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Monday, July 26, 2021

Don’t cuddle your dog or cat if you’re Covid-19 positive

 

Many people cannot seem to part with their pets. There are those who even treat their dogs and cats like dukes and duchesses, giving them special beds and food and rushing them to the veterinary doctor at the slightest sign that they may be unwell.

Among the reasons people love pets – especially dogs – is that they can be very loyal and loving and they help elevate your mood.

During the current Covid-19 pandemic, pets take on added significance as we are unable to go out of our homes to meet and socialise with relatives and friends like we used to. Pets can, therefore, provide a semblance of stability and make us feel needed and useful, if not loved. The cuddles and pats – and yes, talking to them – does help keep depression at bay in such troubling times.

However, it may be wise not to allow them to sleep with you or to hug them if you have Covid-19. For you could pass on the SARS-CoV-2 virus to your darlings.

It was initially thought that only a few cats and dogs became infected with Covid-19, but new research shows that the number is much higher than expected.

There is also another reason why you shouldn’t spend time with your pets if you are Covid-19 positive: the possibility that the virus may – over the long term – mutate in the animals and then cross over to humans again.

The first case of Covid-19 believed to have passed from humans to dogs was reported in Hong Kong in February 2020. A Pomeranian, aged 17, was tested positive for Covid-19 after his owner was infected. The dog died in March but the exact cause is not known as the owner did not allow an autopsy. It could have died from its underlying medical conditions such as chronic kidney damage, a weak heart and pulmonary hypertension.

The other dog, a German Shepherd, aged just over 2 years, survived. It was found that both dogs had antibody responses to the virus – indicating they had been infected with the virus – and both were asymptomatic.

In March 2020, a cat in Belgium became the first known domestic feline to be infected with Covid-19. The cat developed symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting and breathing problems about a week after its owner was infected. It recovered after nine days.

But this is nothing new, some cats and dogs were infected during the 2003 SARS outbreak. And minks, tigers and gorillas have caught Covid-19 after coming into contact with infected humans.

A new study, presented at the recent congress of the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, shows conclusively that Covid-19 is common in the pet cats and dogs of infected owners.

Dr Els Broens and colleagues at Utrecht University, the Netherlands, studied 156 dogs and 154 cats from 196 households where someone had been infected with Covid-19. They found that six cats and seven dogs (4.2%) had positive PCR tests and 31 cats and 23 dogs (17.4%) tested positive for antibodies.

In all, pets in 40 of the 196 households (20.4%) had antibodies for the virus, showing they had been infected.

In another study, Dr Dorothee Bienzle, a professor of veterinary pathology at the University of Guelph, Canada, and colleagues, studied 48 cats and 54 dogs from 77 households in which someone had Covid-19. The researchers also tested 75 dogs and cats living in an animal shelter and 75 stray cats.

They found that 32 of the 48 cats with owners (67%) and 23 of the 54 dogs (43%) with owners, tested positive for antibodies. In contrast seven of the 77 (9%) dogs and cats from the animal shelter and two of the 75 (3%) stray cats had antibodies.

The researchers also found that 20% of the dogs with owners had symptoms such as a lack of energy, loss of appetite and even diarrhoea, while 27% of the cats with owners had symptoms such as a runny nose and difficulty in breathing. All symptoms were mild and cleared up after some days.

Cats, it seem, may be more susceptible to Covid-19 than dogs, as it was found that cats which slept on their owner’s bed or spent more time with an infected owner were more likely to catch the disease.

Does or can SARS-CoV-2 jump from dogs and cats back to humans? So far there is no evidence of this.

However, an editorial in the journal Virulence on Jan 25, warned that infected animals might become “reservoirs” for the virus and pose a potential risk for humans in the future if they evolve and become capable of infecting people.

For now though, there is no cause for worry. However, if you love your pets, you may want to keep them at arm’s length – maybe more – if you are infected or are just recovering.

Here are some tips from Mayo Clinic:

If you become sick with Covid-19 and have a pet:

  • Isolate yourself from everyone else, including your pet;
  • Avoid petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding with your pet;
  • If you are around animals while you’re sick, wear a cloth face covering;
  • Wash your hands before and after handling animals and their food, waste and supplies. And make sure you clean up after your pet.

To protect your pet from the Covid-19 virus, don’t let your dog or cat interact with people or animals outside your household. In other words, they should also stay home, like you.

  • If your pet tests positive for Covid-19, follow the same precautions you would if a family member became infected;
  • Isolate your pet in a separate room away from the rest of your family. Wear gloves when you interact with your pet or its food, dishes, waste or bedding;
  • Wash your hands after touching any of your pet’s items;
  • Don’t put a face covering on your pet and don’t wipe your pet with disinfectants, which can be harmful;
  • And if your pet’s symptoms seem to be getting worse, call the veterinarian.

But here’s some good news: Of the small number of dogs and cats confirmed to have the virus that causes Covid-19, some didn’t show any signs of illness. The pets that did become ill only experienced mild symptoms and none of them died. - FMT

The views expressed as those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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