The emergence of the new coronavirus has spurred fears worldwide and many pet owners are wondering whether their furry friends will be impacted. But need they be concerned?
Recent news of a dog in Hong Kong returning a “weak positive” test result for COVID-19 and the uncertainty around the possibility of human-to-animal or animal-to-human transmissions have led people to wonder about what steps they should take to ensure that they and their pets stay safe.
Researchers say that just as coronaviruses can live on surfaces or objects, they could also linger on the fur of a dog or cat, even if the animal has not contracted the virus. Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department is testing whether the dog was infected with the virus or just contaminated with it.
The World Health Organization says there is no evidence animals can be infected with coronavirus, but it advises that washing hands after interacting with pets is good practice at all times.
The WHO, the World Organization for Animal Health, and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association all agree that transmission from domestic animals is both unproven and unlikely.
While many pet owners in Japan are becoming increasingly reluctant to explore the outdoors with their dogs over mounting fears about the new virus threat, local experts are also saying they shouldn’t be too worried.
“To date, we have not received any reports of pets becoming sick with the new coronavirus. But for those that are worried, we suggest you avoid crowded areas when walking your dog,” the Tokyo Veterinary Medical Association said in an email interview on Tuesday.
Referring to reports that pet owners in China have put masks on their cats and dogs, the TVMA said, “There’s no evidence to show it works. At this point, we believe pets can’t catch the virus.”
However, pets can be negatively impacted when they are cooped up inside with their fearful owners and have their normal routines thrown into disarray due to the coronavirus.
“Generally speaking, pets are creatures of habit so any change in routine can be disorienting or stressful,” the TVMA said.
Concerns about pets missing out on exercise led to a particularly bizarre scene in China late last month, with a YouTube video of a quarantined man in China “walking” his dog from his second-floor window going viral.
The clip showed the man in an isolated apartment, while his dog, attached to a long leash, roamed on the lawn down below before being reeled, quite precariously, back up to the apartment.
“Walk your dog Wuhan style,” one commenter said, while another called it “kite-style walking.” Many others were simply concerned about the dog being choked while dangling in mid-air or falling.
The new coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan in December, and Japan reported its first death from the virus on Feb. 13. The virus is thought to have passed from animals to humans, like many similar pathogens, but nothing has yet been confirmed by scientific research.
Nana Mizuno, the owner of an Australian Labradoodle who lives in the Enoshima beach area near Yokohama, has stopped taking her pooch, Rob, to dog runs and no longer engages in long conversations with other people walking their dogs.
“After every walk, I give Rob a thorough brushing and a good paw wash using shampoo. Right now I’m more worried about him not getting enough exercise than about him getting the coronavirus, so I don’t intend to keep him inside,” Mizuno said.
Springtime walks have always been hard for Ken Tsuchiya, a resident of Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward and owner of two dogs, because of his allergic reaction to pollen. But this year, because of the coronavirus, he says walking his dogs has become especially taxing.
“I use diluted benzalkonium chloride to wipe my own hands and my dogs’ paws as soon as we get home. I live alone but if you’re living with older people you’d better be more careful because they’re most at risk of a severe coronavirus infection,” he said.
“I’ve also learned that pet shops are running out of pee pads, which is a problem. I really need this mask-buying panic to end because this hay fever is causing me misery,” he said.
As the nationwide mask shortage continues, consumers are now emptying store shelves by hoarding toilet paper, paper towels, baby diapers, feminine hygiene products and other necessities to prepare for the possibility of a large-scale coronavirus outbreak.