Written By: Melissa Kauffman, Catster & Dogster magazine editor
It goes without saying that the Coronavirus outbreak has put the entire world into a state of emergency. The World Health Organisation has declared it a global pandemic and governments all over the world are taking the necessary measures to ensure the safety of their citizens. The Coronavirus is a highly contagious respiratory disease, with symptoms similar to cold or flu. The origin of contagion is still unclear, but scientists believe the new virus may have arisen in animals.
This info stirred a lot of unsettling thoughts among pet owners. We have even seen a spike in sales of face masks for dogs, as people rush to protect their pets from COVID-19. But, is it really necessary and how can people actually help their pets in this delicate time?
Pets and coronavirus
Although there are coronaviruses that affect dogs, Covid-19 so far is not having a huge impact on household pets like it is humans. There have been reports that a dog who tested positive for coronavirus died in Hong Kong recently, but Hong Kong health officials say that the dog may not actually have had COVID-19 but tested positive due to “environmental contamination”.
While animals are not at a big risk from Covid-19, NYPost reports that they still may be fomites for it. “A fomite is a surface that can transmit disease,” says Dr. Daniel Smith of West Village Veterinary Hospital. “Anything can be a fomite.”
“So, if somebody who has [the coronavirus] is coughing on their hand and then petting their dog, there is the possibility of transmission,” Smith says. “But I think it’s a very low likelihood … we don’t know enough.”
While this new information is unsettling, COVID-19 is primarily being spread between humans. This is reassuring for pet owners, although there is still a question of what would happen to pets if owners become infected. The best thing owners can do to protect their pets is to follow normal health precautions.
How to protect your pets
Limit any potential expose to your pet
As reported by NYPost, German researchers have confirmed that the coronavirus can live on inanimate surfaces such as metal, glass or plastic for up to nine days. One health precaution that pet owners can take therefore is washing your hands with warm water and soap after getting in contact with any animal or handling their food, bedding or toys.
Pet owners are also being advised to “Keep interaction between your pet and other people to a minimum” Dr. Daniel Smith. If you absolutely must travel anywhere with your pet, be sure to take the necessary precautions, which include containing your pets in a crate, or a carrier designed for air travel, and not letting them out of it in crowded places like airports or train stations. The ASPCA are stating that it is vital you write your pet’s name and your contact information on your pet’s crate or carrier.
It is not necessary to have a face mask for your dog or cat, but if you notice your pet is showing symptoms of illness, you should take them to a professional examination. Any sign of coughing is bad enough since coughing is not natural for both cats and dogs. Coughing usually indicates canine influenza or other respiratory diseases. The best prevention for any acute state of your pet is taking care of them by providing them proper activity, nutrition, and grooming, as well as cooperating with your vet.
Make sure you have enough necessary pet supplies and designate an emergency caretaker
The ASPCA are also advising pet owners around the world to have “emergency kits”, which include a 30-day supply of pets’ medications, plus two weeks’ worth of pet food and necessary items like cat litter.
It’s further recommended that your pet is equipped with a collar and tag with identification including your phone number. In case of emergency, the ASPCA also advises “proactively” pre-designating someone, whether it’s a family member, friend or boarding facility, to care for your pet in the event you are unable to.
Foster pets need you now more than ever
As Coronavirus is still spreading worldwide, safety measures are getting more strict. Many places reduced their work or closed completely in order to limit the spread of the virus. Some businesses handled the situation by allowing people to work from home. However, animal shelters are not that lucky.
Shelters rely on the work of employees and volunteers, and if they are unable to come to work a lot of animals in shelters wouldn't be able to survive without their care. If you're willing to help the animals in your community and you have not tested positive for the virus, the best thing you can do is to offer to foster for your local shelter.
Fostering an animal means temporarily adopting it until it finds a new owner. Fostering prevents overcrowding in shelters, and it is especially useful for very young kittens or puppies that need special care. Not only has the spread of Coronavirus halted the work of shelters, but it has also reduced the number of pet adoptions. If you are able to offer your home to one or more pets in the next several weeks, you will do very much to make the situation easier for animal shelters. For those quarantined at home, a pet may even reduce the sense of loneliness and help provide a sense of routine.
Spay and neuter
There is one extreme consequence of the overgrowing number of animals in shelters, which is rarely mentioned. Namely, in order to keep the number of animals sustainable, shelters are sometimes forced to euthanize. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals claims that 670 000 dogs are killed in shelters each year.
The best way to prevent unnecessary deaths is spaying and neutering pets at an early age, and of course fostering or adopting animals rather than buying. Spaying and neutering are important because they help control the number of stray and unplanned dogs. These procedures are even known for having beneficial health effects for canines, mostly preventing various types of cancer.
The worldwide contagion of coronavirus is unsettling, but if we listen to the government’s advice and take precautions we can still be optimistic. The best way to take care of your furry companion is to limit contact, while keeping them fed, exercised and stimulated (even if this is indoors), and to wash your hands regularly before any contact.