We know there is a lot of uncertainty, confusion, and even hysteria surrounding the outbreak of the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Please hear this loud and clear: you cannot catch COVID-19 from your pets.
According to IDEXX, a leading veterinary diagnostic company, they have “seen no positive results in pets to date of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus strain responsible for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) respiratory outbreak in humans.”
This hasn’t been enough to stop the rumor mill, though. By now, everyone has heard about the Pomeranian in Hong Kong that tested “weak positive” after its owner came down with the virus. The dog was quarantined, tested several times, given a clean bill of health, and released. Not long after its release, the seventeen-year-old Pomeranian died. Immediately, headlines across social media proclaimed:
FIRST DOG TO TEST POSITIVE FOR CORONAVIRUS HAS DIED IN HONG KONG – NY POST
HONG KONG DOG TESTED POSITIVE FOR CORONAVIRUS DIES AFTER QUARANTINE – Bloomberg News
HONG KONG DOG DIES AFTER RELEASE FROM CORONAVIRUS –Time.com.
If you get past the sensationalist, clickbaity headlines that these “news” sources, frankly, should be ashamed of, you'll read on to learn that the cause of the dog’s death could not be determined. However, there are two pieces of information here that are relevant. One; the dog was tested several times and released from quarantine because the tests ultimately came up negative and the dog showed no symptoms of COVID-19; and two; the dog was seventeen years old.
In other news sources, we find that not only was the dog old for a Pomeranian (they generally live 12-16 years) but it also had some underlying health issues. A medical source familiar with the case told the South China Morning Post, “The dog did not develop any new symptoms after getting the virus [as it is just weakly positive],” the source said. “It is very unlikely the virus had any contribution to the death of the dog.”
Do you suppose perhaps the dog died of old age? If a seventeen-year-old dog is suddenly taken from his home to a strange place, not allowed to see family, subjected to stressful tests, and kept in isolation for weeks, do you think there is a chance trauma could have played a role? We don’t know, but what we do know is that he did not die of COVID-19 because he ultimately tested negative.
There is another headline circling that seeks to alarm people about a second dog who has tested positive for COVID-19. This dog is a 2-year-old German Shepherd who lives in a household in Hong Kong with an owner who has tested positive for COVID-19. The owner is now in quarantine, as is the German Shepherd and a mixed breed dog from the same house. So far, the German Shepherd has tested positive in nasal swabs, but the mixed breed has not. Both dogs are being held in quarantine in a government facility.
A leading public health virologist at the University of Hong Kong, Professor Malik Peiris, told the South China Morning Post, “It is very likely that the two positive cases [in Hong Kong] are examples of human-to-dog transmission.”
In both these cases, the dogs testing positive lived with humans who were infected with COVID-19, so the dogs got the virus from the humans, not the other way around. This makes a good argument for dogs dumping their people in order to stay safe, but of course, dogs are too loyal ever to do that.
Not people, though, and thanks to the misinformation blasted out at a record pace, fear of this virus has led thousands to dump, abandon, and even kill their family pets. Animal shelters are overrun, municipalities are stretched thin, and we are just at the beginning of this crisis.
What can you do?
Stay calm and get your information from trusted, legitimate news sources. Don’t be fooled by sensational headlines – remember, headlines on social media are designed to elicit emotion to get reactions. Look beyond the headline and read the whole story. Don’t share sensationalized content.
Keep yourself safe and your pets safe by washing your hands and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. The virus can live on objects from hours to days, depending on the surface, so wash your hands after coming into contact with anything you don’t already know is safe. Wash your hands before and after handling your pets. Cover your face and don’t sneeze or cough on them. Listen to your local authorities and follow their guidelines. (Get even more handy tips from Dr. Libby Guise and Fluentwoof.com.)
If you have room in your house, foster a shelter pet or two. They’re suffering along with us with limited human interaction during this time of staff cutbacks and stay home orders. The best mental health aid you can get right now is love and cuddles from your furry friend. Let’s all take care of one another and come safely through this together.