COVID-19 and your pet dog

The last several months have been a very stressful period for dog lovers across the globe. While there is a lot of information out there about the impact of COVID-19 on human beings, surprisingly little is known about its impact on our pets. Dogs have always stood with us during times of difficulty – whether it was war, natural disaster, or terrorist attacks. Even today, dogs are there very much on the frontlines in our fight against COVID-19. In fact, many government agencies are using sniffer dogs to identify COVID-19 patients. So we owe it to our pets to protect and take care of them in these challenging times.

As a dog owner, you probably have a lot of questions about how to take care of your pet during the pandemic. You may also be worried if you or your family members could get the virus from your pet dog.

Can pet dogs get COVID-19?

Over the past few months, a few cases of COVID-19 infection in pet dogs have been reported across the world. Most of these cases have been due to the pets coming in close contact with an infected person.

The good news is, while studies suggest that the COVID-19 virus can infect dogs, as per government and medical agencies like the CDC(U.S) and the World Organization of Animal Health (OIE), the risk of the virus passing from dogs to human beings is low. The chances of dogs spreading the virus to other pets are also considered low.

But keep in mind, all this is based on limited data available. So, it’s always a good idea to follow the guidelines released by the government and medical authorities.

How will I know if my dog has COVID-19? What are the symptoms?

From what we know, just like in humans, COVID-19 symptoms can vary from dog to dog. So, it’s possible that even if your dog is infected, it may not show any signs of illness.  As per available data, in the pet dogs that did show symptoms, the symptoms were relatively mild. Also, there have been no reported cases of pets that have died of COVID-19. That’s definitely a relief!

If your dog has come in contact with a COVID-19 patient, the best thing to do is to give your veterinarian a call.

Check the list below if you are not sure of COVID-19 symptoms for pets:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
  • Laziness or sluggishness
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Eye discharge
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If your pet develops any new symptoms, or if you notice the existing symptoms becoming severe (for example, it has trouble breathing), you should immediately call your veterinarian.  Your vet may be able to advise you over the phone, or you may have to take your pet to a clinic for better care.

There are tests available to detect COVID-19 in animals. Your veterinarian would be the best person to advise you on this.

How can I protect my pet dogs from the virus?

The best way to protect your dog is to keep it away from infected people.

As much as possible, try to avoid:

  • Taking your dog to a veterinary hospital without calling the veterinarian first.
  • Visiting crowded places like parks, markets, hospitals, or beaches.
  • Using pet boarding facilities or daycares.
  • Visiting other homes
  • Visiting pet grooming facilities
  • Contact with people outside your home. Do not allow people you don’t know to touch your dog
  • Using the services of pet sitters, dog walkers, etc.

In short, keep your pet at home, except to get medical care. If you need to take your dogs for walks, stay close to the house and limit the walks to bathroom breaks only. Avoid crowded places and keep your dog at least 6 feet away from other pets and people. Do not let other people touch or interact with your dog.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms or confirmed infection, immediately restrict your contact with your pet dog. Don’t pet or snuggle your dog. Also, don’t share food or bed with your dog. If it is possible, have another family member care for your pets while you are sick.

If there is no one else to take care of your dogs and you have to do it yourself, wear a mask when you are near them. Also, make sure that you wash your hands before and after you interact with your dogs.

Should I be worried about getting COVID-19 from my pet dog?

Like we mentioned earlier, we haven’t seen any evidence of infected dogs spreading the disease to humans. But there is a small chance that if your dogs came into contact with the virus, the virus might stay active on their furs for a short period – the same way it does on surfaces such as tables or doorknobs. So, every time you touch your pet, make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly with soap or use a recommended hand sanitizer. You must also wash your hands after handling their food, supplies, or waste.

If your dog becomes sick or shows any of the COVID-19 symptoms mentioned earlier, don’t rush to the veterinary clinic. Call your veterinarian first and let them advise you on the next steps.

If your pet dog is sick, always wear a mask and gloves when you go near it. Use gloves when you handle your pet’s dishes, bedding, or toys, or if you have to clean up after it.

Follow your local government or health authority guidelines when disposing of the gloves after handling your pet. And make sure you wash your hands with soap and water afterward.

If you are in the higher COVID-19 risk category (due to age or health conditions), if possible, have another household member take care of your sick dog.

Never try to put a mask on your pet. It will do more harm than good.

How do I care for my sick pet?

If your dog displays COVID 19 symptoms, or tests positive for the virus, immediately Discuss with a veterinarian and follow their advice on medication and care.

Isolate the pet from everyone in your household, including other pets. If you have an extra room – may be an additional bathroom, you could use it as a designated sick room and isolate your dog there.

Do not wipe or bathe your pet with anything that can harm it. Never use chemical disinfectants, alcohol, hand sanitizer, or surface cleaners to clean your pets. They can seriously harm or even kill your pet. Ensure the sick pet’s bedding, bowls, treats, toys, etc., are not shared with other pets in the house.

Talk to your vet regularly and keep them updated about any changes in symptoms -like any difficulty in breathing.

Use a recommended disinfectant to thoroughly disinfect your dog’s items such as bowls or toys and later rinse with water.

My pet dog has started behaving differently now. Should I worry?

These are challenging times. Changes like movement restriction, social distancing, and more people working from home can also affect your pets’ behavior.

While most of us are even busier during the pandemic, it’s crucial that you are aware of its impact on your pets as well. Look for changes in behavior or body language of your dogs.

Some dogs may become more aggressive, while others may become lazier. Different dogs may react differently to changes in noise levels at home due to children spending a lot more time at home. Lack of or reduced exercise could be another reason for changes in behaviour.  Keep a close watch and seek your veterinarian’s advice if you see any drastic changes. Also, try to set routines – like feeding time, walk time, etc., to encourage consistency in your dogs’ behavior.

During these difficult times, your pet dog needs your love and support more than ever. Follow the guidelines given above, and you will be able to keep your pet and your family safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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