Coronavirus, Your Dog, and You

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From past work on articles about canine vaccination protocols, I was familiar with the word “coronavirus” when the stories about coronavirus disease 2019—better known today as COVID-19—began to break.

When it comes to dogs, the phrase “coronavirus disease” has long been used to refer to a highly infectious intestinal disease that mostly affects puppies who are less than six weeks of age. The viral infection can cause abdominal discomfort and diarrhea for a few days, but is usually mild. The disease is most common in puppies who have been raised in crowded and unsanitary conditions—puppies who are also at higher risk of becoming infected with parvovirus. If a pup contracts both viruses at the same time, he may not recover.

There is a vaccination that can protect pups from a coronavirus infection, but it’s rarely administered. Neither the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA, the organization whose vaccination protocol guidelines are followed by most veterinarians) nor the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommend the coronavirus vaccination for most dogs or puppies.

The type of coronavirus that typically infects dogs is not zoonotic; it doesn’t affect humans in any way.

“Coronavirus” is a sort of generic term for any one of a number of viruses that are named for the crown-like spikes on the surface of the virus when viewed by powerful microscopes. Some coronaviruses affect only animals and some affect humans. The types that affect humans tend to cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory infections—what most of us would consider an ordinary “cold.” However, in vulnerable or particularly susceptible individuals, the viruses can also cause bronchitis and pneumonia.

There has been a certain amount of comparing COVID-19 to “severe acute respiratory syndrome,” better known as SARS. COVID-19 and SARS are actually both coronaviruses (as is Middle East respiratory syndrome, better known as MERS). So far, SARS and MERS both seem to be less infectious than COVID-19, but they both seem to cause a higher rate of fatalities than COVID-19 infections.

What’s Been Reported So Far

Here’s the only reason I (of all people) am writing about this: On February 28, there was a widely disseminated news report that the pet dog of a COVID-19 patient in Hong Kong had been tested for COVID-19 and the test resulted in a “weak” positive detection of the virus.

The health officials who tested the COVID-19 patient’s dog collected oral, nasal and rectal samples for testing; it’s unknown what made them decide to do this. As it developed though, the dog’s nasal and oral samples “tested weak positive” for COVID-19 and the dog was placed in a veterinary quarantine facility for further observation.

A spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said the dog does not have “any relevant symptoms,” so the agency will conduct close monitoring of the dog and collect test further to confirm if the dog has really been infected with the virus or this is a result of environmental contamination of the dog’s mouth and nose.

The agency’s news release about the case also state that it has no evidence that pet animals can be infected with COVID-19 virus or can be a source of infection to people. And yet, confoundingly, the release went on to say that to ensure public and animal health, the department strongly advises mammalian pets of patients confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19 virus to be put under quarantine.

However, experts in this country have observed that any swabs of an infected patient’s environment, such as the doorknobs, television remote control, bathroom faucets, and so on, may also produce a positive test result due to “environmental contamination.”

Tragically, within days, there were reports of a record number of dogs and other pets being abandoned in China’s streets, and thousands of pets being surrendered to overwhelmed animal shelters—despite the fact that there is no indication that the COVID-19 virus is zoonotic. Time magazine reports that the crisis for pet dogs and cats is the worst in Wuhan, the capital city of the Hubei province where the first cases of COVID-19 are believed to have emerged. Time reports that when a person in Wuhan is found to have COVID-19, the authorities kill all animals in the home as a precaution.

This report was corroborated by a reporter for the BBC (British news service):

“Volunteers in China say they’re struggling to keep up with the number of animals being abandoned as the country battles the virus outbreak.

More than 2,000 people in China have died and more than 78,000 infections have been reported in the country.

Pet owners who fall sick or are caught up in quarantine can’t take their animals with them, and despite reassurance from the World Health Organization that animals can’t carry the virus, others are being dumped.”

How to Protect Your Dog from Coronavirus

There is no evidence whatsoever to indicate that dogs (or cats) can carry or transmit COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), at present, there is no evidence to suggest that dogs or cats will become a source of infection of COVID-19. “It’s important to remember that viruses can sometimes infect a species but not cause illness in that species, nor become transmissible to others,” says the CDC.

And if you do become ill, you may well contaminate your dog’s coat with droplets from your sneezes, coughs, or nose-blowing. Theoretically, someone else could contract the virus if they were to pet your virus-covered dog! Accordingly, the CDC makes the following practical recommendations:

“You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a face mask.”

