The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Concerns About Pets and COVID-19

DEAR DR. FOX: I live alone with my beloved dog. Preparing for the worst in this virus pandemic, I am thinking ahead to the scenario in which I get so sick that I can’t take him out, or that I need to go to the hospital. In this case, I would ask a neighbor or friend to take care of my pooch. My question is whether my dog would need to be disinfected in some way before it would be safe for another person to take him. Could the virus be transmitted through his fur? If so, what procedures would you recommend? -- E.C., Ashland, Oregon

Dear E.C.: You ask an important question with regard to this new plague. I hope you will remain safe, and have all your basic needs secured by practicing social distancing and personal sanitization -- hand-wipes, latex gloves and masks. Leave nonperishable grocery supplies, including pet food, in a separate room for 48 hours after getting them home.

People who get this disease and have animals should stay in place and self-quarantine, and the companion animals living with those who must be hospitalized should be properly quarantined and tested -- not euthanized. Thousands of cats were killed during the Black Death plague across Europe in the 17th century, taking the blame for what had become a human-to-human transmitted disease by people’s infected body lice and fleas.

A dog in Hong Kong whose COVID-19 test result was weakly positive died two days after being released from quarantine, according to Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. The 17-year-old Pomeranian showed no signs of the disease, and a subsequent blood test for antibodies was negative. Though the owner, who recently recovered from COVID-19, declined to authorize a necropsy, experts say the dog’s age, underlying health conditions and the stress of quarantine were likely factors in the dog’s death.

In March 2020, the Hong Kong government urged people not to abandon their pets and to stop kissing them after a second dog tested positive for coronavirus, but stressed that the animal had not shown any symptoms of the disease. A German shepherd was sent for quarantine, along with another mixed-breed dog from the same residence, after their owner was confirmed as being infected, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said in a statement. Though the shepherd tested positive for the virus, no such result was obtained from the mixed-breed dog, and “neither dog has shown any signs of disease,” the AFCD said, adding it will continue to monitor both dogs and conduct repeated tests on the animals.

Cats can be infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and spread it to other cats, but dogs are not really susceptible to the infection, according to researchers in China. The team at Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China also concludes that chickens, pigs and ducks are not likely to catch the virus. Seven tigers became ill in late March after interacting with an infected but asymptomatic employee at the Bronx Zoo in New York, but are expected to recover.

People who have been exposed to others infected, or who are themselves infected, should minimize physical in-home contact with companion animals. Wear a mask outdoors when you walk your dog, and avoid contact with other people’s dogs. For extra precaution after dog-play in a dog park, wipe them down well with a warm and soapy sponge.

The virus is very fragile; the only thing that protects it is a thin outer layer of fat. That is why any soap or detergent is the best remedy, because the foam cuts the fat. By dissolving the fat layer, the protein molecule disperses and breaks down on its own. Other tips:

-- Heat melts fat; this is why it is so good to use warm or hot water for washing hands and clothes (and everything else). In addition, hot water makes more foam.

-- Alcohol, or any mixture with alcohol over 65%, dissolves the external lipid layer of the virus.

-- Any mix with 1 part bleach and 5 parts water directly dissolves the protein, breaks it down from the inside and can be used to sterilize surfaces.

If you think your companion animals may have the infection, contact your veterinarian to get the test kit from Idexx Laboratories. The kit has tested thousands of samples from dogs and cats.

I hope this information is helpful. The more informed we are, the more our fears are tempered by responsible, preventive actions.

FLORIDA MAN ABANDONS DOG, FEARING COVID-19

A man in Cape Coral, Florida, admitted that he abandoned his dog because he was afraid he could catch COVID-19 from her, and he refused to take the dog back after being informed that his fear was misguided. “In the United States, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets, livestock or wildlife, might be a source of COVID-19 infection at this time,” the CDC says. (Newsweek, 3/30)

(Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com 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.

Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)