Compiled by Priyanka Kaushal*
Recent news of animals getting infected with coronavirus, which causes ‘Covid-19’ in humans, has raised threatening questions in the minds of people who spend most of their time around animals i.e. pets and generally also, for people who come in contact with animals frequently. So, here we put together some basic facts and information about coronavirus and pets.
- No evidence suggesting animals transmit the virus to humans or play a role in its spread
There is no evidence that animals transmit the virus to humans or in any way play a role in its spread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health and other public health bodies and experts agree on this point.
- Scientists emphasize that there is difference between infected and infectious. In a few cases, this virus doesn’t seem to be transmittable i.e. it is not able to complete its lifecycle in order to spread further. Those cases are known as ‘dead-end hosts’. Hopefully, dogs are such dead-end hosts according to the scientists because the virus doesn’t appear to reproduce well in them. However, cats are still being studied for this.
- AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) is of the view that smooth (non-porous) surfaces (e.g. countertops, doorknobs) transmit viruses better than porous materials (e.g. paper money, pet fur) because porous, especially fibrous, materials absorb and trap the pathogen (virus), making it harder to contract through simple touch. Nonetheless, all the public health organizations do advise to wash hands before and after handling a companion pet.
- Susceptibility of different animals to this pandemic disease
Recent cases that have come to light and various studies that have been conducted, suggest that cats are more susceptible.
- A laboratory experiment was conducted in which scientists introduced the virus to animals. They found that cats and ferrets were highly susceptible in comparison to dogs. However, pigs, chickens, and ducks were not at all affected. In that study, cats showed signs of illness.
- A preliminary study of blood samples from 102 stray, shelter, and pet cats in Wuhan, China, found that about 15 percent had been infected with the virus.
However, scientists are of the view that these cannot be considered as conclusive proofs as research is still going on about the susceptibility of cats to this virus.
- Recent cases suggest human-to-animal transmission
Pets around the globe, which have tested positive — two dogs and one cat in Hong Kong, a cat in Belgium, a Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo, and two pet cats in New York, in all of these cases, according to scientists, the animals were either infected by humans or were assumed to have been. The zoo cats were infected by an employee who was asymptomatic (showing no symptoms). The pets got it from their owners. In other words, what we are seeing is human-to-animal transmission.
- Difference between ‘Canine and Feline Coronavirus’ and ‘new Coronavirus’ causing Covid-19 in humans.
The new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is a member of the Coronaviridae family along with 40 other species of coronaviruses. The canine and feline coronaviruses also belong to the same family. Some people have confused these viruses with COVID-19 virus. While canine and feline coronaviruses lead to the development of specific diseases in dogs and cats, respectively, they cannot affect humans. So it is important to remember that one ‘coronavirus’ is not the same as other coronaviruses.
- Research still in progress
– There has been a little research on animal cases, and much remains to be ‘teased out’.
– Idexx Laboratories, a veterinary diagnostic company, had reviewed more than 5,000 samples from pet cats and dogs in 17 countries that were submitted by veterinarians for respiratory-related tests. It found zero cases of SARS-CoV-2 (scientific name for the coronavirus).
– There can be a possibility that just as is the case of asymptomatic humans, more animals may be infected than we know about as the virus doesn’t seem to greatly sicken cats and dogs.
Therefore, even if there is lack of conclusive evidence, it doesn’t mean that there is absence of risk. It just means that we haven’t been able to sort it out. So we need to take precautions at all levels.
- Can I walk my pet amidst this crisis?
You can take your pet for walks if all the following conditions are complied with:
- You comply with all the guidance/regulations of your local government regarding this point.
- You have no symptoms of COVID-19.
iii. You don’t live with someone who is showing symptoms or has been diagnosed with this disease.
- You don’t have any underlying conditions that would make you especially vulnerable.
- You have not been instructed to self-isolate.
Points to remember while walking your pet:
- Keep your walks relatively short, generally within your own neighbourhood.
- You should socially distance yourself, this means ensuring that you keep a safe distance from other people.
iii. It is also advised that you should keep your pets on their lead where possible to minimize contact with other people/animals.
- Can pet fur carry the virus?
– It has been observed in studies that virus infects mostly smooth surfaces not the fibrous ones as pet fur. However, animal fur is not amongst the surfaces that have been tested, so general precautions need to be taken.
