Ways to protect your pets from COVID-19 exposure

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) Three pets outside of the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19, raising questions about the transmission of the virus between humans and animals.

So can we get COVID-19 from our pets?

Dr. Ellen Behrend, acting director of Auburn University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospitals and the Joezy Griffin Professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Clinical Sciences, says right now there is no evidence that pets can spread COVID-19 to people.

“People to people contact is the risk that people need to worry about, not their dogs and cats,” said Behrend.

On the flip side, reports are now showing that humans can actually transmit the disease to their pet. In Europe, two dogs and a cat tested positive for the virus and the source was believed to be their owners who all had COVID-19.

Of the three positive cases of suspected human-to-animal transmission, the two dogs never showed any symptoms of COVID-19 and never became sick. The third, and most recent positive COVID-19 result in a pet, is a cat in Belgium that developed gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms about one week after the owner began showing symptoms of COVID-19.

“Cats and ferrets seem to be the ones that become infected and then infectious or have actual symptoms,” said Dr. Scott Welch, a veterinarian at Montgomery Veterinarian Associates. “Dogs seem to be somewhat of a dead end host right now, but again this may change.”

It is not known if the virus found in any of these animals was alive or dead, or if the cat coincidentally tested positive for the coronavirus while sick with another problem that caused the symptoms. Over the weekend, a tiger at New York’s Bronx Zoo tested positive as well.

So how do we prevent our pets from getting it?

Veterinarians are recommending that you treat your pet just like you would a human and remain six feet away from them.

“Don’t snuggle with them, don’t put them up close to your face, wash your hands before and after you interact with them, and just practice good hygiene in general,” said Behrend.

Dr. Welch said to especially limit yourself from touching a pet that has been exposed to COVID-19.

“We are constantly washing our hands because we do know it can, just like it can be on a surface in your home, it can be on a pet as well,” said Welch.

Dr. Behrend said if you become infected with COVID-19 another member of your household should care for your pet or you should avoid unnecessary contact with your pets, especially while showing symptoms. If you are the only one who can care for your pet and you’ve tested positive, wash your hands after touching your animal and if possible wear a face mask.

Dr. Welch says veterinarians would also gladly assist in taking care of your animal while you get well.

Behrend said right now positive tests in animals are not surprising or concerning based on previous infectious disease behavior in animals and humans. More research is needed before there is a reliable determination about the transmission between humans and animals.

For accurate, up-to-date pet-related information about COVID-19, access the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov and the American Veterinary Medical Association website at www.avma.org.

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