Home Sickness & Recovery Can my pet get coronavirus? What Bay Area pet owners need to know – San Francisco Chronicle

Can my pet get coronavirus? What Bay Area pet owners need to know – San Francisco Chronicle

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It’s not surprising that Bay Area animal shelters have cleared out during the coronavirus pandemic. In an era of physical distancing and unfettered anxiety, pets can provide companionship, distraction and immense joy — plus a good excuse to hit pause on Netflix and take a walk around the block.

But if you’re feeling frazzled, spare a thought for your furry companions. From picking up on our stress levels and trying to make sense of new routines (why are these little humans home all the time?), to potentially being at risk for COVID-19, pets are experiencing a crisis of their own.

Here are some ways to help them navigate through it.

Q: Can my cat get coronavirus? Is it safe to walk my dog?

A: A dog and two cats from separate households in New York state tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in what are believed to be the first cases of pets in the United States to be diagnosed with the virus. The animals were thought to have contracted the virus from people in their household or community.

The cases appear to contradict earlier reports from the federal government and the World Health Organization that there is no evidence that dogs or cats have become ill with this particular virus.

The CDC says it doesn’t know for sure which animals can be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the scientific term for the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease, and that more research is required.

But a study conducted by the journal Science on a small number of animals found inoculated cats and ferrets are highly susceptible to infection in a laboratory setting, while dogs have low susceptibility. Livestock such as chickens, pigs and ducks are not likely to catch the virus, the researchers found.

“Treat pets as you would other human family members,” the CDC says. “Do not let pets interact with people or animals outside the household. If a person inside the household becomes sick, isolate that person from everyone else, including pets.”

Until more is known, the CDC recommends the following:

• Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.

• Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.

• Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet (2 meters) from other people and animals.

• Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.

Q: Can I get the COVID-19 virus from an infected pet? Can my dog carry the virus in from being outside?

A: There is no strong evidence that pets can be carriers of the coronavirus at this time, according to the CDC.

COVID-19 is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. The CDC says that viruses do not typically spread to people from the skin, fur or hair of pets.

However, general precautions should be taken to protect yourself, including washing your hands thoroughly before and after handling animals, maintaining physical distancing guidelines when outside for you and your pet and avoiding places where other people and animals gather.

It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or animal that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly eyes, but this is not thought to be the way the virus spreads, according to the CDC.

It’s much more likely that an owner could potentially transmit the respiratory illness to their pet.

“We don’t believe that they are playing a role in transmission, but we think that they may be able to be infected from an infected person,” the World Health Organization’s epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said.

If you are sick, the CDC provides the following guidelines:

• If you are sick with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed by a test), restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just like you would around other people.

• When possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick.

• Avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding.

• If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.

Q: How should I care for my pet during shelter-in-place mandate?

A: To help pets cope with the lifestyle change, Dr. Wailani Sung, a veterinary behaviorist at San Francisco SPCA, said owners should do their best to maintain a consistent routine and remain patient around their pets.

Feed them on a normal schedule. Take them for walks at the same time every day. If you’re working from home, take regular breaks to interact with your companion animals in a positive way, whether it’s throwing a ball or working on a new training behavior.

The key is to keep them mentally engaged.

“They learn they get your undivided attention for a couple of minutes and then while they’re mentally tired, you can back to work again,” she said.

Q: Can my pets pick up on my coronavirus anxiety?

A: As much as our animals love having us at home around the clock to slow the spread of the coronavirus, they are also highly sensitive to the unrest we may be feeling internally.

“Pets can react to our emotional state, whether it’s one of anxiety or happiness,” said Melissa Bain, a professor of clinical animal behavior at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

While most animals are highly adaptable, Bain said there are some common signs of stress that might indicate trouble — including cowering, panting, shaking, drooling and pacing.

“If a pet is displaying any of the signs listed above, it could be a cause for concern,” Bain said. Additionally, owners should be on the lookout for physical problems, such as vomiting and diarrhea.

That’s when pet owners should call — not visit — their veterinarians to ask about behavioral treatment.

Q: What should I do if my pets get non-coronavirus sickness or injuries?

A: Gov. Gavin Newsom updated the California’s stay-at-home orders to clarify that animal care facilities, including animal shelters are essential services.

If your pet gets sick during this period many veterinary clinics remain open for urgent and emergency care only. But most ask that you call ahead, as they may have different protocols in place for dealing with people and their animals. The San Francisco SPCA, for example, requires people wear facial masks when entering their buildings.

Telemedicine appointments are available for most non-emergency issues, such behavior issues.

Q: What should I do with my pets if I get sick?

A: Public health officials in the Bay Area urge residents to plan ahead for pet care, in case the owners become ill or hospitalized with the coronavirus. They suggest stocking up on pet supplies, including food and medications, to last at least two weeks, a travel kennel, treats and toys.

“I think everybody should have an emergency plan for their pets, especially living in the Bay Area, which is an epicenter of natural disasters,” Sung said. “That way, if something happens to you, the person who cares for your pet doesn’t have to run around and figure out, ‘What kind of food I need to get?’ ”

Officials also suggest identifying a temporary caregiver and writing down emergency information such as an owner’s name and contact, veterinarian’s contact and the pet’s feeding schedule and medical conditions.

The SPCA says it’s best if the pet can stay at home with a friend or family member, but if that isn’t possible you may need to board your pet.

Q: What’s the best way to prepare your pets for when you transition back to work?

A: Apart from maintaining a consistent schedule for your pets that will continue once you return to work, Bain said it’s never too early to start helping your animal companion prepare for the transition.

“That can look like giving it a long-lasting food treat in another room away from the owner, so that it starts to be rewarded for being away from the owner,” she said.

Sung also recommends owners start now by leaving their pets alone for incrementally longer periods of time, even if it’s just in another room of the house; stocking up on sensory toys to keep the animals occupied while they’re away; and working with employers to gradually resume their regular office hours.

“If you’re with your pets 24/7 for six to eight weeks and all of a sudden you leave them, it’s going to be a shock to their system,” she said.

Aidin Vaziri is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected]

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