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Is COVID-19 a Danger to Animals?

Recently, Maryland DNR closed all state parks to equestrians. Specifically, the proclamation read as follows:

In accordance with Governor Hogan’s emergency actions to protect public health during the COVID-19 pandemic, horseback riding is prohibited in Maryland State Parks.

I have joined friends a couple of times for extremely therapeutic horseback rides during this time of isolation. Between the head or the butt end of my horse and theirs, we easily have six feet between us. Additionally, we are outdoors! Lastly, we are groups of two or three, well below the minimum number of ten. COVID-19 is affecting all of us in a myriad of ways. Many folks are wondering if COVID-19 can affect animals directly?

The Oregon Veterinary Medical Association offers a very informative article related to coronavirus and pet FAQ’s. The New Zealand based Horsetalk also provides excellent information comparing equine coronavirus to COVID-19. Briefly, I will summarize the pertinent points…

Coronaviruses can infect a variety of different animal species. There are at least three different types of coronavirus that cause either GI signs, respiratory signs, or systemic (whole-body) signs. The last two well-known coronavirus outbreaks affecting humans were SARS and MERS. In both of those previous outbreaks, humans were infected via intermediate hosts. In other words, the virus originated somewhere else but found its way to humans via the civet (SARS) or dromedary camels (MERS.)

There are four main subgroups of coronavirus: alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. COVID-19 is a beta coronavirus.

Equine Coronavirus

Veterinarians occasionally diagnose Equine Coronavirus, which manifests as a GI disturbance in horses. It spreads through direct transmission, with infected horses shedding the virus in manure. Treatment is symptomatic, and owners are encouraged to improve sanitation efforts in the environment. It is important to note that Equine Coronavirus and COVID-19 are different strains of the virus. There is no evidence that COVID-19 infected humans can transmit the virus to horses. The opposite is also true.

Cats and Dogs

Wired offers a great article about the tiger in the Bronx Zoo that was diagnosed with COVID-19. Understandably, many New Yorkers who could not access a test wondered how a tiger managed to score! The laboratory used a different test for the tiger. She tested positive three times, and two different veterinary laboratories confirmed the diagnosis. The zookeepers initially didn’t consider COVID-19 as a likely cause of the tiger’s illness. Ultimately, the zoo staff decided the tiger had acquired the virus from a human.

Domestic cats are more susceptible to coronavirus than dogs. One statistic estimates that 80% of cats have been infected with a common feline GI strain. Cats are usually not susceptible to beta coronavirus. Scientists view the tiger’s infection as an indication that COVID-19 might not be following all the rules… In Asia, a few cats and dogs have tested positive for the virus. What does this mean for you and your companion animals?

The consensus is that cats are potentially more at risk than dogs. Nevertheless, that risk is extremely low. Some experts recommend that self-quarantined COVID-19 patients assign animal chores to a healthy housemate. Additionally, they recommend not snuggling with your cat or burying your face in their fur. Of course, wash your hands often before and after dealing with your cat. Most experts want cat owners to be informed but not alarmed.

The Bottom Line

In summary, the CDC makes this recommendation:

At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19 or that they might be a source of infection in the United States.

Just this past week, I heard a news report that indicated washing down all your groceries is probably not necessary. What a relief to hear that, as I haven’t been doing that! Just because the virus can live on hard surfaces for some time doesn’t mean that it consistently does. I simply couldn’t bring myself to wash down every single grocery item I purchased. I did wear a mask when I shopped. When I went to Costco at 8 AM when all the old people (over 60) could shop, the line was over 200 people! That is worse than just going at the regular time!

The restrictions and isolation we are all experiencing are super stressful. Sadly, it is fairly evident that we will not be back to “normal” for a while. When I worked with troubled children and their parents, we had a saying… “Normal” is a setting on the dryer. Everything is relative. My wedding will not happen on May 2nd. We moved the date to June 6th. However, life will still not be “normal”. Plan C is a legal ceremony on May 2nd with 10 people in attendance. On August 22nd we will have our “official” wedding.

As frustrating at this has been for Alan and me, I feel worse for folks trying to have a funeral. I also feel very sad for young brides who have spent a year or more planning the wedding of their dreams only to have to start over. Alan and I have lived long enough to go with the flow. I hope you are all doing well! Go hug your cats, dogs, and horses and don’t worry about it!

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