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I am constantly worried about my dog. I worry that he’s in pain, I worry that he’s bored. I worry when his pupils are large, and I worry when his pupils are small, and I worry when his pupils are regular. I worry that I’m not providing him with a full enough life. I worry that he would prefer I sing more interesting songs to him, rather than songs that primarily list his body parts. And although I’ve read that dogs are unlikely to contract COVID-19, I still worry that he might.
It is my job, though, to reassure you about what is known. Yes, there was a dog — one single dog — in Hong Kong who tested “weak positive” for the virus. On Wednesday, Hong Kong authorities updated their reports on the dog, a Pomeranian, saying his infection was likely a case of human-to-animal transfer. (The dog’s owner had also tested positive.) The dog, who remains in quarantine, has not shown any signs of the disease, and dogs are not known to be able to transfer it to humans.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Organisation for Animal Health have released information saying there is no evidence dogs can spread the disease, and there is therefore no reason to abandon or neglect them. If we happen to contract the virus, it is recommended that we treat our animals the same way we would a family member, in order to adequately protect them: keep our distance and, if possible, make alternate plans for care; wear a mask; and wash our hands before and after we come into contact with them. Do not kiss them. Do not snuggle their little bodies. Get someone else to walk them if possible.
Basically, dogs cannot transfer the virus, and there is very little evidence that they can even contract it. Still, I worry. I reached out to Dr. Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer of the American Kennel Club, to help defuse my unnecessary panic.
“What we can say is that the CDC has not reported any cases of pets or other animals becoming infected with COVID-19 in the United States or anywhere else in the world, including hotbeds like Italy,” he said. This is, of course, with the exception of that “weak positive” in Hong Kong. I asked Klein if that “weak positive” meant that dogs could possibly — even if they don’t get symptoms, and even though they can’t pass it on — contract the virus.
“Unfortunately because of that one dog, that one dog in the entire world, I can only say possibly.” While that Pomeranian seems to have thrown a wrench into what would otherwise be a clear-cut scenario, Klein said the dog’s unique COVID-19–contracting ability should raise questions about the efficacy of the test (among other things), rather than concerns about the possibility of more dogs contracting it. “Why was the dog taken into a veterinarian if it wasn’t sick?” he asked, rhetorically. “Why was it tested for COVID-19?”
And yes, I was curious — why was this dog tested? Are dogs being tested regularly? Klein said no. “There is no reason to test unless an animal is sick. There haven’t been any letters from the CDC or the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) about recent upsurges in questionably ill animals, here or elsewhere,” he said. “We haven’t had any reports of surges in emergency rooms of dogs or cats presenting with fevers of unknown origin. As of now, it is not any different than in previous years. So the answer to are animals being tested is: probably not.”
The most important thing to remember about animals and COVID-19 is that they cannot transfer it to humans, and they should not be neglected. In the immediate aftermath of the outbreak, misinformation that animals might carry the virus led to the abandonment and killing of dogs and cats in some places. “Dogs and cats deserve the truth,” Klein said. “We have to take care of these guys.”
There are strains of flu that affect dogs and cats, but they cannot be transferred to humans; likewise, our strains of flu cannot be transferred to our pets. Klein said in order to protect our dogs and ourselves, we should focus on previously known dog-related hygiene measures and be aware of things we know can be transferred and can take measures to prevent, like roundworms and E. coli. “If you have children, you wouldn’t have them touch a puppy and put their fingers in their mouth, because they can have fecal contamination,” Klein said. “The general practice of washing our hands after touching a puppy or a dog — that’s normal hygiene.”
And while we’re here: You should also have your pets checked by a veterinarian at least once a year, if not more. You should make sure they are fed nutritious diets, get proper exercise, and are up to date on their vaccines. And make sure they’re up to date on anti-parasitic measures (meaning fleas and ticks), “because there is still Lyme disease that can be caught,” Klein said. “So while the news is all about corona, there are still these other things that are not going away.”
Klein said not to focus on your dog contracting the virus or transmitting the virus, but instead — if you’re going to worry about something — worry about them being neglected if you get the virus. “I think collateral damage would be the concern for my pets,” he said. “If I get sick, I want to make sure that they’re taken care of properly.”