When Covid-19 pandemic began its mayhem last year, as vets, we were concerned that misinformation with regards to the spread of the virus will lead to pet abandonment. Fortunately, since then, a lot of research has gone into the transmission of this virus between pets and humans in a very short span. We can now safely say that pets cannot transmit this infection to humans.
YetI often have distraught pet parents asking me if they should consider vaccinating their pets against this virus, while they get their own jabs. They want their furry family members to be equally protected.
Studies have shown that pets can contract Covid-19 from close and prolonged contact with infected humans, and cats seem to be more vulnerable. However, the incidence of this occurring is so rare that it’s almost negligible.
What should be noted is that the symptoms in any animal that has had Covid-19 have been mild and limited to coughing and inappetence. This is definitely not fatal disease and, therefore, it’s not a pet-associated pandemic. It is purely a pandemic restricted to the humans.
With this evidence, the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) does not advise vaccinating pets at the moment, and recommends monitoring the situation. Even if you hear about Russians vaccinating their pets for the virus with their vaccine Carnivac-Cov, I can assure you, your fluff ball does not need it at the moment.
In spite of this, every day I queries like, “Doc, what about the coronavirus vaccine that is available for dogs? Let’s please just give it to my pet”. Canine coronavirus, though belonging to the same family of viruses, is nothing like Covid-19; just like no two family members who share the same surname are alike.
Canine coronavirus causes a self limiting gastrointestinal upset, and the vaccine also has now been classified as non-essential. Covid-19, on the other hand, predominantly affects the respiratory tract. Also, the canine coronavirus vaccine for dogs has been around for decades. So, it must not be a source of confusion.
A few months, I also started seeing a lot of dogs with rashes on their skin and unexplained allergies. After digging into what these pets must have come in contact with, made me realise that the pandemic had brought the new trend of spraying sanitiser on pets. The fear that the virus may spread via pet fur is valid - studies are ongoing to get clarity on the matter – it doesn’t mean you should spray sanitiser on your pet or shave their fur.
Then there are pets coming in with flu like symptom, with pet parents worried that they might have contracted Covid-19. Current research indicates the likelihood of pets having other illnesses associated with the respiratory tract to be far higher than Covid-19. Hence, routine testing is not advised for pets. In India, so far, no case of a pet having tested positive for the virus has been recorded.
However, if you are still worried, minimize your pet’s contact with a Covid-19 patient in the house. Social distancing and even isolation from the pet is the way to go. Let a healthier family member take care of them. If you are by yourself, wash your hands before and after interacting with your pet and use gloves while handling their food and water bowls. If they do come in contact with a Covid-19 patient, give them a shower. For pet parents or households that may be too ill with the virus to look after their pets, boarding or foster homes are an option during the quarantine period.
It’s been a rough year for all of us but soon we should see light at the end of this tunnel. Pet parents can find comfort in the fact that the only things their pets are capable of spreading, at this point in time, are solace and unconditional affection. It should, therefore, not be a source of panic among the pet parenting community. Your fur baby is safer than any human out there.
Dr Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai, who loves to play the piano in her free time and is ruled by her whimsical cat, Catbury, at home.