The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Update on Coronavirus

DEAR READERS: The American Veterinary Medical Association is actively monitoring developments related to animals and COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

On Feb. 27, a dog in Hong Kong tested “weak positive” for coronavirus (the owner tested positive). The precise meaning of “weak positive” remains unclear, and evaluation is ongoing. The dog has since received a second positive result, which has been sent to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), which is working with Hong Kong health officials on this case. Hong Kong authorities have said the dog shows no clinical signs of illness, but remains quarantined. They contend that cats and dogs cannot pass the virus to humans, but they can test positive for low levels of the pathogen if they catch it from their owners.

At this time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization say there is no evidence that companion animals can spread COVID-19. However, as with any disease, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands after being around animals.

According to the CDC, people who are sick with COVID-19 should limit contact with pets and other animals just as they would limit contact with other people. When possible, a healthy member of the household should take over caring for any animals. If an ill individual must be around pets or other animals while sick, he or she should wear an appropriate facemask and wash hands thoroughly before and after.

A Facebook post implying that a cattle vaccine can prevent infection with the novel coronavirus spreading among humans has been widely shared, but that vaccine prevents diarrhea in calves caused by bovine coronavirus -- an entirely different pathogen from the one that causes COVID-19. Under no circumstances should people ever use any animal vaccine on themselves.

For more details about this emerging disease, see the relevant article on my website ( Essentially, this emerging disease and others will continue to be threats, calling for ever-more vaccines and medications, so long as preventive medicine remains human-centered and reactive rather than proactive. Governments must address wildlife poaching, trafficking, habitat encroachment, our ever-increasing human numbers and the killing of animals, wild and domesticated, for food.

DEAR DR. FOX: A recent column of yours about race horses really spoke to me. I am on the board of directors of the Equamore Foundation, a horse rescue sanctuary in Ashland, Oregon. We have lived the terrible story of thoroughbred horses thrown in the trash, and we fight against it every day.

Currently, we have 59 rescued equines on our property; the number fluctuates as we lose horses to illness and injury and, sadly, as more animals are identified who need our help. We only take in horses that have no other options. Once they enter our barn, they only leave to cross the rainbow bridge. Many of these horses come from the racing industry, and we have seen the abuse of these magnificent animals -- including starvation, cruelty and abandonment -- up close.

We have been a rescue facility since 1991. Our horses live as horses should: They have a beautiful, cozy barn; daily turnout in the pasture with their herds; good food; vet and farrier care; and the love of the humans who tend to their needs. I would invite you to peruse our website ( to read some of the inspiring stories of rehabilitation and redemption of our residents.

To highlight the problems with horse racing, we hold an annual event on the first Saturday in May, coinciding with the Kentucky Derby. We do our best to teach our supporters about the cruelty built into the horse racing industry. And it is an industry -- a business -- where each year’s batch of colts is called a “crop,” like corn or soybeans. I’m sure that this desensitization makes it easier for trainers to shove a less-than-successful and terrified horse into a trailer for the trip to Canada or Mexico for slaughter.

Thank you for all that you do for animals, and the awareness that you bring to the world to make us better stewards of our furry friends. -- Nancy Shulenberger, Ashland, Oregon

DEAR N.S.: I commend you on your active involvement in helping these magnificent, long-abused animals, who are treated by so many as mere commodities. I hope some readers will be moved to support your good work.

I have also written an article, which has been accepted for publication in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, in which I set out the scientific and medical reasons that thoroughbred horses should not be raced competitively until they are 3 1/2 to 4 years of age. Before that age, their skeletal and joint structures are too immature to take the physical stress, making them prone to injury and all too often having to be killed on the racetrack. Such a sad reflection of human ignorance, indifference and greed.

(Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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