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Pets and COVID-19: Do I Let My Dog Kiss Me?


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Q: I read somewhere online that I shouldn’t snuggle with my dog because of the corona virus, or let my dog kiss me. J. H., Olympia, WA

A: I understand your concern regarding pets and COVID-19, particularly in your state where to date 23 people have died as a result the novel corona virus, COVID-19, and nearly 120 identified with the virus (to date). Definitely, Washington State, particularly King County, is a hotspot.

So far, with well over 100,000 worldwide identified cases of COVID-19 – and an unknown number who have been infected but have not had any symptoms or only minimal symptoms – only one companion animal was found to have virus, and even that incident is apparently unclear.

On February 28 a pet dog in Hong Kong was identified with a “weak positive” of COVID-19 after “routine testing.”

It’s not certain how much routine resting of dogs had gone on in Hong Kong, or what a “weak positive means.”

The dog has demonstrated no signs of illness, and it’s uncertain whether the virus identified in the dog activated. Laboratories used the real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) method and the results indicate that there was a small quantity of COVID-19 viral RNA in the samples. It does not, however, indicate whether the samples contain intact virus particles which are infectious, or just fragments of the RNA, which are not contagious.

At this time, The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest that companion animals are very unlikely to be affected by COVID-19 and not only won’t they get sick; they’re not carriers who can make us sick. Dogs, especially, and also cats, are closely associated with us. And while we share many illnesses, there are many we do not. For example, humans continue to get other corona viruses which are species specific to all of us, which causes what we call the common cold. Dogs and cats don’t get these corona viruses. COVID-19 is likely worse than a cold because it’s a novel virus which humans have no previous history or immunity for.

Dogs have their own canine corona virus, which people have never gotten, which causes at worst usually milt gastro-intestinal upset in mostly puppies. It’s spread dog to dog via stool, and it’s far more an issue where puppies are over-crowded.

Similarly, people don’t ever get the feline corona virus, which is usually so benign cat caretakers have no clue their kitten even has it. The feline corona virus, also spread via feces, is ubiquitous among kittens, especially where there are many kittens such in shelters, catteries, etc. In a small percent of cats with the otherwise benign feline corona virus, there’s a mutation that occurs inside the cat that transforms into a very serious immune mediated disease called feline infectious peritonitis.

What apparently happened started in a Chinese market – where live exotic animals are unfortunately kept and prepared (with questionable sanitation) for food. The virus jumped from a bat species to the pangolin (relative of the anteater) to humans, at least that’s conjecture. However, this doesn’t’ mean the COVID-19 virus will further mutate to affect dogs or cats or any other species. And while influenza viruses have jumped from birds to humans, it’s an even greater leap to believe that our pet birds, reptiles or other pet species can spread COVID-19.

Now, as for kissing your dog: Well, that depends on where your dog has been, right? I mean, sometimes dogs eat or at least lick at trash, dead fish or even another dog’s feces. Gross? Yes. Dangerous? Maybe. Actually. It turns out that it’s possible that roundworm, Giardia, and salmonella can be transmitted to people by us getting a big wet one from Fido. Some doctors and veterinarians strongly urge us not to get those big wet dog kisses. Having said that, for centuries, dogs have been kissing us and mostly there’s no issue. If you have a problem with your dog kissing you, I get it. But it shouldn’t be about COVID-19. At least there’s no demonstrable evidence to indicate.

As for snuggling with your dog – well, you’re apparently a bit worried about pets and COVID-19. Snuggling with your pup will likely make you feel better, far more than a pharmaceutical and with no adverse reactions. I say, snuggle away!

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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