Walking dogs during the coronavirus scare
Be wary of instant Internet coronavirus experts, opt for proven results
Update on April 6, 2020: Although evidence remains the same for dogs, pet owners who read this post should be aware that “SARS-CoV-2 replicates poorly in dogs, pigs, chickens and ducks, but efficiently in ferrets and cats.” (Source: bioRxiv)
The coronavirus scare has put people on edge, especially with 647 total cases in the United States* and 25 that have lead to deaths (and more than 118,000 people* infected with the disease across 110 countries — 80 percent of cases in China). As of the time of this writing, 83 were travel-related, 36 are person-to-person spread, and 528 more cases are under investigation. It’s enough to understand why some people are self-isolating themselves the way Italy is. And while dog walkers tend to spend more time with four-legged friends than two-legged ones in their day-to-day activities, this may also be a group at risk when it comes to boarding and house sitting.
However, as with every other health concern on the Internet, there’s a flock of people who have decided that they are now coronavirus experts — without one degree or even an actual case to back it up. In this post, I have no desire to be in that group. I have not a shred of expertise in working with someone with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID) nor do I have a medical degree. This post is solely to answer some frequently asked questions that I’ve seen on social media for those who are concerned but unaware of what is a myth and what has actually been documented regarding dogs and coronavirus. All answers are linked to verified and credible sources.
How do I protect myself from coronavirus while walking dogs?
According to the American Kennel Club, pet owners should follow the same expected health precautions they’ve already been doing (hopefully) — wash their hands with soap and water after contact with any animal. No face masks are needed for your dog. And if you are in the habit of just rinsing your hands or using antibacterial ointment, this is as good of a time as any to remember that you should be scrubbing your hands for 20 seconds every single time. This also includes touching animal waste or animal food. If you do not already have soap in your dog walking bag, buy it. Responsible dog owners should expect you to want to wash your hands after a walk and often have handsoap on their sinks. Spraying alcohol, saline, antibacterial ointment, hot baths, garlic, chlorine and hand dryers are no substitute nor cure for coronavirus.
Can I get coronavirus from a dog?
So far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coronavirus is believed to only spread from person-to-person. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that there have been no reported cases of coronavirus in domestic animals. However, if you’re not washing your hands regularly when touching your dog, you are at far more risk of common bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella, which can pass between pets and humans.
What is canine respiratory coronavirus?
Canine respiratory coronavirus (CRCoV) — also called “kennel cough” — is a respiratory disease in dogs, according to the Veterinary Clinics of North America, which is widespread in North America, Japan and several European countries. The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that CRCoV infection is highest when large numbers of dogs are housed together in close confinement (i.e. boarding/training kennels; shelter facilities; dog shows; racing greyhound kennels). This is spread solely through dog-to-dog contact, and usually results in dogs that are coughing, sneezing and have nasal discharge. Be very careful when choosing a boarding facility for your dog. Sick dogs are usually isolated (estimated for three weeks) for fear of spreading CRCoV to other dogs. Contact a trained veterinarian for more information on diagnoses and vaccinations from other respiratory pathogens; unfortunately there is no vaccine for CRCoV at this time.
What do I do if I want to board or sit for a dog with a family member that may have coronavirus?
The first concern should be why you’re sure this owner must have coronavirus. If you know for sure, is there a way to get this dog from another location? If it’s a matter of a parent or a dog owner being asked to work from home or keep a child(ren) from school, this could just be a precaution. This does not mean this dog owner (or family) automatically has it. People of all ages can be infected by the new coronavirus. Older people, and people with preexisting medical conditions (i.e. asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus, WHO reports. However, only licensed medical professionals can confirm who has or does not have it.
If you are concerned but unsure, there is no right or wrong answer: Do whatever makes you feel most comfortable, even if it’s as simple as picking the dog up from the backyard or a leashed porch instead of hand-to-hand leash contact. If even touching the owner’s equipment makes you nervous, have your own and just collect the dog from a safe space.
How did one dog test positive for coronavirus already?
On the last week of February, CNN reported that Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said that samples from a dog’s nasal and oral cavities had tested “weak positive” for novel coronavirus. The World Organization for Animal Health unanimously agreed that it was likely a case of human-to-animal transmission. But even after that, there is still no evidence that pet animals can be a source of infection of COVID-19 or that they can become sick.
Again, washing one’s hands and not allowing a dog to kiss the owner (or dog walkers/boarders) is the easiest way to avoid infection or common bacteria. Although experts still believe that both severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and coronavirus likely originated in bats, as of now, the latter still appears to only be spreading infections from person-to-person. With that said, coronavirus could be present on the surface of a dog or cat, even if the dog or cat hasn’t actually contracted the virus. But this is about as risky as other inanimate objects such as door handles. The main way the disease is spreading is from person-to-person in close proximity, or from respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs and sneezes.
* As of the time and date of publication