Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Woman and dog with face mask

The world is currently watching nervously as we wait to see just how much of an impact this new global virus will have. While the main concern is currently for humans (especially the elderly and immunosuppressed), recent reports indicate that there may be more at stake here and this deadly virus has now been detected in a dog.

Importantly, experts maintain that while the virus may have been found ‘on’ a dog, they cannot become ill. However, we do not yet know everything about this Coronavirus and it is vital we remain vigilant.

Please note the information in this article is accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time of publishing. The tips for those self-isolating with pets is merely meant to provide practical advice to keep you, your pet and those around you safe until official guidance is released.

What Is Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has been making headlines in the news for the last few months and was first identified in December 2019. It was originally detected in China (in the Wuhan municipality) but has swiftly made its way around the world and can now be found in a huge number of countries, including France, Canada and Australia. While we have seen Coronaviruses in the past, this is a brand-new strain that has never before been diagnosed in a human.

Coronaviruses belong to the large Coronaviridae family and are known to affect both animals and humans. Their name derives from their appearance under an electron microscope as ‘corona’ means crown or halo and they can be seen to have a fringe surrounding them. They are responsible for many diseases, including the common cold.

Just a few weeks ago, this novel virus was finally given its full name: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Corona-Virus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and the disease that humans can contract is being called COVID-19. Whenever a brand-new strain of virus emerges it is always concerning as experts are unable to predict what the implications will be and there is no vaccine or cure available.

Symptoms in Humans

Almost every day, new details are emerging and we are learning more and more about the virus. We know for sure that it came from an animal and can be transmitted from one human being to another. Initial symptoms in humans include a fever, cough and trouble breathing.

Of course, plenty of other illnesses, including the flu, can present in a similar manner. For now, the recommendations to reduce the risk of developing the virus include: Maintaining good hand hygiene, avoiding those that are suspected to have the disease and sneezing and coughing into a tissue or sleeve. The mortality rate of those affected with COVID-19 is thought to sit at around 2%.

Self Isolating

Many of those who either have or are suspected of having the virus are being asked to ‘self-isolate’ for a minimum of two weeks, to reduce the risk to other people. As there is no specific treatment, those affected need to rest and let their body fight the infection itself. Medical professionals can run tests to confirm or rule out the diagnosis and they may take sample of mucus and/or blood.

Are There Any Confirmed Cases of Dogs Getting Coronavirus?

Pomeranian

A Pomeranian in Hong Kong tested 'weak positive' for the virus - experts believe the dog was infected on a surface level

We do know that many members of the Coronaviridae are zoonotic, meaning that they can spread from animals to humans. Despite this, experts feel that this particular strain does not pose a risk to our canine companions. However, many readers will be aware that (at the time of writing this article) one dog, a Pomeranian, has tested positive for the disease within Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department reported a weak positive from swabs taken from the dog’s nasal and oral cavities. Despite this, the dog had not been showing any signs at all. As a matter of precaution, it has been isolated and will be tested again to ensure it tests negative before removing it from isolation.

Infection Most Likely on a Surface Level

Interestingly, despite this result, scientists still agree that dogs cannot become infected. They argue that dogs can test positive, just like objects, such as table tops and bank notes, can test positive – the virus being present on the surface of the dog but not causing him any illness.

Despite these reassurances from specialists, the advice is to quarantine pets who have been around those that have the disease to potentially allow them to be further tested and observed. For now, it is merely precautionary.

Are Face Masks Beneficial for Dogs?

Woman and dog wearing a face mask

Officials have stressed the importance of good hand hygiene over face masks.

Many owners are wondering if they need to do anything specific to keep their pets safe and some have even taken to getting their beloved pets to wear face masks (something which is far easier said than done). In fact, it is believed that these masks do not provide any benefit, except perhaps offering some peace of mind for the concerned owner.

Health officials don’t even recommend that people wear masks in public, as it is simply not seen as an effective way of preventing the disease. While humans deciding to wear masks is one thing, forcing a dog to do so is not advised as they will likely find it unsettling and uncomfortable. Rather than faffing about with masks, owners should simply maintain a good level of hygiene around their dog and other pets.

Canine Coronavirus Infection

Labrador puppy on the toilet

It is important to emphasise that dogs (and other pets) can and do get strains of Coronaviridae, but so far none have been proven to have contracted COVID-19. One such strain, which was first diagnosed in 1971, is Canine Coronavirus and it is quite unlike COVID-19 in that it affects the gut of the dog and causes vomiting, diarrhoea and a reduced appetite.

Thankfully, this virus causes a rather mild illness and there is a vaccine available. Most vets will not routinely give the Coronavirus vaccine but it can be used in the face of an outbreak or in highly susceptible populations, such as those in rehoming centres or shelters. Canine Coronavirus is not something that can be passed onto humans.

What to Do If You Have Coronavirus (Covid-19) & Pets

Lady with Coronavirus at home with dog
At the time of publishing, there is no official advice as to what pet owners should do, however, this may well change shortly. For now, we need to use some common sense in order to keep ourselves and our pets safe.

