needs veterinary care, please call your veterinarian or emergency clinic to find out how they are handling patient care at this time. Many are offering drive-up services or telemedicine options in order to limit physical contact between humans.

How is this virus spread?

According to the CDC, the virus spreads mainly from person-to-person:

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). Asymptomatic transmission is possible.
  • Via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. That is why people are asked to stay 6 feet apart when in public.
  • It is possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.

What is the best way to protect myself and my family (human and pet) from the COVID-19 coronavirus?

Practical measures to protect yourself and your family from this or any other contagious respiratory illness include:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60%-95% alcohol.
  • Watch a video about the WHO’s recommended handwashing technique.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Avoid contact with sick people and stay home if you’re sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing.
  • In public, stay at least 6 feet away from other people.
  • Follow all public health or government requirements to avoid gatherings of multiple people. Follow stay at home/shelter in place orders.
  • Stay home if you have symptoms of acute respiratory illness until you are free of fever (<100.4¬į F using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (such as cough suppressants), or until a physician or public health official clears you.
  • If you become ill with the¬†COVID-19¬†coronavirus, please wear a well-fitted mask to help prevent the spread of the virus and limit contacts with other humans and your pets as recommended by your physician.
  • If your pet needs veterinary care, please call your veterinarian or emergency clinic to find out how they are handling patient care at this time.
  • Pre-arrange for someone to care for your pet if you become sick or require hospitalization. Stock at least 4 weeks of food and medicine for your pet.
  • If you know older/elderly people, or others who cannot go out due to health issues, we encourage you to check in with them to make sure they have necessary food, medications and supplies, including for their pets.

Should my pet wear a face mask when in public?

Masks made for pets may not be effective in preventing diseases transmitted by bodily fluid droplets.

Is there a vaccination against the COVID-19 coronavirus that my pet can receive?

Currently, there are no COVID-19 vaccines available for humans or animals. 

Can I take my pet’s ivermectin to prevent or treat my COVID-19 infection?

No. Do not use ivermectin, an ingredient found in some parasite prevention medications, intended for animals as treatment for COVID-19 in humans. While there are approved uses for ivermectin in people and animals, it is not approved for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19. You should not take any medicine to treat or prevent COVID-19 unless it has been prescribed to you by your health care provider and acquired from a legitimate source. A recently released research article described the effect of ivermectin on SARS-CoV-2 in a laboratory setting. These types of laboratory studies are commonly used at an early stage of drug development. Additional testing is needed to determine whether ivermectin might be appropriate to prevent or treat coronavirus or COVID-19.

What should I do for my pets if I am sick with COVID-19? Or suspect that I may be?

Out of an abundance of caution, restrict your contact with pets and other animals, just as you would with other people during this time. When possible, we highly recommend sheltering in place with your pets. If you are providing care for your pet, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a face mask if directed to do by your physician. Avoid direct contact with pets, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food.¬†If you are unable to provide care, please use your pet’s designated care taker to provide for them while you receive treatment and recover. For additional information about how to make an emergency care plan for your pet, please see HSBV’s post regarding COVID-19 Pet Preparedness.