Federal officials revealed that two pet cats in New York had confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday — the same day that New York City’s Bronx Zoo confirmed that a total of eight animals had tested positive for the virus.
Now, public health officials have released new guidelines on how to keep your pet — and yourself — safe from the coronavirus.
In a media statement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that public health officials are aware that a small number of pets have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. However, the pets had mostly come into contact with people who had COVID-19, the CDC says. Now, the federal agency has updated guidance to try to protect people and their pets. Here’s what you need to know, plus why it might impact your next dog walk.
What are the new guidelines?
The CDC specifically recommends that pet owners do the following:
Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside your house.
Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least six feet from other people and animals.
Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.
If you or one of your family members are sick with COVID-19, the CDC recommends doing your best to restrict contact with your pets, just like you would do with people. It also suggests the following:
When possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick.
Avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding.
If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.
How worried about this should you be?
As of now, the CDC says that there is “no evidence” that pets play a role in spreading COVID-19 in the U.S. However, the agency acknowledges there’s a lot that scientists still don’t know at the moment. “Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals, including pets, could be affected,” the guidelines say.
“It’s unclear how much risk there is from human to animal spread and vice versa,” Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and a professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life.
So far, pets who have had confirmed cases of COVID-19 seem to have relatively minor symptoms. “They’ve had coughing and basic upper respiratory signs,” Ashley Rossman, DVM, a veterinarian at Glen Oak Dog and Cat Hospital in Glenview, Ill., tells Yahoo Life. In general, experts say you shouldn’t stress out about your pet contracting COVID-19, as long as you follow the proper precautions. “People should not be overly concerned about their pet contracting COVID-19. The most likely way they would contract if, if they did, would be from someone in the household who themselves has COVID-19,” Dr. Rustin Moore, dean of the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine, tells Yahoo Life.
According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, cats are the most susceptible to contracting COVID-19, followed by ferrets. Dogs are also susceptible but seem to be less affected than ferrets or cats.
How can you put these tips into practice?
If you have a high-energy pet or a pet that loves interacting with other animals, it can be tricky to figure out how to put this into practice. How, exactly, are you supposed to pull this off?
There are a few things you can do, Rossman says:
Keep your dog on a tight leash during walks. “Don’t do any leash-less walks,” Rossman says. “And, if you usually give your dog a long lead, use a tighter leash.”
Be on the lookout for other dogs. When you see another dog in your path, Rossman recommends giving the pet a wide birth. “Switch to the other side of the street or change direction,” she says.
Steer clear of other people, too. Not everyone is aware of the guidelines for pets and people may try to approach your dog for a pat. Rossman recommends avoiding other people as much as you can on your walks, if possible.
Make sure you have plenty of toys handy. That can include toys that require your pet to get food out of a dispenser or maze, or a bone to chew, Rossman says. “You want to have plenty of playthings and activities for them to do so they’re not destroying shoes,” she adds.
Play fetch in your house. If your dog is used to a lot of activity at the dog park, Rossman recommends doing your best to recreate that exercise in your home. If you have a yard, use it. If not, try to play fetch indoors to get your pet’s heart rate up. “It feels silly to jog up and down the hallway with your dog but, in an apartment, it’s a completely viable option if social distancing is challenging in your neighborhood,” Dr. M. Leanne Lilly, a professor of veterinary behavioral medicine at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, tells Yahoo Life.
Walk outside your usual route. “You can also look for other areas that aren’t typically dog places to walk, like empty parking lots,” Lilly says. “Right now, churches and movie theater parking lots are not car traffic zones and, if well shaded, make a potentially great place for a low human and dog traffic walk. Plenty of things to sniff in those locations, too.”
And, of course, if you have any questions, call your vet. They should be able to offer personalized guidance that can help. “That’s what we’re here for,” Rossman says.
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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