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Can my pet get COVID-19 or any of its variants?

By KATHY MORAN, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 25, 2022 5:00 am

In March 2020, the first lockdown was declared because the deadly COVID-19 was in the air. As the months moved on, so did the virus, at times slowing down in its mutation and then speeding up again—taking on new variants like Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and now, Omicron.

After two years of lockdowns, there seems to be no way to tell how long this pandemic will last. There are many factors, among them the public’s efforts to slow the spread, researchers’ work to learn more about the virus, their search for a treatment, and the success of the vaccines.

Since I live with three dogs, four cats and a sulcata tortoise, my focus was making sure that I kept them healthy because my pets are family to me.

Our pets need us: Let’s keep them healthy with a good diet, exercise and lots of love.

So, in spite of the lockdowns, I made sure that my pet family had their yearly shots, were groomed regularly, and were able to exercise. I also read up often on whether people with COVID-19 could pass on the virus on to their pets.

I was relieved that at the start of the pandemic, dogs and cats were at a very low risk of getting the virus, and that allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief.

2022 started out with a bang but, just as we were about to let our guard down, Omicron came along. Also, I recently read a news article about a pet shop in Hong Kong putting down 2,000 animals. A UPI report says, “Authorities in Hong Kong said that they will euthanize hundreds of small animals and ban imports after a few hamsters and an employee at a pet shop tested positive for COVID-19."

Officials said the employee, a 23-year-old woman, tested positive and several hamsters from the Netherlands also returned positive tests.

A pet shop in Hong Kong has been closed down after some pet hamsters reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus.

Most experts, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have said that it’s unlikely that animals play a significant role in spreading COVID-19.

Hong Kong, however, said that the move is a precautionary measure to counter possible transmission from animals to humans. Officials also said that all owners who bought hamsters at the store after Dec. 22 have to turn them over to be euthanized.

That got me to thinking about my pet family. Once in a while they sneeze or cough. Nothing serious but I also want to be sure that they are fine. I also know that there have been documented cases of a cat and a dog that got COVID-19, but these have been in the US, Europe and Hong Kong.

The risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered low but this is still being studied.

I looked up the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and it says that a few pets—including cats and dogs—have also been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. This happened mostly after the animals came in close contact with people infected with the virus.

Based on the limited available information, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered low. Animals don’t appear to play a significant role in spreading the virus. There is no evidence that viruses can spread to people or other animals from a pet’s skin, fur, or hair.

However, keep in mind that young children, people with weakened immune systems, and people age 65 and older are more likely to get sick from some other germs that animals can carry.

I asked vet Dr. Maricelle Licuanan of the Philippine Pet Birth Control Center Foundation about the current Omicron situation and if pets are more prone to get the virus now.

PHILIPPINE STAR: Can our pets get human illnesses? Can COVID be transmitted if someone with the illness prepares their food?

MARICELLE LICUANAN: There are many diseases that we can transmit to our pets. There is salmonella and camphylobacteriosis that can cause the same symptoms to dogs and cats as to humans, which is diarrhea. Humans can also transmit Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus infection to pets. MRSA can cause serious respiratory and skin infections. Humans to dogs and cats can also transmit tuberculosis and ringworm.

Veterinarian Dr. Maricelle Licuanan

Recently, it is unfortunate that COVID-19 is one of the diseases that we may now transmit to our pet. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this happens during close contact of an infected person with their pets.

Have there been more documented cases of pets with COVID-19?

There are documented cases (but none in the Philippines) in the US, Europe and Hong Kong of COVID-19 infection in dogs and cats from infected pet owners.

If a person gets COVID-19 and is in isolation, is it okay that a pet stays with them?

If a pet owner is infected with COVID-19, it is recommended that he or she stay away from pets or use a mask whenever possible when handling pets.

Should we sanitize our pets the way we keep ourselves sanitized?

There are only some approved sanitizers for pets; be sure to use the ones that are intended for pets. But it is better not to touch someone else’s pets for your pet’s protection and for your own safety. To protect your pet from the COVID-19 virus, don’t let your dog or cat interact with people or animals outside your household.

What can we do to keep our pets healthy during this period?

As with any other infectious diseases, it is very important for our pets to be healthy. Vitamin supplementation is recommended if your pet doesn’t have a healthy and balanced nutrition. Proper exercise and a healthy well-being are essential to make their immune system better.

Have you had experiences with your pet patients having COVID-like symptoms?

Yes, some of our clients are now more honest about their pet’s condition.

How did you treat these pets?

As their symptoms are pretty much the same as humans, we give mucolytics, antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections.

What should pet owners like me do to make sure we keep our pets safe and healthy?

We recommend keeping your pets' vaccination and deworming schedules up to date to avoid vet trips during this pandemic. The most important thing for pets is really to give them proper food, nutrition and care for their well-being. Avoid touching other pets as well. Always remember that the animal-to-human transmission of COVID-19 is still being studied.

Vaccinations not only protect pets, they are also a component of human disease prevention.

As to the case of the hamsters in Hong Kong, I think they will be euthanized to prevent them from being carriers.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses. Some cause cold-like illnesses in people, and others cause illness in animals, such as bats. In addition, some coronaviruses infect only animals. While the specific source of origin isn’t known, the virus that causes COVID-19 is believed to have started in an animal, spread to humans, and then spread from person to person.

For now, my dogs avoid crowds, because I do. We avoid public dog parks or public places where many people and dogs gather.

When walking your dog, make sure your dog wears a leash and keep your dog at least six feet from other people and animals. With my cats, they stay indoors whenever possible.

It is important to isolate yourself from everyone else, including your pet. If possible, have another person in your household care for your pet. That means avoiding petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding with your pet.

However, if you live alone with your pets, wear a mask or face covering. Wash your hands before and after handling animals and their food, waste and supplies. Also, make sure you clean up after your pet.