Coronavirus: What animal owners need to know

With an increasing spread of the infectious disease COVID-19, the fear of contagion is also growing. More and more people feel insecure and ask themselves: Can my pet transmit the coronavirus or COVID-19? Who will take care of my animal in case of quarantine? How do I take my dog for a walk during a lockdown? Can I still allow my cat to move around freely? And what do I need to keep in mind when buying pet food or visiting the vet? We give an overview regarding known facts based on current scientific knowledge and set fake news right.

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Disclaimer: Usually, we communicate in German only. 
Due to the situation of COVID-19, we translated the most useful information for animal keepers. Please share with everyone it may help.

Find the different versions here: 
»welttierschutz.org/haustiere-coronavirus [german]
»https://welttierschutz.org/en/koronavirus/ [turkish]

and feel free to download the infographics and share from facebook directly:
»bit.ly/animals-coronavirus [english]
»bit.ly/tiere-coronavirus [german]
»bit.ly/wtg_koronavirus [turkish]
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Generally, we would like to point out that we follow the professional advice of renowned scientists to reduce social contacts to a minimum. Only by doing so, it is possible to reduce the speed with which the virus is spreading. Part of the isolation is also to stay in public spaces for the shortest time possible and therefore also to plan walks with the dog wisely. It is important to show solidarity with fellow humans in the implementation of the measures.

The most important facts in a quick overview:

  • Please follow the recommendations for social distance and keep your time outside short.
  • Make provisions for a potential preventive isolation or quarantine due to illness and plan an emergency care for your animals.
  • Have the medication for the animal ready if necessary.

The most important questions in detail:

Can pets and farm animals get infected with Sars-Cov-2? Do they get ill? And can they infect humans?

Several scientific groups around the world are currently conducting research regarding these questions – because Sars-CoV-2 is a new virus that we still have to learn a lot about. We therefore would like to point out that certain publications, theories and facts currently circulating may not have been as intensively checked and verified as normally in many cases, due to the high pressure on science at the moment. It is therefore important to remain calm because every thesis needs to stand the test of scientific discourse in the long term. And there is a possibility that a newly celebrated fact today is not valid anymore in two weeks. We therefore would also like to ask for caution when handling news that quickly spread across social networks. Because unfortunately, many half-truths and incorrect pieces of information around this topic are circulating on social media.

Regarding risk evaluation, it is always necessary to look at the most recent state of science for every specific animal species.

In the following, we list the most recent findings based on publications of the World Organisation for Animal Healh (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Friedrich-Löffler-Institute (FLI, Germany’s Federal Research Institute for Animal Health). All worldwide studies concerning supposedly infected animals are also constantly being updated on the web pages of the OIE.

Our list is from February, 2021.

Dogs

By now it is known that there is more to the widely publicised cases of dogs in Hong Kong that supposedly tested positive than actually portrayed by many media outlets: the fact that the sample was taken from the muzzle, specifically the tongue of the animals is crucial for the understanding since the pathogen was therefore found “on” the animals but not “inside” them. After that, the dogs were put under quarantine and the tests were repeated several times: The results were constantly negative. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the OIE agree that in these cases the dogs were neither infected nor ill, but the virus must have been brought onto the animals by Sars-CoV-2-infected humans shortly before the tests.

Susceptibility to disease: Some studies have shown that dogs can get infected from their owners. The duration of contact between humans and animals is irrelevant and the course of the disease is usually mild, insofar as symptoms are noticeable at all. A transmission of the virus from dogs to humans has not yet occurred. Experimental studies and the cases mentioned above therefore indicate a low risk for dogs. According to current knowledge, dogs do not play a role in the spread of the virus.

Possible transmission between human and animal as well as animal to animal: Dogs are also considered an “epidemiological deadlock” for SARS-CoV-2 because there has not been a natural case of transmission between dogs or humans worldwide so far.

Cats

Susceptibility to disease: Studies have shown that cats can infect themselves with Sars-Cov-2 similarly as marten-like animals such as ferrets, for example, and big cats like tigers and lions. There are also several cases worldwide where cats that have tested positive showed symptoms of illness.

Possible transmission between human and animal as well as animal to animal: Various studies have demonstrated that cats can spread the virus among conspecifics for up to five days under experimental conditions. It has been proven that cats can be infected by humans, but a reverse transmission, i.e. from cats to humans, is not known so far. Thus, according to current knowledge, cats, like dogs, play no role in the spread of the virus.

An advice for cat owners is to keep distance from the animal in the case of oneself being ill. The cat should not be allowed to roam around freely during the time of quarantine.

Bunnies and rabbits

Susceptibility to disease: Until now there is only one study regarding breeding rabbits from the meat and fur industry. Therefore, risk assessment for single bunnies living as pets is not possible.

Possible transmission between human and animal as well as animal to animal: The risk of infection from human to animal or vice versa as well as from animal to animal is indicated as being low.

