One of my favorite authors, Gabriel García Márquez, wrote a novel entitled Love in the Time of Cholera, so “Love in the time of COVID” has been resonating in my head already. In January, I adopted a puppy born just before Christmas, before anything too alarming had been known to emerge from Wuhan. We are all now so very aware, some of us are making ourselves more stressed, even ill, by obsessing about the pandemic.
There are indeed coronaviruses common to dogs, other ones to cats, and four very common ones in humans which cause most of the cases of what we call the “common cold.” Clearly they are not running amok, causing widespread disease or mortality. Viruses that are well-adapted to their usual hosts—as is true for any type of parasite—tend not to cause mortality. Parasites that kill their hosts lose their “prey” and disappear. In general, viruses stick to one species and, with the exception of influenza, don’t usually jump to another species effectively.
So far, there is no evidence that you can get the coronavirus from your pet. There have been a few dogs and cats, and now tigers in the Bronx Zoo, that have tested positive for coronavirus contracted from the humans caring for them, but no cases of humans catching COVID-19 or testing positive from exposure to these animals. While we still don’t know exactly how long the virus can live on plastic, cardboard, or stainless steel surfaces, we have some information and consensus at this time that pets’ fur, collars, leashes, etc. will not let the virus live for any length of time. In the interest of caution, as well as to protect your pets, one should be isolated from one’s animal companions just like from one’s human family members if diagnosed with COVID-19. Have someone else care for them, just as you will need someone to deliver food and check in on you while you are quarantined. At my practice, we are using curbside dropoff and pickup for patients. We swap out leashes at the owner’s car, wipe off the surface of cat or small dog carriers, and wash our leashes between patients.
Despite the panic that news like this can cause, there is absolutely no reason to relinquish your pets! In this stressful time when we can no longer exchange hugs, handshakes, or even high-fives with our fellow human citizens outside of immediate family members, pets become even more precious to us. Their ability to express unconditional love, their playfulness, and their lack of obsession with the relentless news cycle are so refreshing—and can serve to model the behavior that should return to us once the worst of the pandemic has crested, no matter how long that takes. I am extremely grateful to have my puppy to focus on when not at work: I can’t just sit in front of a screen and get completely engrossed with one news story after another, because he needs play time, attention, supervised potty breaks, and lots and lots of training. It can be so easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole online when there is so much grim news, new statistics, and new government utterances. My cats still enjoy their sunny windowsill and my lap as much as ever, the pup grows larger and learns new things daily—including some I wish he wouldn’t!—and we can all give our human and four-footed family members extra affection.
If your household contains children now out of school and running out of things to entertain themselves, look around to see what pet-related activities might be possible. Cats can be clicker trained and taught agility in the house with common items like cardboard boxes or kitchen chairs; I have even used the eraser end of a pencil as a “target” for cat training, and children’s imaginations surpass mine. Kids in a family can even compete for who can teach the dog or cat the most new tricks over the next few weeks—and I don’t know any family where siblings don’t compete! Extra grooming of the dog or cat, having the pet learn to sit quietly for nail trims or tooth brushing if those have been problematic in the past, can take a lot of time and patience but be ever so rewarding, even when we are again free to go about our lives.
So stay safe, be extra kind to one another, and cherish your pets more than ever—it will help get us through this in the best possible manner.
Guest article by Dr. Andrea Frost, DVM at Pacific Veterinary Hospital
Dr. Frost received her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Reed College, her Master’s degree in Zoology (Neuroscience) from the University of Iowa, and her DVM from Oregon State University. She started practice in a rural setting in southwest Washington, where she saw bald eagles and great blue herons daily. Although southwest Portland doesn’t offer quite the same scenic views, Dr. Frost loves being part of a family practice, being able to walk to work and when it isn’t cloudy, and seeing Mt. Hood on her daily walks.