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Pets in Times of Covid-19

TFrazao is a registered Veterinary Practitioner for ten years and a Comp. Science Master recent grad. She believes in the fusion of things.

Pets are part of our family, and as seen in figure 1, we hug them, play with them, and are our best friends in bad times. COVID-19 pandemic, as we know, changed the world, and we needed to adopt it and so as our pets.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to have our pets also included in our contingency and prevention plan. As a Veterinary Doctor, I want to give you a better understanding of pets in the context of COVID-19 for you to be better informed and not harm, abandon or exclude your pet. I will answer the most common questions that even nowadays, owners are asking.

Figure 1. A pet owner cuddling with her dog.

Figure 1. A pet owner cuddling with her dog.

What is COVID-19? Did you know that pets can have other coronaviruses?

COVID-19 is a short name for disease caused by a coronavirus in 2019. The virus is named SARS-COV-2 ( SARS means Acute Respiratory Syndrome — COV — coronavirus -2). The disease was identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, and has spread globally, causing the pandemic. Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds.

In humans, coronavirus causes tract respiratory tract infections that can be moderate as common flu; however, others may be lethal as SARS-COV-2. As a curiosity, the name coronavirus derives from the Latin corona, which means crown. This refers to the characteristic appearance of the surface of the virus when seen under transmission electron microscopy.


Why washing hands inactivates the virus?

To understand the importance of why we should wash our hands, it is important to know the anatomy of the virus beyond his appearance.

These viruses have an envelope, which means that when it is outside, the host has a lipidic protective layer (“fat”) (in figure 2, the envelope is the grey surface area). This layer is sensitive to desiccation, heat, and detergents. This layer makes the virus easy to sterilize than others. The viruses with an envelope have strong adaptability and can mutate quickly to invade the immune system.

The behavior of washing our hands with detergent or soap destroys this lipidic barrier and inactivates the virus. This way, the virus outside the host is easy to neutralize.


Figure 2. SARS-COV-2 structure. All red dots form the "crown," and the "fat layer" is presented colored in grey.

Figure 2. SARS-COV-2 structure. All red dots form the "crown," and the "fat layer" is presented colored in grey.

Pets, particularly dogs and cats, can infect and transmit the COVID-19 to humans?

The short answer is no.

To answer this question more precisely why pets do not infect humans, it is important to know the definition of infection and transmission versus fomites.

  • Definition of infection - pet infection means that the virus enters the host (pet) and attaches to the cells, and with or without symptoms, the pet can transmit the virus to us.
  • Definition of Fomite - in a broad sense, is the possibility of the pet to retain and carry infectious organisms like an object; for example, the pet would carry droplets with the virus in its fur if a contaminated person coughed near the pet.
  • Coronavirus Transmission - according to studies, coronavirus transmission occurs only between humans by secretions and droplets. It can occur directly if a person sneezes or coughs near the other or indirectly when droplets with viruses from that sneeze or cough stay in tables, bags, doors, or literally anything a human can touch. After that, another person comes and touches these with their hands and puts the hands to their face, nose, mouth, and eyes.

There is no consistent scientific evidence that dogs and cats or other pet animals can transmit the disease to humans or even be considered fomites.

However, thinking about the ultimate safety in the case of the animal in contact with the droplets, simple hygiene measures are easy to apply to reduce the risk.

Although pet skin and fur are recognized sources for human infection for some parasites and microorganisms, there is no evidence that pets can serve as fomites for SARS-CoV-2. There is also no evidence that inanimate objects associated with pets, such as collars, leashes, food, or water dishes, can be fomites for SARS-CoV-2.

— Radford G. Davis, DVM, MPH, DACVPM, Iowa State University in Clinician's Brief.

Taking the principle of precaution, what everyday measures can I take towards pets?

The indoor pets, especially dogs that need to have access to the outside, should do short walks, keep the social distance recommended from other humans or dogs, and the tutors should avoid touching their faces, mouth, or eyes during the walk. When entering the house, the tutors should wash/disinfect their hands and hygienize the dog’s paws using water and soap, similarly to us washing our hands. This way, residues are eliminated and inactivates the virus if present. Overall there is no need to alter the wellbeing of animals or the relationship the animals have with their owners

I have been reading the news of COVID-19 infection in dogs and cats. Is it true?

At the moment, the animals have not been considered as a risk factor. Considering the news may be misleading and have an absence of scientific criteria, please, contact your Veterinary Doctor or the CDC to clarify the information.


If I am contaminated or a suspect of COVID-19, and I have pets, what should I do?

It would be best if you took measures to avoid contact with the pet or with the person infected or suspect. If that is not possible, those infected, with or without physical symptoms, or even suspects, should always wear masks when in contact with the pets. You can decontaminate the pet’s hair by giving him a normal bath with shampoo. The detergent action of the shampoo inactivates the virus.


What should I do if I need to go to the Vet?

In general, veterinary doctors maintain their activity in urgent situations. Still, any question you have, you should first contact your veterinarian by telephone or email and ask for instructions on what you should do.

In the present moment, it is natural that your Veterinary Doctor may try to resolve simple situations by doing a telemedicine consult without the need for you to take your pet to the clinic/hospital.

If you are infected or in quarantine, never take your pet to the veterinary doctor without letting him know first.

Conclusion

I hope the answers to these questions have helped you be more clarified and knowledgeable that pets are such a low to none risk that you should not worry. It would help if you indeed enjoyed your pet to the fullest since being at home will give you a great opportunity to spend quality time with your pets. However, hygiene measures are key, not only for this virus but also for overall pet and owner health, and they should be implemented.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2020 DVM MSc Tania Frazao