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Pets and the pandemic

Updated: Jun 6, 2020

People around the world are living with the fear of the coronavirus. Also referred to as COVID-19, this virus has proven deadly in a portion of the population. But can it affect our pets? Tarek tackles some of these questions.

Photographs: Istock

Text: Tarek Abu Sham

During this unprecedented time, pet owners around the world are questioning their veterinarians, physicians, and health officials, wondering if they can get the coronavirus from their pets.

The coronavirus and transmission Coronavirus can refer to one of many members in a family of viruses, but these days it typically refers to COVID-19. This is considered a respiratory virus, as it causes respiratory systems in people that are affected, including pneumonia.

COVID-19 can be spread in a variety of ways, but the most common is getting exposed to respiratory droplets from an infected individual, such as if someone sneezes or coughs on you. It can be spread by breathing air that has viral particles in it, such as entering a room after an infected person. Another possible method of transmission is exposure to fomites, which are objects that may harbour viral particles, such as doorknobs or shopping carts.

Can you catch COVID-19 from your pet?

You are far more likely to catch the coronavirus from another person than your pet. As of April 2020, one tiger tested positive for COVID-19 in the United States, and there are reports of dogs and cats in other countries, but this is still far less than the number of humans with the disease. A group of Canadian researchers led by Xuhia Xia, a professor in the Department of Biology at The University of Ottawa, are testing a hypothesis that dogs may have been an 'intermediary animal' in the spread of COVID-19 from bats to humans, but this recent study has been met with significant criticism citing lack of data. Authorities including the RSPCA's Chief Veterinary Officer, Caroline Allen are quoted in this article as saying that this study, detailed in a paper published Tuesday, April 14, in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution is only theoretical and there is no evidence that dogs and cats have infected humans.

While we know that numbers are underreported in all species, there have been no reported cases of people getting COVID-19 from their pets. In fact, it's the other way around: it seems you might be able to give it to your pet.

Veterinarians and public health officials recommend staying away from household pets and people if you are infected or may have been infected, to minimize the risk of your pet developing symptoms of COVID-19.

Consider your local veterinarian's office. Many of these people are considered essential and are still working day after day. Most aren't worried about catching the coronavirus from their patients. Instead, they are concerned about catching it from their patients' owners.

"Since you aren't likely to get infected with the coronavirus from your dog or cat, you shouldn't abandon them at a local shelter, as many locations are already inundated with strays."

Things to remember

During this stressful time, it's important that you hold on to your pets like the valued members of the family that they are. Since you aren't likely to get infected with the coronavirus from your dog or cat, you shouldn't abandon them at a local shelter, as many locations are already inundated with strays. With so many people on lockdown, fewer pets are getting adopted. In fact, some areas have had to go to virtual adoptions to try and increase the number of adoptions.

Instead of saying goodbye to Fluffy or Scrappy, consider taking this time to bring a new pet into your life. Even if you can't commit to adopting a pet at this point, you might be able to foster a pet or two, and foster homes are in short supply just about everywhere.

In summary

While this is a scary time for people around the world, you don't need to fret at home alone. Pets are a great source of stress relief and can be a rock for you during this difficult time. Don't give up your pet due to worries about the coronavirus, as there has been no evidence you can get it from your pet. Instead, consider opening up your home to a new furry family member if you have the means and resources to adopt or foster a pet. We are still open, reach out and let us know how we can help.

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