As coronavirus case numbers climb, another COVID-19-related concern has come to light: What about my pets?
A pug in North Carolina tested positive for the virus after several of its owners did as well. It is potentially the first dog to be confirmed positive with the virus.
But veterinarians say there isn’t too much for owners to worry about when it comes to the family pet and coronavirus.
Jessica Romine, DVM specialist in small animal internal medicine at Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital in Southfield, Mich., said if any household pets are at higher risk of exposure, it is cats due to the similarity in lung enzymes between humans and felines.
But even then, the risk of any pet having a severe case of coronavirus, the way humans are experiencing, is low, Romine said.
“The cats that they’ve seen, and this includes the tigers that they’ve found at the zoo, other cats in New York City that have come back positive and shown mild signs, seem to be much, much more mild than people,” she said.
Think of it numerically: To date, there have been more than 981,000 confirmed cases in the U.S., yet just one dog and a few cats are confirmed to have the virus.
“The likelihood your pet is going to get sick or come down with coronavirus is so small,” said Keith Cook, co-owner of Southgate Animal Hospital. “Right now, fortunately, that doesn’t need to be one of our worries, there are much more important things to worry about.”
Here’s what you should know about pet health in the age of coronavirus:
What symptoms should I look for in my pet?
Romine said COVID-19 symptoms in pets closely resemble the well-known symptoms in humans: cough, fever and runny nose. All symptoms are likely to be relatively recognizable and mild, she said.
There are a variety of respiratory diseases that could cause similar symptoms that are more common, which a vet would likely check before testing for coronavirus, Cook said.
If you believe your pet is showing symptoms and may have been exposed to coronavirus by someone confirmed with it, let the vet know upfront before bringing them in.
Can my pet get me sick?
The good news? No. The bad news? You could give it to your pet, Romine said.
“There seems to be no evidence that pets can be giving it to people, so they shouldn’t be a risk for them licking us or getting it from them,” she said. “If anything, it would be the other way around, that a sick person could give it to their own cat or dog potentially.”
There is no evidence to date that pets can infect their owners, so there is no concern about animals being asymptotic and transmitting it the way humans do.
Owners should think of their animal as they would any other surface. The virus can live on their fur, like it would a countertop, but likely does not survive for very long.
Can I still take my animal to the vet right now?
Veterinary services are considered essential under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay at home order, but there are some changes. Most animal hospitals and veterinary offices are limiting pets they can see to those who are ill. If you need to take your pet to the vet, call ahead to schedule an appointment.
When you arrive, call the vet to let them know you are there and they will ask questions about the pets history and reason for visit over the phone, before coming out to pick up the pet and bring them in. The owner stays in the car for the duration of the appointment to limit themselves and those in the office.
“It’s a change in routine, but it’s allowing us to continue to provide all of the level of care that we need to for our animals, while trying to minimize our risk and theirs,” Romine said.
What should I do with my pet if I am sick?
Treat your pet as you would anyone else in your household and social distance.
“If you’ve been diagnosed with coronavirus, don’t cuddle and hug your pet, don’t possibly expose them,” Cook said. “In some cases, they’re even recommending social distancing on a walk – just like you are social distancing, the same thing with your pets.”
Before anyone in the household even gets sick, Michigan Humane Society recommends having a plan in place for where the pet could go and an emergency kit of supplies prepared.
If I have coronavirus, can my pet get tested?
There is a COVID-19 test for pets that uses similar technology to the test used in humans, Romine said. If there is serious concern that the pet has been exposed and is showing symptoms, the test can be administered.
However, Cook said other causes will likely be checked before moving to a pet coronavirus test.
Overall, the risk and concern with pets and coronavirus is currently low.
“Certainly keep an eye on your pet, but I think the risk is very low,” Cook said. “The major concern should really be the health of themselves and their families. We are here for their pets when they need us, but the risk of coronavirus is very low and should not be something that they need to be really worried about.”