Rumours about pets spreading COVID-19 cause concern for owners

Khaled El-Ghamry, Tamer El-Shazly, Thursday 16 Apr 2020

Can man’s best friend become a foe amid the coronavirus global pandemic?


Many people have become alarmed by talk around the transmission of the novel coronavirus from pets to humans, especially after the World Health Organisation (WHO) included in its precautions on the virus washing hands after coming into contact with pets. But the organisation didn’t confirm that the virus actually transfers from home animals to humans. It also didn’t confirm whether pets are affected by Covid-19 in the first place.

 A news report confirmed that a Malayan tiger was tested positive for the virus by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Iowa. This news led some pet owners to abandon their cats and dogs in the street.
Khalid Ramadan El-Berry, president of the Egyptian Organisation for Dog Ancestries Preservation (EDA), said the virus has affected the pet market gravely. Yet he said transmission of the disease from cats and dogs to humans hasn’t been proven scientifically to date. He advised all pet owners to pay attention to their pets' hygiene, and underlined the importance of using hand sanitisers like diluted chlorine to eliminate viruses and germs.

Dr Ahmed Ramadan, a veterinary surgeon, explained that Covid-19 does not infect pets like cats and dogs, and so it cannot be transferred from such pets to humans or vice versa, since it affects human lung cells and grows within them, while cats and dogs can become infected by a different kind of coronavirus (the Alphacoronavirus family) that infects the animal’s digestive system. Its symptoms include loss of appetite, diarrhea (bloody sometimes), and vomiting.

 There is also another type of this virus which affects the peritoneum, especially in cats, and is not dangerous or widely spread, and it doesn’t cause animal fatalities except in extremely rare conditions and can be cured using antibiotics, solutions, and drugs specific to this type of disease.
Ramadan added that there are common diseases shared between pets and humans, the most important of which are bacterial diseases like Salmonella and E.coli. Also internal parasites like ringworms, and external parasites like ticks and fleas. There is also the Rabies virus transferred to humans bitten by an infected animal. Rabies impacts the human nervous system and if a person affected doesn’t receive an antivirus vaccine within 24 hours it can cause death.
Ramadan said the important vaccines for canine health are the eight-way vaccine a dog receives between the age of 45-60 days, repeated again after 21 days. A month after receiving this vaccine the dog is vaccinated against rabies. As for cats, there is a four-way vaccine the cat receives between 45-60 days, and that is repeated after 21 days. This is followed by a rabies vaccine after a month. It’s preferable to repeat these vaccinations on a yearly basis to maintain the pet’s health.
Ramadan clarified that owners can protect themselves from infection through fast follow-up with vet upon observing any symptoms — whether respiratory or digestive — in their pets. The pet owner should also pay attention to yearly vaccinations, and regular worm and insect dosages. He added that owners should minimise pet contact with others, and minimise their movement outside the home to protect both animals and humans.

Ramadan added that veterinarians should commit to World Health Organisation procedures to protect themselves against infection, including washing hands with soap and water after dealing with animals or humans, sterilising examination areas on a regular basis, and avoiding crowding inside their clinics.

There are more dangerous diseases than the novel coronavirus that can transferred from pets to humans and yet we still live with them safely. Abandoning pets, especially after they become attached to the persons who sheltered, cared for and raised them, is cruel and unnecessary, as well as societally damaging. No evidence exists that pet owners face any additional risks from the novel coronavirus.

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