TORONTO — Canadians shouldn’t worry about their dog or cat catching the coronavirus, but anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 is being advised to avoid contact with their pets as much as possible as a precaution.
While there are a few reports of cats and dogs being infected with COVID-19, those cases are considered “extremely rare,” according to infectious disease specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy.
“And fortunately there is absolutely no documented evidence to date of a transmission from an infected pet to a human. So this is not something that we need to be necessarily concerned about,” Dr. Sharkawy told CTV’s Chief News Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme in a sit-down interview on Monday.
In Hong Kong, a 17-year-old dog tested positive for the virus earlier this month. Health officials said the infection was considered “low-level” and was likely the result of human-to-animal transmission.
Despite testing positive, the dog was described as physically healthy and was quarantined as a precaution. It was held for weeks and eventually released after it tested negative for the virus and showed no symptoms.
However, just two days after leaving quarantine, the animal died. Vets said the dog’s death may have been linked to the stress of being held away from its family.
The dog’s official cause of death could not be determined because the owner, who recently recovered from COVID-19, refused an autopsy.
“Members of the public are advised to differentiate that ‘being infected’ does not equal being infectious and capable of spreading the COVID-19 virus,” the Hong Kong SPCA wrote in a statement. “We wish to remind the public that there is no evidence that companion animals can transmit the disease to humans.”
Health Canada said there is currently no evidence to suggest that the coronavirus is being spread by animals in this country.
“It is possible that some types of animals can be infected with COVID-19 but there is no evidence that pets or other animals can spread the virus. There are still many unknowns about COVID-19 and this is an area that remains to be studied and understood,” Health Canada said in a statement on its website.
CAN I TAKE MY DOG FOR A WALK?
It’s still okay to take your dog for a walk, Dr. Sharkawy said.
“We have to remember: this is a marathon, it’s not a sprint. We are going to need exercise. We are going to need fresh air. As scary as this is, it’s not a nuclear fallout. You are able to get out of your home and to smell some fresh air,” he said.
However, people should avoid walking in large groups or being in close quarters with others. At dog parks, dog owners should continue to practice physical distancing from each other.
“It’s important to get fresh air, but remember, it’s not a social activity,” Dr. Sharkawy said.
But anyone who is living in self-isolation after returning home from travel or who has tested positive for the virus should not take their dog for a walk outside, Dr. Sharkawy said.
“We just want to minimize any potential opportunity for someone who may be at a higher risk of having been infected coming across somebody else. It’s a big ask, but remember, it’s temporary. So two weeks is something we can get through.”
WHAT IF I HAVE COVID-19?
Health Canada advises anyone with COVID-19 to take extra precautions around their pets and, if possible, to ask another family member to look after them.
Despite the lack of research into animals with COVID-19, close contact is still discouraged.
“Do not snuggle or kiss them, or let them lick you, sit on your lap, or sleep in your bed,” Health Canada wrote in a public advisory.
Those with the virus should avoid coughing or sneezing on their pet. Owners should also limit their pet’s contact with other animals and people, which may mean keeping them indoors, Health Canada said.
In Victoria, a cat hotel is offering free room and board for felines of owners who are hospitalized.
WHAT ABOUT FARM ANIMALS?
For the moment, there have been no reports of livestock being infected by COVID-19 anywhere.
Health Canada says livestock producers should continue to follow the usual biosecurity measures, which include limiting contact between animals and anyone who has travelled recently or who may have been in contact with someone who has travelled recently.
CAN I STILL ADOPT A PET FROM OVERSEAS?
Anyone who plans on importing or adopting an animal from overseas is being asked to “limit or postpone” those plans for the time being. However, Health Canada says that if animals must be imported into the country, they should be monitored for signs of illness.
If the animal becomes sick, owners are advised to call their vet and explain the situation before showing up at the clinic.
Some rescue organizations have suspended their programs for the time being. In Toronto, rescue group Save our Scruff has put all adoptions on hold.
“For the public’s safety, and until borders reopen, we do not want our volunteers visiting the airport to pick-up dogs until it is safe to do so,” the organization said in a statement.
CAN MOSQUITOES CARRY THE VIRUS?
There is no evidence that mosquitoes are capable of carrying the coronavirus. Even so, Dr. Sharkawy said mosquitos can still transmit West Nile virus, which can lead to serious disease, particularly for people over the age of 50.
“So we don’t want to take mosquitoes lightly. If you are out, try and wear long sleeves when possible. If you’re at a picnic or somewhere else, insect repellant is important. Avoid areas of stagnant water where mosquitoes breed,” he said.
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