What to know about life with pets in the age of coronavirus. The main thing? Pets don’t spread it
By Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
With cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, increasing hourly, you may be concerned not only about your own health, but also that of your pets.
First things first: There’s no reason to believe that pets are either a source of infection or can become sick from the new coronavirus. That’s per Kendra Stauffer, DVM, a veterinary specialist in preventive medicine who works at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the areas of zoonoses (diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans) and emerging infectious diseases. It spreads person to person, she writes in an email.
A dog in Hong Kong was quarantined after testing “weak positive” for COVID-19, in what is believed to be the first and so far only case of human-to-animal transmission of the virus. The dog showed no signs of illness after more than two weeks and later tested negative for the virus.
It’s unknown how long COVID-19 survives on skin, says Jonathan Bloom, DVM, at Willowdale Animal Hospital in Toronto. To reduce any potential spread, wash hands before and after touching pets, and refrain from giving or receiving kitty or canine kisses, as stress-relieving as it may be. To reduce concerns about possible spread of the virus, ask people not to pet your animal.
Have someone else care for pets if you’re sick, says Deb Eldredge, DVM, who recently attended a New York State Veterinary Medical Society webinar on COVID-19 presented by Hilary Jones, DVM. That’s to ensure that your pet doesn’t become a “fomite” -- an accidental transporter of infection. It’s an unlikely transmission route, but if a sick person pets him and then a healthy person pets him, viruses or bacteria have the potential to be transferred that way. If you’re sick but don’t have anyone to help care for your pet, the CDC recommends wearing a face mask if you have one and washing hands before and after handling.
Don’t put hand sanitizer on pets. The high levels of ethanol it contains are toxic if they lick it off.
Have at least a two-week supply of pet food and medication in case you are quarantined. Arrange with friends, neighbors or your veterinarian to provide pets with care or boarding if you’re hospitalized.
What about visiting the veterinarian?
“If pets have minor problems, consider asking your vet for a video consult,” says Dr. Eldredge. “Saves you and your pet from going into the clinic.”
If your pet does need to visit the veterinarian, call first to find out how care is being provided. They may have you call from the parking lot so they can come out to get your pet while you wait in the car. Alert staff if you have been to high-risk areas or have fever, coughing or shortness of breath. They can work with you to make sure your pet is seen in a way that’s safe for everyone.
To help prevent the spread of the virus between humans, events such as dog shows, cat shows, other competitions and training classes are being canceled. And the American Kennel Club has made a change in one of the steps of the Canine Good Citizen test, the handshake between handlers while dogs wait calmly. “In light of today’s concern about viruses, evaluators will replace the handshake with a pretend handshake or by putting tape on the floor to indicate where dog owners are to stop,” says Canine Good Citizen Director Mary R. Burch, Ph.D.
Be smart about not only your own interactions, but also your dog’s.
“It’s not a good time for a dog walking program,” says Dr. Bloom. “It’s not a good time for your dog to be at dog parks. If you’re in isolation, you should try to keep your dog’s interactions limited until we have more information.”
Think of it as a little bit of extra togetherness in a stressful time.
How to groom
all that fur!
Q: My Persian cat has so much fur! What’s the best way to groom and bathe her?
A: We went straight to an expert to get advice for you. Heike Hagenguth of Soliman and Dasht-E Lut catteries has owned and bred Persians for more than 40 years. Here are her tips.
-- Persians can’t groom themselves completely without some human assistance. Brushing and combing not only maintains the coat, but also removes loose hair and helps to prevent hairballs.
-- Age matters. Baby fur tangles easily, while adult hair is usually easier to care for. And Persians are individuals. Some need to be groomed daily, while others need brushing and combing only two or three times a week.
-- A daily grooming routine involves combing fur gently with a wide-toothed comb. Don’t pull, or you might tear out hair. Use a comb with finer teeth for areas beside ears, chin and cheeks. “If I find tangles during grooming, I open them carefully with my fingers and comb them out without tearing hair,” she says. “If the mat is too big or cannot be removed, cut carefully without nicking the skin.”
-- Check claws, and trim if needed. Then, before bathing, comb to remove any tangles, which worsen if they get wet. Apply degreasing shampoo, massage gently into the fur to avoid damaging hair and rinse well. Afterward, you may apply a whitening or color-enhancing shampoo or conditioner. Rinse well, squeeze out excess water from the ends of the fur, and wrap your cat in a towel. Blow dry on cool or warm setting to avoid burning the skin, or use a pet dryer that works with ambient air. As you blow dry, check skin for fleas or other parasites, injuries or signs of infection such as redness.
For more about grooming longhaired cats, go to FearFreeHappyHomes.com. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Pets don’t need
-- Do pets need to be tested for COVID-19? Right now the answer is no, but IDEXX Laboratories has tests that it says will be made available if necessary. While developing and validating a new veterinary test system for the novel virus, IDEXX tested samples from thousands of pet dogs and cats and found no positive results for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus strain that causes COVID-19. Pets with respiratory signs such as coughing should be seen by their veterinarian, who can check for common viral or bacterial pathogens that cause respiratory problems.
-- If your pet has had surgery or a sore spot, you’re familiar with the Elizabethan collar, a plastic device resembling an ugly lampshade that fits around your pet’s neck to prevent him from licking, biting, chewing or scratching at the area. We all know that pets hate the “cone of shame,” and now researchers at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science in Australia confirm that it affects not only pet quality of life but also that of owners. Not only does it interfere with a pet’s ability to sleep, eat, drink and move around, it also causes injuries to people and property. Alternatives include softer fabric or inflatable collars, body wraps or clothing, and socks or booties.
-- Plastic surgery for pets? It’s a thing, but not in the way that you’re thinking. Bella and Beau don’t need Botox for wrinkles or saggy jowls, but reconstructive surgery can improve a short-faced dog’s ability to breathe, improve vision in dogs with eyelid abnormalities such as entropion or ectropion, and help prevent urinary tract infections in dogs with an inverted vulva. These are often heritable defects, so acquiring a dog from a reputable breeder is a good start to avoiding them, but your veterinarian can often improve quality of life with surgery if necessary. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.