Farm animals like cattle, pigs and poultry

At the moment, there is no evidence that livestock plays a big role in the Sars-Cov-2 Pandemic, neither for the spreading of the virus nor as a source of infection.

Susceptibility to disease: In different experimental studies, an infection through the virus could not be proven in poultry such as chickens, ducks and turkeys despite having them exposed to a high viral load. In cattle and pigs, an infection was hardly possible under laboratory coditions, which is why both are classified as relatively resistant.

Possible transmission between human and animal as well as animal to animal: There has been no case until now where the virus was spread between farm animals. Different studies with pigs, cattle as well as poultry also came to the conclusion that the risk for a transmission between animals of the same species as well as between animal and human can be considered insignificant.

Ferrets, hamsters, guinea pigs

Susceptibility to disease: Experiments by the Friedrich Loeffler Institute have shown that domestic animals such as ferrets and golden hamsters can become infected with Sars-Cov-2. In golden hamsters, the virus leads to weight loss and impaired lungs. Even in ferrets, the infection is not always asymptomatic. Guinea pigs have not yet become infected in any of the experimental trials and are thus not considered susceptible to disease.

Possible transmission between human and animal as well as animal to animal: For owners of ferrets or hamsters, the precautionary measure should be that you - if you are infected with Sars-Cov-2 - avoid contact with the animal. Furthermore, contact between the animal and humans as well as animals from other households should be prevented. Although there are no known cases of this type yet, further spread from the infected ferret or hamster to humans or animals cannot be completely ruled out.

 

Minks

Susceptibility to disease: It has been shown that minks can become infected with Sars-Cov-2. The infection manifests itself in minks with respiratory problems and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Possible transmission between human and animal as well as animal to animal: It has been proven that minks can transmit the coronavirus Sars-Cov-2 or a mink-specific mutation (Cluster 5 mutation) to other minks and to humans. However, the known cases have primarily occurred on mink farms, where large numbers of animals live in close contact and viral loads can be particularly high. Investigations have also shown that the infections in the animals were preceded by illnesses in the farm workers, which means that the virus was first transmitted from humans to the animals and then back to humans. In 2020, as a precaution to prevent the spread of the mutation, millions of mink were killed in Denmark. However, this did not result in its eradication. Instead, various cases of people infected with the Cluster 5 mutation in Bavaria have been making headlines since the end of January 2021. The mutation first discovered on Danish mink farms has already been detected in more than ten people in Bavaria. Thus, scientists are faced with the question whether this mutant can not only be transmitted from animals to humans but also between humans. However, scientists do not currently see an increased risk for humans due to the mutation.

Some people in Germany keep minks (especially American mink) as pets. For these pet owners, we recommend the same precautions as for ferrets: In case of Sars-Cov-2 infection, close contact with the animal should be avoided.

House mice and raccoons

Since house mice and raccoons live in close proximity to humans - they are therefore also referred to as peridomestic animals - it is of interest to determine whether they can also transmit the virus.

Susceptibility to disease: According to current knowledge, house mice and raccoons cannot become infected with Sars-Cov-2.

Possible transmission between human and animal as well as animal to animal: The risk of infection from humans to animals or vice versa as well as from animal to animal has not been demonstrated and is therefore considered very unlikely.

Can pets bring the coronavirus into the house from outside?

Basically every animal can, of course, carry and therefore transport a virus, just like objects such as door handles. A transmission from animal to human and vice versa is, however, very unlikely. Theoretically it might occur when the animal has been directly coughed or sneezed at by an ill person and the pathogen is immediately passed on to another human, who then for example touches his or her face after stroking the animal.

Should animals be disinfected?

No. From an animal welfare perspective, the disinfection of animals is not a feasible way and we strongly advice against special cleaning measures that are often incorrectly spread at the moment: Animals do not need to be bathed in a specific way and should not be disinfected in any case.

Can I vaccinate my pet against the Coronavirus?

Many cat owners surely know about the feline Coronavirus. You might have also heard that dogs can be infected with a Coronavirus. These viruses, such as Sars-Cov-2, belong to the family of coronaviruses, which is huge. Their specific representatives can cause different diseases in various host species and therefore have to be observed differently. Coronaviruses in cats and dogs belong to the class of alpha coronaviruses, whereas Sars-CoV-2 is classified as part of the beta coronaviruses. An immunological influence through vaccination is therefore improbable or extremely low. That means: A vaccination against Sars-Cov-2 for animals would be unsuitable and innecessary.

Who takes care of my animal while I am in quarantine (preventively or due to illness)?

In case of illness, if you enter the country after travelling to a risk region or if you had contact with an ill person, the recommendations of the World Health Organisation must be followed. This means for you to immediately quarantine for 14 days with a strict curfew. Should you fall ill, the first recommendation is that a not infected member of your household takes care of the pet. Just for precautionary reasons, close contact with the animal should be avoided. 

In case of isolation or quarantine, it is important to already make precautions and ensure an emergency plan for the care of your animal.

