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 dog in case of quarantine? How do I take my dog for a walk during a curfew? 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:

  • Do not fear a contagion of or through your animal: At the moment, there is no scientific proof that dogs, cats, mice, donkeys, cattle or pigs could be carriers of the virus.
  • Please follow the recommendations for social distance and keep your time outside short.
  • Make provisions for an emergency case 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 like dogs and cats or livestock animals like donkey or cattle transmit Sars-CoV-2?

Unfortunately, many half-truths and incorrect information around this topic are circulating in social networks. But the specialist circles agree: No. At the current state of science, there is no evidence that pets like dogs, cats and mice could be carriers of the virus.

Scientists as well as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) agree that not the animals themselves were infected, but the virus was brought onto the animals by Sars-CoV-2-infected humans shortly before the tests. Therefore, pets are considered as an “epidemiological deadlock” for SARS-CoV-2

The same applies to farm animals or livestock like donkeys, cattle or pigs: They cannot become infected and they are not considered to be carriers of the virus.

Can pets like dogs and cats get infected with Sars-Cov-2 and become ill with Covid19?

Many scientist groups around the globe are currently doing research regarding this question, since Sars-Cov-2 is a new virus and we need to learn a lot more about it. Publications, theories and facts that are circulating at the moment can often not be examined as intensively as the scientific operation usually intends because of the current pressure on research. Therefore, it is absolutely important to remain calm at first. Every thesis in the scientific discourse needs to prove itself in the long term. It may occur that an information celebrated as new scientific fact today is not seen as valid anymore two weeks later.

There is more to the widely spread cases of supposedly infected dogs in Hong Kong and a cat in Belgium than presented most of the time: In case of the dogs, 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 other case of a cat in Belgium “tested positive” is similar. The virus was found in the faeces and sick of the cat and, according to the conclusion of the study on the case, was probably picked up by the animal through licking – for example while cleaning itself after fondling with the owner.

In the middle of April, reports of a new study were disseminated around the world which showed that cats can be infected with the coronavirus and transmit it to their own kind. However, the study raises many questions of detail and should currently not be used as judgement of the situation without any additional information.

Moreover, the distinction between infection and transmission is also crucial here: Although the six cats of the study were proven to be infected with the coronavirus, there is still no evidence in any part of the world that cats can infect humans.

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, like Sars-Cov-2 belong to the family of coronaviruses. The family of coronaviruses is huge and its particular representatives can give rise to very different diseases among various host species. That means: The coronavirus for cats is for example harmless for dogs or also the one for dogs does not pose humans at risk. Therefore, the new, highly infectious virus does not affect our pets.

Correspondingly, the vaccines against the different coronaviruses are also highly specialised for one particular variant. Apart from the fact that there is currently no vaccine against Sars-Cov-2 yet, this kind of vaccine would be completely unsuitable and unnecessary for animals.

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

In case of illness 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. This prevents the virus from spreading to other households or animal shelters.

Depending on the situation in which you currently find yourself in, you should already ensure an emergency plan for the care of your animal (pets and farm animals) in case of quarantine. 

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 case of you being ill
  • 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 curfew?

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 offically 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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