Pets and COVID-19: In county briefing, vet says cats and dogs can get virus, but symptoms mild

With $72 billion spent in the U.S. on pet food alone in 2018, it’s clear that we love our dogs and cats, and we want to keep them safe and healthy.

Now, more pet owners are asking whether cats and dogs can get coronavirus, or whether they can they transmit it to us? After all, five tigers and three lions at New York’s Bronx Zoo were diagnosed with COVID-19; and that same day, National Geographic reported that two domestic cats in New York City became the first pets in the U.S. to test positive.

Dr. Timothy Cavanagh

Dr. Timothy Cavanagh says ‘yes’, dogs and cats can be infected with the COVID-19 virus.  But, Cavanagh quickly points out that “basically, people cannot get covid-19 from their pets, and they really cannot give covid-19 to their pets.”  So far, worldwide, says the doctor, there have been “fewer than thirty documented cases of pets with coronavirus.”  He reports that the virus does not seem to replicate itself in dogs and cats.

He says the virus usually only causes “mild gastrointestinal upsets” in dogs and cats. That can show as diarrhea or vomiting.  There is a more serious form of the disease in dogs that mimics ‘parvovirus’; and cats can get a fatal form called ‘feline infectious peritonitis”; but that, insisted Cavanagh is very rare. It shows up in less than 1% of cats that are exposed.

The doctor joined the Snohomish County COVID-19 briefing on Friday, for the first countywide update on the virus and our pets. He owns the ‘All Creatures Veterinary Services’ in Arlington.

He does have warnings for pet owners who have a COVID-19 positive person in their home.  The Federal Centers for Disease Control, recommends, says Cavanagh, that those families should take precautions.

A COVID-19 positive person, he says, “should not be loving on their pets, and ideally, the pet would not be associated with that person during the time of infection.” That means that the pet should have a separate caretaker. The COVID patient should not feed or groom the pet; and certainly should not kiss or snuggle on the pet like pet owners often do.

“I would not recommend taking your pet to a dog park at this time,” Cavanaugh says. He urges owners to practice social distancing with their animals, keeping them on leashes when they go for a walk. There is, he adds, the risk that the virus, which is naturally “sticky,” can remain on pets hair or fur; so no petting that friendly new dog, and wash your hands thoroughly after the walk.

Can you get your pet tested? Not very likely. Veterinarians do not have normal access to animal tests; that would require approval first by the Washington State Veterinary Board. It takes about two weeks to get the results of animal tests, and Cavanaugh reassures pet owners that in that time, most dogs and cats would have safely recovered.

He reminds owners that when they take an animal to the clinic, the rules may be the same as people going to the hospital. His clinic, for example, does not allow clients inside; staffers wearing personal protective gear come out and take the animal in. Most consultations are done by phone.

Some good news: Those tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo showed only very mild, brief respiratory infections; are now behaving normally and eating well.

— By Bob Throndsen





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