For animals that require leaving the house, responsible care must be guaranteed in case of quarantine. It depends on the individual case which other animals should be cared for by somebody else if you are in quarantine: your cat, rabbits, birds or other small animals could stay in your home where they are in a familiar environment and can support you mentally, provided that you are in preventive quarantine or do not have strong symptoms. Farm managers should organise alternative stockpersons in case the primary caregivers are required to self-isolate.

Please steel yourself and create an emergency plan:

  • Arrange with 2 or 3 trusted persons that they will take care for your animals for 14 days in the case of your isolation or quarantine
  • Choose these people wisely: At best, they are friends or acquaintances who are already familiar with your animals
  • If you rely on professional animal care or help within the region (see below), make sure that these people can already familiarise themselves with your animals as preparation for the emergency case.
  • Also ensure that there is enough feed, and medication if necessary, in stock for your animals.

Speak openly about your emergency planning with your friends, acquaintances, family members, neighbours or other farmers in case of needing to care for large animals like horses, donkeys or cattle. Should you be unable to find any care for your animal, please accept the support of helpful people within your region. Many users on social media like Twitter or Facebook offer their help these days using hashtags like #howcanIhelp, #letslookaftereachother, #selfisolationhelp or #communityresponse.  You should also look out for local aid groups in your living area. They are sometimes specified for a purpose, for example dog walking or caring for animals.

Another possibility that might be available in your town are pet hotels or, in our wish, only in case of an acute emergency animal shelters that can take care of your animal against a lump sum as a last resort.

Please consult the health office responsible for your area in case of quarantine so it can inform you about the daily state of affairs and the individual state of knowledge.

Can I still go for a walk with my dog in case of a lockdown?

Depending on the country, the rules in case of a curfew are very different. In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, there is no specific regulation so far that prescribes particular conditions for dog walking. In countries like Spain and France, where a curfew is already in effect, animal owners are asked to carry a self-disclosure – usually an identity card – and to stay close to the home as well as keep the walks as short as possible. In South Africa it is officially forbidden to take your dog for a walk even.

In order to take into account your pet’s need of exercise and occupation, you could offer your animal indoor activities and intelligence games. There is a variety of useful offers commercially available.

Can I still allow my cat to move around freely?

Yes. Based on the current state of research, there are no restrictions regarding the coronavirus yet. But if you are infected or already ill yourself, the German Federal Research Institute for Animal Health (Friedrich-Löffler-Institut) recommends to avoid that people or animals other than household members have contact with your cat during the time of your quarantine and therefore rather not to allow the cat to move around freely anymore.

Will veterinary practices be closed soon?

At the moment it is improbable that veterinary practices have to close if further measures like curfews are decided. The German Minister for Economic Affairs Julia Klöckner recently let the Federal Association of Practising Veterinary Surgeons know: “The veterinarians, paravets and animal caretakers in the farm animal sector and the ones working in emergency care are classified as system-relevant”. Also the European Commission has also recognised veterinary medicine as system-relevant and therefore excluded the closing of practices.

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) states that veterinary activities ensuring a continuum in food safety, disease prevention and emergency management are key and that veterinarians are an integral part of the global health community. Nonetheless, the latter must also ensure biosecurity, protect their personnel and inform animal owners about precautionary measures.

But in any case it is advisable to consult with the veterinarian preventively now, should your animal depend urgently on treatments or medication. However, please think about this: It is also important to inform the veterinarian by phone before the visit. Following general recommendations, many veterinary practices are already tightening their rules. Sometimes, they only allow obviously healthy animal keepers, which means people without any symptoms, to enter the practice after having agreed an appointment in advance. Furthermore, many practices ask animal keepers and vets to keep a distance of 1.5 to 2 meters between them inside the practice. Thereby, the vets want to minimise the risk of infection.

In many cases, diagnosis and prescriptions are already made possible by phone or e-mail.

Are dog sitters still allowed to work?

Please consult with your trusted dog sitter directly regarding the evaluation of the situation. Also talk on the phone about how the animal can be handed over – from a distance of 1,5 to 2 meters and only while being healthy. You should also broach the issue of your dog sitter using an own leash for your animal where appropriate, in order to reduce the risk of contagion even more when handing over the animal.

Should I stock up with animal feed?

Despite the tightened rules and the closure of many retailers, supermarkets that often also offer animal feed and pet supplies, remain open in many parts of the world. As a precaution, it is still recommended to make provisions for the case of illness or quarantine and have food for several days, for a maximum of two weeks, ready for you and your animals and thereby also avoid frequent trips to the supermarket. But please do not overact – also in solidarity with others.

Dear animal keepers: We are experiencing challenging times where much remains uncertain. We advise caution and ask for mutual consideration. Stay calm, examine reports critically and do not share information if the source appears dubious. Ask the professional advice of your veterinarian in case of uncertainties and also follow the recommendations of the

>>OIE

>>WHO

 

We sincerely wish you all the best – stay healthy.

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