Texas Tech University

How Safe are Fluffy and Rex from the COVID-19 Pandemic?

George Watson

April 17, 2020

vet school

While household pets have not been infected with the virus, there are still ways owners can keep their pets safe during these difficult times.

Is Buster wondering why you are home so much? Is Spot hiding a little more because so many people are around during the day?

While the majority of the world's population deals with the COVID-19 pandemic and the efforts to mitigate the virus' spread – mostly staying home and keeping contact with others at a minimum – there's another aspect to the life changes: our pets.

Your dog or cat may be happy to have you home more, but they might also be wondering why you are home more, something they are not used to that could affect their daily routines. They also might be getting a few more treats and see you doing a lot more cleaning than usual.

Bethany Schilling

All these changes could have an effect on your beloved pet. But Bethany Schilling, one of the newest faculty members and an assistant professor of general veterinary practice at the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo, provides advice on how best to ensure your pet's health remains in top condition while protecting your own.

In a general sense, what are the biggest threats to household pets during the coronavirus pandemic?
At this time, the greatest threats may be stress and abandonment. Abandonment is a big issue because it can lead to pet overpopulation and other public health issues. Stressed pet owners change their schedules, which changes pet routines. Pets, like people, thrive with routines. Dietary changes may occur. Pet owners may not be able to pay for pet food or may change pet foods, resulting in upset tummies or hunger. Pet owners, especially those with multiple pets, may not be able to afford pet food. Unfortunately, this commonly results in neglect and abandonment. Finally, pets read and respond to human emotions. They, too, can become fearful and exhibit unpredictable behavior.

There have been some conflicting reports, but can COVID-19 be transmitted to animals? If so, what are the signs owners should look out for?
Up until earlier this month when a tiger from the Bronx Zoo became ill and demonstrated respiratory signs, there were no known cases of animals becoming ill from COVID-19. It appears that felines in particular have the potential to contract and develop clinical signs associated with COVID-19. The two dogs and a cat that tested positive for COVID-19 before this showed no signs of illness, they were present in the home of a person currently ill with COVID-19. This does not mean they are infected (ie: ill) with the virus but that the virus was detected in/on the pet. They tested positive for the same reason that a tabletop where a COVID-19 person sneezed would also test positive. The dog in China that tested positive was released from quarantine after it tested negative twice before being released. There is no documentation of domestic animals transmitting Covid-19 to humans at this time.

Please see the associated article from the Texas Animal Health Commission regarding to the recommendations for testing in our beloved pets.

Because people are more conscious about cleaning and disinfecting, can they go too far and threaten a pet's health? If so, how?
The most important thing regarding keeping a pet safe is to limit exposure of the pet to the disinfecting agents. If someone is cleaning/mopping, the areas should dry prior to the pet walking on the surface. Animals groom themselves as a normal behavior and could potentially ingest these chemicals if allowed to have contact with them before they dry.

It is not necessary to excessively bathe your pet. Unless otherwise prescribed by a veterinarian, an animal should only be bathed every 10-14 days at the most. Animals produce oils that protect their skin. Those barriers are stripped with excessive bathing, which can lead to dry and itchy skin and potential secondary skin infections.

Outside of cleaning, what other dangers are posed for pets during the time when people are staying home more?
Most likely the biggest risks for pets who are spending more time with their owners are things like gastrointestinal upset or pancreatitis from ingesting too many treats, human food or abrupt changes in diet.

Because of social distancing, do people need to alter their habits in terms of taking pets for a walk, going to a park or being outside in general?
Getting outside and spending time with your pet are two things that can benefit your mental and physical health during this time. Social distancing is important to minimize human-to-human exposure. As long as you are maintaining the recommended 6-10 feet from others, taking your pet for a walk outside should be perfectly fine. Parks, in general, should be avoided as they tend to be places where people congregate.

What are the recommendations of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) for how to handle this crisis with your pets?
This is a very broad question about a dynamic situation. The AVMA has a webpage which is updated frequently that asks and answers many specific questions. Visit www.avma.org for the most up to date information.

Should non-emergency medical procedures, such as a normal checkup or spay/neuter, be delayed or postponed during the pandemic?
While veterinary services are deemed "essential" businesses, it is important that we do our part to help reduce the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, gowns and masks by postponing elective exams and procedures. This allows more of these precious resources to go to first responders and those dealing directly with the COVID-19 patients. Examples of these types of procedures are routine spays and neuters, prophylactic dental cleanings, and non-malignant mass removals.

Regarding wellness examinations, if you have an adult dog or cat that has been seen regularly by their veterinarian and is up to date on their vaccinations, rescheduling their annual examination would be appropriate and recommended. For animals that are not protected (puppies and kittens) or those that need vaccinations for public health protection (i.e.: rabies vaccine), they should go ahead and be seen. Due to trying to minimize human interaction, your veterinarian likely will have new protocols they will follow (ex: having you wait in the car until your appointment time; limiting the number of people in an exam room; if you or someone in your house is ill; taking your pet from the car to be examined and then information be communicated over the phone). Some veterinary offices may be able to provide telehealth services to meet your needs. Please remember to be kind and extend grace as this is uncharted territory for everyone.

Don't panic. Practice good hygiene. Follow local, state and national health department recommendations. We are all going through this together.