– Don’t let COVID-19 infected person to come in contact with your pet, so as to avoid any droplet to be left on pet fur by that person’s sneezing and coughing.
- How to deal with my pet when I am sick?
– It is recommended that all pet owners put in place plans so that a friend or a family member can help in case a pet owner becomes ill. This may involve feeding your pet, taking them for a walk or caring for them in their own home until you fully recover.
– It is recommended that caretakers must take all precautions when they enter the home of an infected person, as the virus can survive on surfaces.
– If you do not have anyone to take care of your pet, it is recommended that you must contact your local animal welfare organization/shelter to ask for their advice.
- Should I get my pet tested for virus?
If your pet is showing signs of illness, you should consult your veterinarian and do as advised by him.
- Should my pet wear a face mask?
You can take every possible precaution as you can. However, masks made for pets may not be effective in preventing diseases transmitted by bodily fluid droplets. To protect your pet from respiratory diseases, you should get your pet vaccinated for Bordetella, parainfluenza, and canine influenza, which are the most common vaccine-preventable respiratory diseases in pets.
- Taking care of pets
Pets are part of our family and deserve the same level of attention during an outbreak as any other family member. Following points should be kept in mind:
- Regular exercise- It is important for animals to get the daily exercise they need, so if you are unable to walk your pets due to the lockdown then you should indulge them in minor physical activities while playing with them.
- Food- Feed your pets at regular intervals. Do not let their routine get disturbed due to the lockdown situation. If your pet is reluctant to be physically active and feels lazy, then keep the quantity of his food proportionate to his physical activity in order to avoid the issue of obesity.
iii. Essentials- You should have in store the prescribed medication and supplies to provide adequate care to your pet.
- Grooming- Bath your pets once a week or once in two weeks. Keep special care of their hygiene.
- Training tips
Like many of us have been adjusting to new routines amidst this lockdown, our pets are also likely to find this change difficult. Fortunately, this is an opportunity to spend time with your pets. You can even utilize this occasion to indulge them in mild training activities. Following are a few tips:
- Keep training period between 7-10 mins. Do not overdo it.
- Keep training period short, simple, and fun.
iii. Always end training sessions on a good note.
- Pets can start exhibiting behavioural issues such as attention seeking or separation anxiety, so you should separate them from you for a while and let them enjoy their own company. This is important as after lockdown is over, pets will have to unlearn one thing and learn completely new thing and adjust to new environment.
- Pets usually pick up the moods of their owners or people around them, so stay happy and positive.
- How to keep pets engaged during lockdown?
Due to this current situation, pets will find their daily routines suddenly changed and their owners at home instead of being at work. While this can be an anxious time for everybody, it is important to see things positively and use this as an opportunity to do things, we might not usually have time for. Following are some ideas how you can keep your pets engaged:
- Search games- Hide some treats and toys all around the house. Let your dog hunt for them.
- Shell game- Place three plastic cups upside-down on the floor and hide a treat under one of the cups. Move the cups around each other while your dog watches the movements. Then see if he can find the cup with his reward.
iii. Frozen treats- You need to put some food or a treat in an ice-cream container, fill it with water and freeze it. Your pet will have lots of fun waiting for the ice to melt and revealing the delicious surprise for him to enjoy.
- Chewing- It is natural behaviour of dogs. Chewing toys such as ‘kongs’ can keep your dog busy for hours, as well as help in maintaining good dog dental hygiene.
- Fishing games- Turn some string into a kind of fishing rod. Fix a shuttlecock at the end of it and then swing it through the room. Your cat will love chasing it.
- Torch game- Use a torch to make a light spot dart around the room and let your pet indulge its passion in hunting it.
vii. Obstacle courses- Build a small and safe obstacle course using a few small boxes of different heights with treats on top of them, so that your pet is kept busy finding the treats.
viii. Ball games- Throwing a bouncy ball against the wall will keep your pet busy trying to catch it.
- Do-it-yourself toys for your pets- Various videos are available online to make DIY toys for your pets. You just need to use a little imagination considering the interests of your pet.
https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=2860955910606733&id=100000770563365, Dr. Sangeeta Vengsarkar on CNN News18
brindaspetbakery (Brinda’s Pet Bakery)
* Editor- Creature Companion and an avid pet lover