Can Dogs Get Coronavirus (COVID-19)? What Owners Should Know2020-09-08
The outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has left us all scared for our loved ones - and if you own a dog, that includes your beloved pet.
Reports of the virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December, and since then, we've seen a lot of misinformation about whether dogs and cats can catch it. So, as pet owners, should we be worried?
This article will debunk the myths surrounding pets and coronavirus, and explain what you should be doing to keep both you and your dog safe during the pandemic.
Can Dogs Contract Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
On March 13th, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that there is no evidence that animals such as cats and dogs can be infected by the new coronavirus.
This statement was a response to the news that a seventeen-year-old Pomeranian had tested 'weak-positive' for the virus in Hong Kong, one week after its owner was diagnosed with COVID-19. The dog itself was asymptomatic - meaning it didn't actually display any coronavirus symptoms - but was quarantined and closely monitored by Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
Some scientists are skeptical about whether the fact the dog tested positive for the virus proves that pets can get coronavirus. At the time of writing, there are still no cases of domestic pets with COVID-19 in the United States - although a tiger named Nadia has become infected from a zookeeper in Bronx Zoo, where she's expected to make a full recovery.
In fact, current research suggests that cats are more likely to get coronavirus than dogs. This was the conclusion of a study in Hong Kong, which tracked the transmission of COVID-19 between different groups of animals. However, as only five cats took part in the experiment, it may be too soon to treat these findings as fact.
We still have a lot to learn about coronavirus, but all the evidence suggests that dogs are extremely low-risk. Around the world, there have been only three reported cases of domestic animals contracting the virus so far: two dogs in Hong Kong and a cat in Belgium.
Compare that to the number of human cases (over 2 million, more than 660,000 of which are in the United States), and it seems clear that we shouldn't be too worried about our dogs contracting the disease.
Is It Possible For Dogs To Spread Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
At the moment, the research surrounding human-to-animal (and animal-to-human) transmission of coronavirus is limited.
There is a very small number of confirmed cases where a person has spread COVID-19 to an animal. Nadia, for example, tested positive after coming into contact with an asymptomatic zookeeper. However, there are currently no cases which suggest that dogs and cats can spread the virus to humans.
Because humans and dogs have different genetic makeup, viruses generally have to evolve to become infectious to both. Rabies is one of the few viruses known to have evolved in this way, which is why it's a legal requirement for dogs to be vaccinated against it in the United States.
We don't know whether coronavirus COVID-19 will develop to become transmissible between humans and dogs. It's possible, especially as scientists believe that the virus originated from an animal such as a bat or pangolin. But the current research gives us no reason to believe that this is the case.
According to the Hong Kong study of dogs and cats, it's also difficult for COVID-19 to spread between dogs. Researchers found that none of their dogs displayed symptoms of coronavirus, or excreted traces that were actively infectious.
How To Keep Both You & Your Dog Safe From Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Although dogs don't seem to be particularly at risk of contracting coronavirus, it's still important to take precautionary steps to keep both you and your pet safe:
- Correctly Washing your hands is one of the most vital things you should be doing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Use antibacterial soap and be sure to wash your hands for at least twenty seconds, including between your fingers, the back of your hands, and your wrists. Take particular care to do this after touching your pet, especially if they've licked you.
- Avoid coming into close contact with other people when you're out and about with your dog. The public should know not to pet service dogs when they're working, but this is crucial for any animal during the pandemic as we don't yet know whether they can carry the virus on their fur.
- If you're displaying symptoms or feel unwell, try not to come into close contact with your dog at home. While it's impossible to isolate completely from your service dog, limit the amount you touch them unnecessarily and be vigilant about washing your hands afterward.
At this stage, these measures are purely precautionary. As the World Organisation for Animal Health has said, there is no evidence that dogs and cats spread the disease. As a result, there's no need to take any action to either protect or restrict companion animals.
There's a lot we still don't know about coronavirus COVID-19, particularly in regards to its effects on animals. A lot of misinformation has come from origin cases in Hong Kong. However, health officials agree that there's no need to make drastic changes to your behavior when interacting with your dog.
A tragic side-effect of the misinformation in the media is an increase in the number of people abandoning their dogs and cats. This is completely unfounded, as we're substantially more likely to get coronavirus from our family members than we are from our pets.
As pet owners, it's possible to protect both ourselves and our dogs by following WHO guidelines. It may be a while before life returns to normal. However, the COVID-19 pandemic will come to an end, while our animals promise a lifetime of love and companionship.
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