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Safety First (Covid-19 & Companion Animals)

How can I resist Lily smooshing her face into my lips?!

Tough to resist Lily smooshing her face into my lips!

(Most recent update: September 18, 2021.)

As I learn new info about Covid-19 or SARS-CoV-2 regarding our little ones, I’ll share it in the comments below.

I got my second vaccine dose on Friday 4/23/21. (Hip Hip Hooray!) In addition, I’ve had no known exposure, no symptoms, no clients telling me they have been exposed, and I’ve had very little contact with humans since this pandemic hit the US in February 2020. (I’ve been extreme about isolating myself & I’m bubbling up with a terminally ill parent.) I’ve also been in very few houses since the travel industry has imploded.

Keep me informed

Please let me know if you’re my client and you have symptoms, have been exposed to, or test positive for SARS-CoV-2 or Covid-19 (or any infectious disease) around the time I provide cat care to your family. If this situation arises, I will immediately inform clients whose homes I’ve been in around that same time. Note: this has NOT happened, I’m planning for it just in case. You know, I’m a worrier.

Also tell me if you want me to take any extra precautions when I enter your homes in the near future. Here’s an overview of the extra precautions I’m taking.

Covid-19 and SARS-CoV-2 and your furry family members

As of today, we do know that our companions CAN get SARS-CoV-2 from us. We do not know for sure whether we can get it from them. As long as the virus continues to spread it will mutate; as long as it continues to mutate it’s likely that evntually a variant will evolve that is more easily passed between humans and nonhumans. For this reason, I continue to wear a mask when I’m in my clients’ homes.

Lions and tigers at the US National Zoo have tested presumptive positive for SARS-CoV-2 in September 2021. (Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute)

Experts are keeping a close eye on a mutation in mink in Denmark that is confirmed as being transmitted from mink to humans. (Briggs)

“There have been fewer than 25 reports from around the world of pets (dogs and cats) being infected with SARS-CoV-2; however, none of these reports suggest that pets are a source of infection for people. Evidence to date from the few domestic animals that have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 indicate these infections are typically a result of close contact with people with COVID-19… no evidence to date that they transmit the virus to people.” (American Veterinary Medical Association) In fall 2020 more than 10,000 mink in Utah and Wisconsin died after contracting SARS-CoV-2 from human staff working on the mink farms. (Cahan and USDA APHIS)

Scientists and doctors think that cats and dogs are fomites. That means the virus stays on their fur for a little while in the same way the virus is on other surfaces, such as doorknobs. It’s also possible they are silent carriers. True, there have been confirmed cases of cats and dogs being silent carriers and one case of a house cat who showed some mild symptoms. This situation is being tracked, of course, by veterinary health institutions and professionals around the world. Experts around the world are keeping an eye on things, and I’ll share new info as it becomes available.

Scientists at Texas A&M University have tested hundreds of companion animals from homes in which humans tested positive for COVID-19. They’ve found that 80% of the positive cases in cats and dogs are animals who were exposed to sick human members of their families. They believe the humans contracted the virus first and transmitted it to their furry and feathered family members. They still believe it’s rare for this to occur. They also believe they have not yet found any cases in which companion animals contracted the virus first and transmitted it to humans. (Aleccia)

“Researchers and doctors from the University of Washington and Washington State University have teamed up for a first of its kind study. It’s called the COVID-19 and Pets Study (CAPS) and it’s being conducted at UW’s Center for One Health Research. The goal of the study is to determine if companion animals are susceptible to COVID-19 and what it means for disease transmission.”

We are all advised to sanitize after having contact with our companions *if* they have contact with others. If your cats and dogs only have contact with you and you do not have the virus, no worries. But, you know, neighborhood cats who come around to help you garden might spread the virus around the neighborhood. If your cats are indoor-outdoor cats, they might be contributing to the spread of this virus.

People who test positive for COVID-19 are advised to restrict contact with all animals – not only human primates. After receiving a positive COVID-19 test, responsible people should avoid petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food with their companions. People who are ill and are still interacting with their companion animals should take the same precautions as they would take when interacting with other humans: wear a facemask and wash hands thoroughly before and after those interactions.

On 8 April, British Veterinary Association has more serious advice for interacting with companions if you’re diagnosed with Covid-19. (However, the American Veterinary Medical Association is not making any similar comments. Yet.)

