Pets are at low risk of coronavirus, but here’s why they should be social distancing, too, according to experts

Dogs and cats are at low risk of contracting COVID-19, experts say.
Dogs and cats are at low risk of contracting COVID-19, experts say.(Shutterstock)

Here’s something to get tails wagging: Pets are at very low risk of contracting coronavirus, but precautions should still be taken, according to animal experts.
Those safety measures include washing your hands before and after touching canines, cats and other animals, keeping them away from public places like dog parks, and stopping other people from petting them during walks.
And, fur goodness sake, if you test positive for COVID-19, get another member of the household to take to care of your pet, if possible.
“But if you must, if you’re by yourself in a home, your cat shouldn’t die or get very sick from this, and even probably not even get sick at all,” Dr. Jerry Klein, the chief veterinary officer of the American Kennel Club, told the Daily News Tuesday.
“But you should (take) precautions by wearing a mask, ideally not snuggle with them or have them lick your face, and basically have some kind of a distance and wash your hands before and after handling your pets.”
A tiger at the Bronx Zoo recently became the first animal in the United States to test positive for coronavirus, while several other big cats there have exhibited potential symptoms.
There have been a few domestic animals outside of the country — including a cat in Belgium and two dogs in Hong Kong — to test positive for the virus, but no pets in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Klein says it’s important to keep things in perspective.
“This virus has been with us, at least in the United States, for a couple of months, and in other parts of the world for three or four months,” he said. “We have not seen a rise of sick dogs or cats or other pets coming to animal hospitals or veterinary emergency hospitals with some unknown illness and fevers. I think that should give us some comfort that, despite all the bad things that are going on with people right now during this pandemic, our pets appear to be safe.”
Of the pets outside the U.S. that tested positive, only the cat in Belgium showed symptoms that indicated it was sick. That cat’s owner tested positive for coronavirus.
That said, health officials maintain there’s currently no definitive evidence that shows animals can transmit the illness to people.
Dr. John de Jong, the previous president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), tells The News that it’s unknown whether COVID-19 can be transferred on an animal’s skin or fur in the same way that it can live on surfaces such as countertops.
That’s why he recommends taking precautions when walking your pooches.
“It’s important to walk the dog, both for the dog and for your own well-being and human health, especially now to get some fresh air,” de Jong, who treats pets at a animal hospital in Boston, told The News.

“But to ensure the social distancing, it’s important that dog owners keep the space between themselves and others of at least 6 feet."

He added: "Dogs gather in groups, so avoid mass gatherings. You don’t know if the other person in the park with a dog, whether someone in their family is ill, whether they’re wearing a mask or not. So dogs should be walked in a safe way that allows for social distancing, (and) people shouldn’t be going to a dog park or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.”

Idexx Laboratories, a leading veterinary organization, has not recorded any positive tests of COVID-19 in pets after evaluating thousands of dogs and cats.

Still, de Jong and many other professionals aren’t taking any chances. He said many animal hospitals are only allowing pets to be picked up outside of the office, while vets are wearing gloves when treating dogs and cats and are currently only treating sick pets, rather than doing non-essential check-ups.

Meanwhile, Klein says animal owners without coronavirus should feel comfortable interacting with their pets as they always have, but should still make it a point to wash their hands after doing so.

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