These are strange times, and unless there’s some kind of miracle, they’re only likely to get stranger. Since coronavirus went, quite literally, viral, it seems half the world is either self – quarantining, wearing gas masks, or spending their days perfecting the all-new form of no touchy-touchy handshake. But for all our hyper-aware state, is there one group we’re forgetting? Pets share our homes, our lives, sometimes even our food… so should we be strapping a mask to their faces too? And how exactly do you get a dog to start practicing social distancing in any case? If you’ve had any concerns about how to pet your dog during the Coronavirus outbreak, you’re in the right place.
Can Dogs Even Catch Coronavirus?
Before we even look at the question of how best to care for your pet during the outbreak, there’s another question we need to consider first- can pets, dogs included, even catch coronavirus from humans? At the moment, the jury’s still out. According to the World Health Organization, there’s no evidence to suggest the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus currently causing concern can transmit between humans and animals. Coronavirus can and does occur in animals, but in the case of dogs at least, the possible strains include canine respiratory coronavirus, canine enteric coronavirus, and pantropic canine coronavirus only. Typically, these strains display very different symptoms to the ones we’ve become accustomed to, and are generally limited to mild diarrhea, loss in appetite, and lethargy.
In general, coronavirus or no coronavirus, cross-species transmission of any disease is an exceptionally rare occurrence. If a virus wants to make the leap from human to animal, it’ll have to go through a thorough genetic mutation first; given the length of time and effort this involves, most nasties give it up for a lost cause and stick to the species they’re used to instead. As per the WHO and the CDC, there’s no evidence as yet to suggest COVID-19 is transferrable from human to animal. Dr. Jamie Richardson, Medical Chief of Staff at Small Door Veterinary in New York City, agrees, telling Woman’s Day, “It is unlikely the dog and cat population will be able to get COVID as we know it right now.”
But as always, anecdotal evidence suggests something slightly different from the scientific consensus. In Hong Kong in February, a dog was put into quarantine after testing “weakly” but positively to COVID-19. Fortunately for both dog and owner, it displayed no signs of ill health, leading some to suggest the positive test result was simply the result of environmental contamination, rather than actual infection. But as always, it’s better to be safe than sorry. While the worst thing you can do is panic, taking some basic safety precautions can help put your mind at rest.
Stopping the Spread
As we now know to our cost, COVID-19 spreads like wildfire. The strains of Coronavirus specific to dogs are just as virulent, and require the same level of care (albeit not quite to the extent of strapping a face mask to their muzzles). The number one priority is to reduce the spread of infection. Before you pet your dog, give your own hands a good wash to reduce the chances of transferring any bacteria you’ve picked up elsewhere to them.
If they’re already sick, up the vigilance by a few notches. As well as cleaning your hands both before and after any direct contact with them, avoid exposing them to any unnecessary social interactions, either with other dogs or other people (even though the chances of them infecting a person is slim to none, that person could inadvertently act as a temporary means of transportation for the virus, carrying it from one pet to another. Similarly, while it may be impossible for your dog to catch COVID-19 from you, there is a chance they could pass on your germs to the next person who comes along and pets them. If you’ve been unlucky enough to catch COVID-19, be extra careful at washing your hands before touching your dog, and limit interaction with them as much as possible).
Avoid the dog park if you can, and when you do go out, make sure to carry plenty of poop bags: feces is the number one stomping ground for bacteria, and, as many dog owners are all too painfully aware, second only to the choicest morsel of chicken in some dog’s eyes. Scoop the poop as soon as it hits the ground to avoid the risk of infecting any other dog that happens across it.
Keep Calm and Carry on
While practicing good hygiene is always a good idea, it’s really not going to do either you or your pet any good to panic. As yet, the evidence to suggest that COVID-19 is transmittable between us and our pets in almost non-existent. Yes, dogs can become ill with coronavirus, but firstly, there’s nothing to suggest the strain of coronavirus hitting us will lead to an increase in the number of doggy specific strains out there, and secondly, the types of coronavirus to affect dogs has nothing like the same devasting effects that COVID-19 has on us.
Of all the strains to affect dogs, the most common is Canine Respiratory Coronavirus. The strain belongs to the same group of viruses that can result in ‘kennel cough’, and is no more serious than that. Similar to the common cold in us (and yes, a cold is unpleasant, but a few sneezes and a tickly throat rarely kill), the strain typically displays itself in nothing more than a mild cough. So yes, it pays to be vigilant, especially if you have the virus yourself, but is COVID-19 or any other coronavirus strain a real threat to your dog’s health? No. Until COVID-19 summons up the energy to mutate into a cross-species contaminate (and bear in mind, next to no viruses ever manage that feat), the current outbreak is unlikely to have any impact on your pet’s health.