  • Restrict contact with pets as a precautionary animal health measure until more information is known about the virus.
  • If your pet requires care, wash your hands before and after any interaction with them and wear a face mask if possible.
  • Keep cats indoors if possible and try to arrange for someone else to exercise dogs, taking care to restrict any contact with the person walking your dog and making sure they practice good hygiene. This is to reduce the likelihood of your pet spreading the disease through environmental contamination on their fur – there is no evidence that pet animals play a role in the spread of the disease.
  • If your pet shows clinical signs, please do not take it to the vet but call the practice for advice.
  • If your pet requires emergency treatment, call the practice for further advice. Do not take your pet to the surgery unless the vet instructs you to. You may need to arrange for someone else to transport your pet for treatment.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association: “While 2 dogs (Hong Kong) and 1 cat (Belgium) have been reported to have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations agree there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets spread COVID-19 to other animals, including people.” There have been a handful of confirmed infections in dogs and cats in the US, according to USDA public information. There are studies pending in which cats in laboratories have been intentionally infected in order to do more studies. (Descriptions of the study are a bit disturbing to read, but if you’re interested visit https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/02/health/cats-dogs-ferrets-coronavirus-wellness/index.html and  https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/06/health/tiger-cat-coronavirus-wellness/index.html.)

If the virus causes the same symptoms in cats and dogs as it does in humans, my own biggest concern would be its impact on their appetites. Without being able to smell or taste their food, will they stop eating? That would be really, really bad. If you notice any symptoms that concern you, please call your general vet or call Olympia Pet Emergency immediately. They can help you decide whether you need to bring your little one to the doctor. Also, most veterinary clinics have special procedures to follow during the COVID-19 crisis and you’ll need to know what to do if you take your darling to the doctor. (Unfortunately, Olympia Pet Emergency has no info on their website about COVID-19. But I can’t imagine that it’s business as usual for them at a time like this. Perhaps people who use Facebook or Twitter get more info from this clinic than the rest of us get?)

To see details about reported cases of SARS-CoV-2 in domestic animals in the United States, visit “Follow-up report 13: SARS-CoV-2 in animals (Inf. with), United States of America” (https://wahis.oie.int/#/report-info?reportId=32997) from the World Animal Health Information System (OIE-WAHIS)’s “Events in animals” section of its SARS-CoV-2 online portal.

Your family’s safety is one of my top priorities

Even without this pandemic, my lifestyle and personality are such that I have minimal contact with other human primates. I’m a homebody living alone who doesn’t even go to the store very often. Self-isolation and “only leave home or interact with other humans if it’s necessary” is my natural lifestyle anyway.

Yes, my clients travel, but I’m not in their homes at the same time they are.  So if someone travels to a high-risk area (which has NOT happened since this pandemic began), I’m unlikely to come in contact with those people or items they touch after they return. (In fact, my business came to a screeching halt in February and I did not go into other homes except my own for months. I’m now going into houses again, but very few and far between.)

Preliminary studies now show this virus probably lingers in the environment for up to a few days. Still, no worries for my clients. Although I wouldn’t call myself OCD about disinfecting and sanitizing, I am consistent about doing those things before and after visiting clients’ houses and public areas. I have a family member in a very high risk category, plus my cats and I have weakened immune systems. Because of that, I’ve long been aware of the importance minimizing the spread of germs between myself and my family, and my clients and their homes. In addition to washing my hands regularly, I use a non-toxic antimicrobial hand sanitizer anytime I leave my house.

FWIW, my antimicrobial hand sanitizer is an amazing colloidal silver-based lotion. It has no alcohol, toxic chemicals, or scents that will dry out my skin or spread anything stinky or toxic to people or items I touch. (I make my own using colloidal silver and a recipe by local colloidal silver guru Lin Gregerson of Sterling Naturals. It’s similar to the sanitizer the Obamas use.)

If this article is helpful & you’re able, please consider sending a thank-you tip/donation. Even small donations will help me keep my business running during the travel industry slump that has brought pet sitting to a screeching halt. Thank you! (FYI, for a sliding scale fee starting at $30, I offer consultations to help people solve their specific cat-related issues. Let me know what I can help you with.)

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