But under no conditions whatsoever, should you abandon or surrender your dog due to fears over COVID-19.

23 COMMENTS

  1. A very informative article. Many thanks. You explained it all very well and without fuss, panic or hyperbole.
    Thanks again!

    • I’m sure we’re all on the same page about fact-based decisions, and protecting both critters and people… so i wanted to share some additional info- not for alarm, but for accuracy.This Veterinary Information VIN article makes clear that the quarantined dog in Hong Kong IS infected with (NOT just contaminated with) Covid-19. https://news.vin.com/VINNews.aspx?articleId=56402 They do agree that there is no evidence of spread from dogs to humans (though lack of evidence of spread is not the same as evidence that it CANNOT be spread from dog to human- it’s so early that we don’t know much.) The quarantined dog was infected by its owner, not the other way round.

      Corona viruses are often zoonotic, and Covid-19 is thought to be zoonotic, having probably started in bats, and being spread from pangolins to humans.

      None of this means people should abandon pets!

      • Thank you for the link to a terrific and reliable source of news. Yes, on March 4, the authorities in Hong Kong released information relating to the results of ongoing tests of the dog who belonged to a person who was sick with COVID-19. The results indicated that the dog HAD been infected by the virus, though it shows no sign of illness.

  2. Thank you so much to write this article and to provide with valid standing points. I am sharing this article out And hope more people can get educated. Don’t abandon the furry family members. If we are fearful, they are too and lost when being Dumped.

  3. Thank you for the article. I was concerened about what would happen to US companion pets if someone became ill with COV19. Your article helped alot.

  4. Thank you for putting into one, very readable article, the real facts. Although an immune compromised senior, my loyal loving companions would never be at risk from me at any point. Again. Much gratitude

  5. Thanks for the information and clarification of this disease and how it affects our furry companions! I look forward to your next article.

  6. Thank you so much for this informed and timely article. Having read the 28 Feb article I was a little concerned, you have allayed all my fears!

    • Thank you for this important informative. I cried reading this and visualizing what has been going on. Shame on them all!! Shame on China for allowing this to get this far! My heart breaks!!

  7. Thank you for sharing your information, this is the kind of news that needs to be put out there for everyone to see. You should contact Fox news or other news agency’s that air trusted information. The public needs to see and hear this before it’s too late for many pets! I will pass it along to all pet lovers I know as well. Thanks again, especially if this helps save any of our precious pets.

  8. I just saw a you tube channel that showed people in Wuhan had been ordered to evacuate their homes when this virus hit and most of them left their pets in their homes. Now volunteers were going door to door to see if they could help feed and water the pets that were abandoned. How sad that people would not take their pets with them

  9. What is unknown, is how did the dog get the virus. Four possibilities… 1) the dog is a simple fomite (ie doorknob). This is unlikely given multiple positive test results 2) The owner gave it to the dog 3) The dog contracted it elsewhere and gave it to the owner and 4) Both owner and dog contracted the virus after exposure to a 3 rd party.

    We can assume #1 is not valid. Based on released information, there is no way to determine 2, 3, or 4. In all reality, it cannot be conclusively proven without having prior test results which would not exist since they where not tested until the owner became clinical. Making an assumption of who gave it to whom is a dangerous leap which can cause one to miss vital facts.

  10. One thing to watch out for is Due to Corona virus, the closure of Italy’s borders. If you feed this food I would highly recommend switching to a local brand. If you are in Canada move to Acana/Orijen or in the USA switch to Nulo. Both comparable domestic foods you will always have access to.

  11. Very informative article. I am glad that someone has come up with scientifically sound information. This will help me in convincing my clients & restrict abandoning their pets.

  12. Thanks for the post – great idea about promoting the idea of sending a check to your dog walker/trainer!

    I was a little disappointed that you talked about supporting pet businesses but then posted something about Chewy’s. Independent pet supply stores are open in our state (and many if not all other states) as we are considered an essential business. We’re selling a lot of food, butnot much else. This is hard, as food has a very narrow margin. Losing any business right now means we’ll have a hard time making rent and paying staff. I know there’s a bailout coming, but if we were in better shape, we wouldn’t have to take that money and it could go to other businesses like restaurants. In the bigger picture, a message of always supporting your local independently owned pet supply stores over online corporate giants is a good thing to do when you can. Thanks

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