Integrative Pet Vet column: COVID-19 and pets, an update
Integrative Pet Vet
Contending with COVID-19 continues to be a daily part of our lives and our conversations. While there is still a lot to learn about COVID-19, much has been clarified since we were initially confronted by the pandemic earlier this year. Many questions have been asked regarding how COVID-19 affects our pets and if they can spread the virus to people.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), current evidence indicates that there is low risk that animals like dogs and cats spread COVID-19 to humans. However, people can spread the virus to their companion pets.
Worldwide, a small number of animals including dogs and cats have been reported to be infected with the COVID-19 virus. In April, the first U.S. positive animal was a tiger at the New York zoo. Other tigers and lions were also found to have clinical signs (coughing) and to be positive at that zoo. Interestingly, one tiger never had clinical signs but tested positive. It was determined that the cats were infected by an asymptomatic COVID-19 infected staff person.
Also in April, the first U.S. positive pets were reported. These were two cats in separate households that exhibited respiratory signs. One cat was exposed to a COVID-19 positive person. The other cat was suspected to have been exposed to an asymptomatic infected person. In June the first confirmed U.S. pet dog that tested positive for COVID-19 was reported. This was a German shepherd with respiratory signs. A second dog in the home that had no clinical signs did have antibodies for COVID-19, indicating a prior exposure.
Through the middle of December, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has reported approximately 120 confirmed cases in animals in the U.S. The majority of these cases have been in cats (54 cases) followed by dogs (38).
It is important to note that the majority of these confirmed animal cases occurred after close exposure to an infected person. Not all of the animals had clinical signs of being infected. Some animals were tested in an effort to understand virus transmission to animals in households with infected humans. These reports mean that pets can be infected by the virus. They also raise the question about virus transmission from pets to humans. Based on the current information, the risk of transmission from pets to humans continues to be considered low.
As a result, the focus is on preventing or reducing exposure of pets to COVID-19. This is best done by avoiding contact between pets and known, infected humans. CDC has recommended that people with COVID-19 that are in home isolating, restrict their interaction with household pets. This means that the infected person should maintain separation from household pets including no petting, hugging, snuggling, sharing food or bedding, or sleeping in the same location.
An uninfected household member should take care of the pet. Standard handwashing before and after handling pets should occur. The exception to this restricted interaction is for service dogs that must remain with their owners.
The possibility of pets being infected with COVID-19 by humans also brings the concern for pets in social settings and interaction with people that are not part of the household. Therefore, walk dogs on a leash and maintain at least the 6 feet distance from other people and animals. Avoid dog parks or public areas with large numbers of people and animals. Wash hands before and after contact with pets that are not part of your household.
Keep in mind that human outbreaks are caused by person-to-person transmission, not by pets. The risk of COVID-19 infection in pets is considered low at this time, and the signs of infection are vague. This means that the list of possible causes for the signs of illness in pets is long. In other words, there are many health issues that can result in sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge, fever, diarrhea and lethargy. At this time routine COVID-19 testing of pets is not recommended. When making an appointment for your pet’s health care, make sure to inform your veterinarian that your pet has been exposed to a known positive person, if that has occurred.
If you have questions about COVID-19 and pets, contact your veterinarian.
Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. He is also the founder of Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE). In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.
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