Life has definitely changed in the past several weeks. We hear daily of more and more stores, restaurants, beaches, and parks being closed, along with a ton of event cancellations. "Social distancing" has become part of our everyday vernacular. In most states, we are allowed only to go out for essentials, to get gas, to walk our dogs, and to get exercise. We're generally allowed to walk outside freely (with the very strong recommendation that we endeavor to keep a distance of at least 6 feet from another person). Just because we're still allowed to walk our dogs, however, doesn't mean our life in semi-quarantine with our pets hasn't left us feeling uncertain about how all of this works and will continue to work.
Is Your Pet Prepared for a COVID-19 "Shelter in Place"?
Because many communities have already mandated that residents "shelter in place", you've probably already got a sufficient stock of toilet paper, but what about supplies you may need for your pets? Experts recommend having at least a two-week supply of dog and/or cat food and kitty litter, bags for picking up waste, and at least one month’s supply of any necessary medications, including flea and tick prevention and heartworm prevention.
Staying Home with Pets Amidst COVID-19
Do you know when your pet's next vaccinations are due? Remember, you can access your pet vaccination reminders on most veterinarian's pet portals or simply give their office a call. Most veterinary practices are still open and offering curbside service. This is especially important if your pet will need boarding, or will be staying with friends or family that have pets, in the event you do get sick. Have a plan in place now for those who can take your pets in the event of a hospitalization, or just so your pets can get the care they need while you get the rest you need if you are sick.
The Challenges of Isolation with Pets Amidst COVID-19
Many of us are already starting to feel the effects of social distancing, and our dogs are no different. Dogs may also experience stress, depression, loss of appetite, listlessness, excessive barking, or destructive dog behavior, especially if they are used to going on excursions with you or to doggy daycare. Dogs just can’t understand why their favorite activities are suddenly gone so, just as with children, it's important to keep them busy in new ways.
Banish the Boredom of Staying Inside
Just what do you do with a dog when you’re under quarantine, or just can’t be out and about like you were before? While your pets are probably pretty happy you’re home more, you may not be able to keep them as physically active as they once were. However, you can still keep them mentally stimulated. Consider using puzzle games or treat dispensers to keep them challenged and engaged.
Looking for something to do yourself? Try teaching your dog a new trick, give cat clicker training a whirl, or work on those obedience commands you have always been meaning to instill. This is a great way to increase your bond with your dog or cat while also providing mental and physical exercise. YouTube is a great resource for videos if you aren’t sure how to train a dog or even a cat.
Can My Pet Get Sick With COVID-19?
Right now, the good news is that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19. And both the CDC and WHO (World Health Organization) agree that there do not appear to be any meaningful signs that our pets can get the virus or spread it. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19.
"But," you may say, "wasn’t there a dog in Hong Kong that had coronavirus?!" Yes, there was a 17-year-old Pomeranian that tested "weakly" for coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19, which the dog’s owner had already been diagnosed with. Unfortunately, while that dog did sadly pass away soon after being returned to its owner from quarantine, experts do not believe the death was related to the virus. Health officials in both New York and Hong Kong have said they don’t believe domestic dogs and cats can be transmitters of the virus.
Why Are Some People Still Concerned That Pets Can Transmit COVID-19—and Vice Versa?
There are some coronaviruses that can infect animals that also go on to infect humans, and subsequently spread between people, but that is a rare occurrence. SARS is an example of a coronavirus disease that made its leap to people that then spread person-to-person. That is also what is suspected to have happened in the current outbreak. It is known that the first infections were linked to a live animal market in China, but officials are still working hard to positively identify the source of COVID-19.
Given the unknowns about the virus, experts recommend that people infected with the coronavirus stay away from pets, just as they should from people. Because people can be asymptomatic, the most conservative approach would be to refrain from touching other people’s pets altogether until more information is known about the virus.
If you are sick with COVID-19, have another member of your household care for your pets when possible, or arrange for a friend or family member to take them. If you have no other option than to care for your pet yourself, avoid whatever direct contact you can, including petting and being kissed or licked, and wash your hands before and after interacting with them.
If You Are Sick with COVID-19
Facts and recommendations about pets and COVID-19 from the experts From our friends at the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association):
Out of an abundance of caution, the AVMA recommends that if you contract COVID-19 you take a common-sense approach when interacting with your pets or other animals in your home, including service animals. You should tell your physician and public health official that you have a pet or other animal in your home. If you have a service animal or you must care for your pet, then wear a facemask; don’t share food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with your pet or service animal. You should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home. While we are recommending these as good practices, it is important to remember there is currently no evidence that pets can spread COVID-19 to other animals, including people.—AVMA.
If your pet or service animal needs to go to the veterinarian – what should you do?
The AVMA recommends, if you are not sick with COVID-19 or any other communicable disease, to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for your pet—just as you would normally do. Most practices have a designated vet tech who will greet you at your car to take your pet inside for his or her examination. The veterinarian will be in touch about the diagnosis and how to proceed, and your pet will be returned to your car afterward (if your pet is cleared to go home).
However, if you have contracted COVID-19 or another disease like cold or flu, please stay home and maintain social distancing with your family and friends until you are well again. In addition, "if you are sick with COVID-19, and you believe your pet or service animal is ill, please seek assistance from your veterinarian and public health official to determine how to best ensure your pet or service animal can be appropriately cared for while minimizing risks of transmitting COVID-19 to other people."—AVMA.
Here are some other key facts from the CDC to help clear up some of the confusion we may still have:
- Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some cause illness in people and others cause illness in certain types of animals.
- Coronaviruses that infect animals can become able to infect people, but this is rare. We do not know the exact source of the current outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). We do not have evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19. We do not have evidence to suggest that imported animals or animal products imported pose a risk for spreading the 2019 novel coronavirus in the United States.
- Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some coronaviruses cause cold-like illnesses in people, while others cause illness in certain types of animals, such as cattle, camels, and bats. Some coronaviruses, such as canine and feline coronaviruses, only infect animals and do not infect humans.—CDC.
Get Kids in on the Pet Care Action
While those of us with kids are likely working hard to shield them from getting too much information about this pandemic, they surely know this is the new normal...at least for now. Kids also like to feel useful, so why not put them to work a bit when it comes to caring for your pets during this time at home? Have the older ones walk the dogs or change the kitty litter. Have younger kids read a book to pets. Going through a pandemic is a traumatic experience, but there are silver linings, such as these opportunities to bond and build confidence in your kids.
While this is undoubtedly a scary time for all, there are positive things going on around us during this pandemic. Pollution is down. People have been communicating with others that they haven't talked to months if not years, albeit via sites like Zoom. And your pets are surely thrilled that you are spending more time at home (well, at least your dog). The curve will eventually be flattened. Until then, follow these relatively simple guidelines to keep your human and furry family members safe.