Coronavirus Basics Q&A with Editor-in-Chief Kara Burns
Are you getting bombarded by questions from anxious pet owners about their animals? Are you getting conflicting information as to the correct answers? We asked Kara Burns, MS, MEd, LVT, VTS (Nutrition), VTS-H (Internal Medicine, Dentistry) and editor-in-chief of Today’s Veterinary Nurse, seven of the most commonly asked questions. Here are her answers.
Can pets contract/transmit COVID-19?
To date, it has been reported that 2 dogs in Hong Kong and 1 cat in Belgium have been infected with SARS-CoV-2. However, infectious disease experts along with U.S. and global human and animal health organizations reiterate there currently is no evidence indicating the spread of COVID-19 from pets to other animals or humans.¹
In these unprecedented times, owners are anxious and will have many questions. Veterinary nurses should be communicating with pet owners in a professional, calm, and reassuring manner. Veterinary teams should welcome questions from pet owners and provide factual answers to help allay owners’ fears. It is important to convey that if the pet owner is not ill with COVID-19, they can interact with their pet as they normally would. This interaction includes walking, feeding, and playing. Pets are picking up on the tensions surrounding the coronavirus crisis and normal interactions will help the pet as much as it will help the owner. Remind the owner to continue to practice good hygiene during all interactions and throughout the social distancing directive, comprising of:
• washing hands before and after interacting with their pet
• ensuring the pet is kept well-groomed
• consistently cleaning food and water bowls
• cleaning bedding material and toys.
Can coronavirus live on pet hair?
It is highly unlikely that COVID-19 lives on pet fur. The primary mode of transmission of COVID-19 is through contact with an infected person’s saliva or secretion droplets – often via coughing or sneezing. Veterinary nurses should also reiterate the importance of hand washing and not touching one’s face, as a secondary route of transmission may be through touching a contaminated surface or object and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes.²
Smooth (non-porous) surfaces such as countertops, doorknobs, and examination tables transmit viruses better than porous materials such as paper money and pet fur. Porous and fibrous materials absorb and trap pathogens, making it harder to contract through simple contact. Pet fur is porous and fibrous; therefore, it is not likely that veterinary teams or pet owners could contract COVID-19 through interaction with pets.
Is it OK for people to pet my dog?
Although it is highly improbable that people can contract COVID-19 through petting someone’s dog, veterinary teams want to discourage this behavior due to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) coronavirus guidelines. Social distancing was implemented to ensure people are not in close proximity to each other, which increases the risk of transmission. Therefore, it is recommended to keep others at a distance of at least 6 feet. ³
Can I walk my dog?
It is imperative for veterinary nurses to counsel pet owners regarding the best and safest practices for their pet. As social distancing and shelter-in-place become the norm, humans and animals need stimulation and exercise. The human-animal bond is strong and is aiding individuals in their social isolation. As long as the pet owner is not ill, one of the best activities for the pet owner and the pet is to go for a walk. Exercise, fresh air, and change of scenery are all good for improving anxiety, mental health, and physical health. Walking the dog should be encouraged in accordance with the CDC coronavirus guidelines, and with the veterinarian’s approval based on the health of the dog.
Can I take him/her to the dog park?
Veterinary nurses need to reiterate the CDC’s recommendation regarding social distancing. Staying at least 6 feet away from others is one part of the recommendation. Additionally, the CDC recommends avoiding gathering in public areas. Many cities, towns, and states are under emergency orders to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people. With so many pet owners under stay-at-home orders, it may seem reasonable to get out and visit the dog park – but let’s remind pet owners to avoid this. Even the most well-intentioned individual may be infected and not realize it. Remind owners the time between infection and symptoms is estimated to be 5–7 days; so, it would be best to walk the dog as opposed to visiting a dog park.
What should I do with my pet if I get coronavirus?
Veterinary nurses should communicate with owners ill with COVID-19 and recommend limited contact with their pets until more information is known about the virus. The advice is to have another member of the household take care of the pet – including walking, feeding, and playing with the pet. If the pet owner has a service animal or must care for the pet themselves, advise them to wear a facemask and to not share food, kiss them, or hug them. In addition, consistently remind them to wash their hands before and after any contact.
Should I take my pet to the vet?
Veterinary nurses need to provide clear guidelines regarding this answer and therefore, must be up to date on the latest information and recommendations in their area. It is recommended that veterinary teams advise pet owners that are not ill with COVID-19 and whose pet is not ill, regarding the need for an appointment. As current CDC guidelines aim to reduce exposure to COVID-19, including recommendations for social distancing, many elective visits or procedures are being postponed. Additionally, many veterinary hospitals are establishing teleconsults. Depending on the service needed, telemedicine may be an option for the pet owner, provided an established relationship with the veterinarian and the patient exists. Telemedicine can help determine whether an animal needs to be seen and can also be used to conduct rechecks of certain types of ongoing medical problems. This aims to protect the veterinary team and the pet owner while still ‘seeing’ the patient and providing veterinary care.
If the pet is ill, then it should be seen in the veterinary hospital. However, the veterinary team should be contacted and make the determination about the patient’s need to be examined. The veterinary nurse should discuss the patient concerns with the pet owner. This advance phone consult will help the veterinary team prepare for the proper admittance of that pet. Advise pet owners to not take the animal to the veterinary clinic until they have consulted with the veterinary team. It is crucial during this time to remind pet owners that there is no evidence that pets can become ill with COVID-19 or that they can spread the disease. If the pet is ill there is most likely a different cause for that illness, thus the need to examine the patient.
The current situation around the world is concerning and anxiety-producing. Veterinary nurses are the first line for assuaging the fears of pet owners and should be versed in the latest information regarding COVID-19 in their city and county. Veterinary teams should be prepared and recognize the anxiety in pet owners.
Any and all interactions with pet owners need to be documented in the patient’s medical record. This is true regardless of the veterinary team member interacting with the pet owner.
Additionally, advising pet owners to prepare in advance is essential. Communicate the need for an emergency or quarantine kit. This kit should have at least two weeks’ worth of the pet’s food, medications, water, toys, and bowls.
- AVMA COVID-19 Resources. https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/covid-19. Accessed March 30, 2020
- van Doremalen J, Morris DH, Holbrook MG, et. al. Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1. The New England Journal of Medicine. March 17, 2020, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc2004973.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How to Protect yourself. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html. Accessed March 30, 2020