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We're in the midst of uncertain and stressful times with the current pandemic sweeping the globe, involving the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. When situations are scary and nerve-wracking, people often turn to their dogs for support. In fact, studies have shown that petting or positively interacting with a dog can lower our blood pressure and decrease the production of the stress hormone cortisol. But right now, many of us are worrying about our loved ones, including our pets. Can dogs get coronavirus? How do I protect my dog from it? We try to answer your questions here.
Evidence suggests it's likely that dogs cannot contract COVID-19. However, there have been been two cases of dogs testing positive for the virus in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) explained that a Pomeranian had a "weakly positive" result from very sensitive tests that detect even minute amounts of the virus. "Weakly positive" means that there was a small quantity of COVID-19 viral RNA in the sample. But the results did not indicate whether it was an intact virus (which are infectious) or just fragments of the RNA, (which are not). Furthermore, the dogs who tested positive showed no symptoms.
A microbiologist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine named Shelley Rankin talked to Science about COVID-19 infection of our pets. She explained that dogs are mammals too, meaning:
"They have many of the same types of receptors on their cells that we do. So the virus could theoretically attach to these receptors. But will it enter their cells and replicate? Probably not."
Still, she suggests that anyone exposed to or infected with COVID-19 should limit contact with pets and wash hands thoroughly before and after any interactions with them. In addition, they should not allow their dog to lick their faces. If the virus were to be transmitted, it would most likely be through respiratory droplets and secretions.
Pro Tip: There are known coronaviruses that affect dogs, such as the canine respiratory coronavirus (CCoV), but these are not the same as COVID-19. CCoV is a canine infection from the same family of viruses as other coronaviruses, known as Coronaviridae. It is an infection that causes gastrointestinal problems, rather than respiratory ones, and does not affect humans.
The two cases in Hong Kong have been categorized as "low-level infection," likely transmitted from an infected human. Because of this, any dogs of owners who exhibit symptoms or become infected should also be quarantined. This is a precaution, however, as there is no evidence so far that dogs can transmit the virus to humans. As the World Health Organization states:
"There is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19. COVID-19 is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently and thoroughly. WHO continues to monitor the latest research on this and other COVID-19 topics and will update as new findings are available."
The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) explains that, although this virus seems to have arisen from an animal source, it is now spreading person-to-person. There is still little to no evidence that pet animals are a source of infection.
While the most common way COVID-19 spreads is between people, the second most common route of transmission appears to be via contaminated surfaces. A study showed that the virus can survive up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 4 hours on copper. That being said, a dog's fur is low risk, as The American Veterinary Medical Association states that:
"Smooth (non-porous) surfaces (e.g., countertops, door knobs) 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."
In terms of petting other people's dogs, the conservative approach is to refrain from doing so. Especially because people can be asymptomatic and infected without knowing. If you do decide to pet another person's dog, do so with caution and remain six feet away from the owner. And make sure to wash your hands thoroughly (for 20 seconds) before and after petting the dog.
The physical exercise and mental stimulation that comes from going on walks is very important for dogs. As long as you are not sick, you should still be able to take your dog. However, some cities have put regulations in place that may prohibit this. If you are allowed to walk, make sure you practice social distancing and stay away from crowds and other people. In addition, wash your hands for 20 seconds before and after each walk.
Pro Tip: Bring along a bottle of hand sanitizer for quick and easy disinfecting. This, however, is not a replacement for washing your hands before and after the outing.
Alternatively, there are ways you can keep your dog physically active and mentally stimulated inside. From running up and down stairs to playing brain games and more. This will help relieve boredom that may pop up during social distancing or quarantining.
Pet owners should wash their hands thoroughly and for, at least, 20 seconds after interactions with any dogs. You can also wipe your dog's paws with pet-friendly paw cleaner or wipes. Dogs do not need face masks to protect against the virus.
In addition, limit or postpone any dog walker or pet sitter reservations. If you have to keep these, make sure to continue social distancing (for instance, when handing your dog over to a walker) and wash your hands after interactions.
You should also include your pet in preparedness planning. Experts recommend that you plan for this like you would for a natural disaster. They suggest getting a month's worth of supplies, making sure you have extra of whatever your dog needs (such as pet food, medicine and supplements).
For people who have been infected or exposed to COVID-19, experts recommend limiting contact with your pets and even quarantining them. Not only will this avoid exposing them to the virus, but it will also prevent transmission to another person if they touch your pet.
If you are concerned about your dog or notice a change in his or her health, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Many vet offices are changing their practices to minimize contact between people. Some vets will come out to you and your dog with proper protection, while others will do your appointment virtually or over the phone. In general, it's best to postpone non-emergency vet appointments.