The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Reducing Coronavirus Risk in Cats and Dogs

DEAR READERS: On April 27, it was reported that a pug dog belonging to a pediatrician participating in a COVID-19 study at Duke University in North Carolina tested positive for infection with SARS-CoV-2, and displayed mild signs of illness for several days. The pediatrician, her husband and their son also tested positive for coronavirus infection, while the couple’s daughter, their other dog and a pet cat did not.

It was not until April 29 that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called for social distancing to be applied to pets: dogs being kept on the leash when outdoors and not petted by people outside the family, and cats being kept indoors. For details about how one can help cats who are used to going outdoors adapt quickly and enjoy life indoors, go to the American Bird Conservancy’s page on the topic: abcbirds.org/program/cats-indoors.

I have always deplored the keeping of indoor-outdoor cats, knowing how many cats get killed and injured by traffic, fights and infections. In addition, cats are super-predators, decimating songbird and other wildlife populations. The notion of “working cats” around homes, barns and warehouses comes from previous eras that were more ignorant about zoonotic diseases and sanitation. Cats, especially indoor-outdoor cats with close contact with family members, can transmit more diseases to us than human-avoiding wild rodents.

In early April, both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the British Veterinary Association urged people who are self-isolating or have COVID-19 symptoms to keep their cats indoors because it is possible that outdoor cats may carry the virus on their fur, just as the virus can live on other surfaces.

DEAR DR. FOX: I read your comment about finding a reticulated python while walking in D.C., and wanted to mention an unlikely find of my own from some years back.

Living in Maryland in a neighborhood of large, one- to two-acre lots, I was surprised to catch sight of a gerbil near our front porch. I managed to catch the poor little guy, probably because it was cold and he was moving more slowly, and then found him an aquarium and shavings as a temporary home. A few days later, I mentioned the gerbil to my neighbor. She smiled and said she had gotten tired of taking care of it, and had put it outside. She wondered how on earth it ever found its way to my home. Talk about cold-hearted! I could never look at her the same after that.

The gerbil moved on to a good home. We have no pets, but I religiously read and enjoy your column. -- L.R., Bethany Beach, Delaware

DEAR L.R.: Your good Samaritan act -- saving this little creature from certain death from a predator, starvation or cold exposure -- puts you on the side of those who care for all creatures, great and small. It has disturbed me since early childhood that there are people on the other side who have such little regard for fellow creatures that they will simply abandon them when they lose interest in them or find them “too much trouble” to care for. Some will even kill them.

Releasing any creature to fend for itself is an inhumane and irresponsible act. In some instances, it can lead to such animals spreading disease to indigenous species.

FUNGAL DISEASE COULD ARRIVE IN U.S.

A newly described fungal disease is killing salamanders and newts in Europe, and could soon land on U.S. shores from pet-trade-imported amphibians. The disease, chytridiomycosis, invades the skin of salamanders and newts, and is related to another fungus that has been wiping out frog and other amphibian populations around the world. In sum, all international trade in exotic species should be prohibited in order to prevent so-called panzootic diseases from harming wildlife and biodiversity.

(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.)