The Risk

As discussed earlier in this article, even if you are infected with Coronavirus you do not pose a risk to your animal. However, it is possible that the virus could be found on them, which is why it is a good idea to quarantine them with you as they could potentially pass the virus on to someone else. Of course, isolating a dog can pose certain challenges.

Self-Isolating with Your Dog

Dog on balcony being quarantined

While dogs who typically require quarantining (for example, those that travel or who are suspected of having Rabies) are usually not allowed to be around their owner, this is not the case in this scenario.

For many owners, having their pet in quarantine with them would be a big bonus! They can provide company and a source of familiarity and reassurance during a tense time.

Precautions

As the virus can live on animals, we need to be cautious. During quarantine, the safest thing would be to not allow them to have contact with the outside world at all. This will mean no vet trips or walks outside.

Considerations

A dog will not understand why they are suddenly not allowed outdoors and why their owner is now around all the time. Many dogs are creatures of habit and may find this change quite stressful. There are certain things which we can do to help them enjoy the couple of weeks they are kept inside:

  • Indoor Exercise: Provide as much exercise indoors as possible. You may have to get inventive with tennis balls, runs up and down the stairs, ‘find the treat’ and scenting games.
  • Mental Stimulation: Your dog will need lots of mental stimulation to prevent boredom from setting in, as this could result in destructive tendencies. This may include food puzzles, such as Kongs and Lickimats, as well as practising some basic training.
  • Calming Supplements: Very anxious dogs may benefit from a course of natural calming supplements while inside to help keep them on an even keel. Plug-ins, such as Adaptil, may also prove useful. This is especially true for very active breeds, such as Border Collies and Springer Spaniels.
  • Avoiding Obesity: Those that are receiving less exercise will inevitably need less calories. It can be tempting to provide them with lots of extra treats to make up for the lack of walks but this could result in an expanding waistline. Instead, stick to low calorie treats, such as raw carrot, cottage cheese and skinless chicken. Many will need their daily portion sizes reduced, as well.
  • Make Use of Your Balcony/Patio/Garden: Make use of any balcony, patio or private garden that you have. As long as other people will not be passing close by it should be okay to allow your dog access to it for toileting and exercising purposes.
  • Avoiding Contact: It would be advised that any dog sitters, walkers, groomers not come into contact with the dog for their own safety. If they do for any reason, they must practice good hygiene, washing their hands with soap and water after touching them and avoiding touching their face.

Can Other Diseases Be Passed from Dogs to Humans?

Dachshund with goggles and a lab coat

A disease that is passed from an animal to a human is said to be zoonotic. There are a number of these diseases in existence that are spread from dogs to people, some of which are quite significant. These include:

Rabies

The most significant of all of the zoonotic diseases is Rabies as it is invariably fatal once established. While present in a number of countries, such as the USA and India, other countries, such as Great Britain, are free from this disease. Infected dogs can bite humans, spreading the virus from their saliva into the wound.

It is critical to vaccinate dogs against this disease in endemic countries, as well as to teach children how to avoid dog bites and to reduce the stray dog population. It would be extremely rare for a person to infect another person, although it can potentially happen through a bite or via organ transplantation.

Bacterial Infections: Salmonella, Campylobacter & E. Coli

Bacteria aren’t fussy and are quite happy to infect both humans and animals. There are a number of bacterial infections that can cross the species barrier. One of the most common scenarios that we see is when a raw-fed animal eats contaminated meat and becomes ill.

Their owner may also develop the infection and could potentially spread it to other people with whom they are in close contact. As these infections typically spread via the faecal-oral route, strict hygiene dramatically reduces the chance of people becoming infected.

Fungal Infections: Ringworm

Ringworm is most often associated with calves and kittens but can certainly be passed from dogs to humans. Those people who are affected will develop a scaly, red circular lesion which itches. Ringworm can be effectively treated and most will be prescribed an anti-fungal.

Typically, children who stroke affected animals and do not wash their hands thoroughly are the ones who tend to develop ringworm. Ringworm can also be present on items and surfaces, such as towel and sheets, so it is important to wash items that someone with ringworm has touched.

Parasitic Infections: Roundworms & Mange

While many parasites will only affect one or two species, some are quite content to live on anyone who will take them. Sarcoptic mites, for example, can live on dogs, foxes, cats and people. To prevent humans from becoming infected, animals should be treated with anti-parasitic medicines routinely and the environment thoroughly disinfected.

Protozoal Infections: Giardiasis

Those who develop a Giardia infection can have an upset stomach and stomach cramping which last for several weeks. Often, animals contaminate drinking water by defecating into it. While humans can also become infected from eating contaminated food, this is less common as the protozoa are killed by heat. Children are the most at risk, though people of any age can develop Giardiasis and it can be spread from person to person through poor hygiene and sexual contact.

Those that are most at risk of zoonotic infections include the young, the elderly and those who have weakened immune systems, such as patients receiving chemotherapy. Most of the time, these illnesses can be prevented in the dog, such as by vaccinating them from puppyhood, providing anti-parasite therapy and avoiding raw diets. Owners should always present their dog to the vet when unwell and practice good hygiene, even when their pet seems healthy.