The coronavirus pandemic has led to an increase in acts of animal abuse, including abandonment by owners over fears pets might contract COVID-19, a study reported.
Concern around the role of pet animals in the spread of the virus first emerged in late February 2020, when a dog in Hong Kong tested positive for the coronavirus.
The 17-year-old male Pomeranian’s diagnosis triggered a wave of deliberate acts of abuse against animals, according to the study.
This was despite there being no significant evidence that pets can spread the novel coronavirus to humans.
A group known as the Urban Construction Administration announced it would kill any pets found outdoors.
This sentiment was echoed by some officials from China’s Hunan and Zhejiang provinces.
Many pets have also been reluctantly left home alone by owners in who have been temporarily forced to evacuate — not realising how long they would be gone.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to an increase in acts of animal abuse, including abandonment by owners, over fears pets might contract COVID-19 (stock image)
CDC CORONAVIRUS GUIDANCE FOR PET OWNERS
- Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
- Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
- Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals.
- Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.
- If you are sick with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed by a test), restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just like you would around other people.
- When possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick.
- Avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding.
- If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.
The rise in animal abuse cases resulting from the COVID-19 crisis has led to a number of leading health and animal welfare organisations issuing statements with the aim of calming fears that their pets could represent a source of the virus.
These groups have included, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
‘There is no justification in taking measures against companion animals which may compromise their welfare,’ the World Organisation for Animal Health has said.
In her study, veterinary pathology consultant Nicola Parry of Midwest Veterinary Pathology in Lafayette, in the US, reviews the reported impact that COVID-19 has had on pets — specifically in Belgium and Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has seen three reported cases of pets — two dogs and a cat — contracting coronavirus, while in Belgium one cat became infected.
In all cases, experts believe that the pets caught the virus from their owners, who had become infected first.
The Belgian case — which emerged in the Liège province in March 2020 — was distinct from the other three in that the cat did exhibit symptoms of the virus, including breathing difficulties, diarrhoea and vomiting.
‘Although the cat in Belgium had diarrhoea, vomiting, and difficulty breathing, this constellation of clinical signs isn’t enough to suggest that the cat had full-blown COVID-19, or even true SARS-CoV-2 infection,’ Dr Parry said.
‘These clinical signs are relatively nonspecific and can arise in cats in association with various nonspecific and specific conditions.
‘In fact, one confounding factor in the cat’s case is the fact that other coronaviruses do affect cats.’
‘There is no justification in taking measures against companion animals which may compromise their welfare,’ the World Organisation for Animal Health has said (stock image)
According to Dr Parry, the pandemic has had a range of impacts on animals.
Following the initial outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, the authorities evacuated many people from their homes.
According to reports, pet owners — understanding that they would only be gone for a short period — left but a few days’ worth of food and water for their companions.
With many weeks having passed, however, animal welfare organisations in China have estimated that — in Hubei province — tens of thousands of reluctantly abandoned pets face starvation and death.
‘While many owners fear their animals might transmit SARS-CoV-2 to them, others also now find themselves unemployed and unable to afford to care for a pet,’ Dr Parry noted.
‘On the positive side, with many people now finding themselves isolated at home during the pandemic, rates of pet adoptions and fosters at many shelters have also markedly risen—often cancelling out […] the high rates of abandonment.’
‘However, some experts worry that many of these pets will be returned to the shelter when life eventually returns to a new normal.’
‘The unfolding of this pandemic has again highlighted the complex interrelationships that exist between animals, people, and the environment,’ Dr Parry concluded.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Forensic Science International: Reports.
DOGS UNLIKELY TO CATCH COVID-19, ACCORDING TO THE WHO
The chance of your dog catching the COVID-19 strain is very slim according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
There has only been one known case of a dog becoming infected with COVID-19 – although they are susceptible to other forms of coronavirus.
A woman with her pet dog, both wearing face masks, walks on street amid novel coronavirus spread
‘While there has been one instance of a dog being infected in Hong Kong, to date, there is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19,’ the WHO states.
The one dog in Hong Kong with a confirmed case of COVID-19 had a very ‘low-level infection’, according to WHO.
The 17-year-old Pomeranian, whose owner had COVID-19, was quarantined until tests showed it was disease free.
It died at home with its owner soon after returning.
In that instance it was ‘likely to be a case of human-to-animal transmission,’ health officials in China said. But no other cases have been reported.
They added: ‘There is currently no evidence that pet animals can be a source of infection of COVID-19 or that they become sick.’
If that changes the guidelines suggested for humans on self-isolation and social distancing would also apply to pets.
In fact, if you are sick with COVID-19 the CDC recommends you restrict contact with your dog and see if other people can look after them.
‘It is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus.
‘This can help ensure both you and your animals stay healthy,’ the CDC said.
A man wearing a face mask, amid fears over the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, holds his dog at Ueno park in Tokyo
If you have COVID-19 they recommend avoiding petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food.
If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with them.
The American Kennel Club says pet owners don’t need to do anything other than follow basic hygiene precautions.
How to you stay safe around your pet:
- Wash your hands after handling animals, their food, waste, or supplies
- Practise good pet hygiene and clean up after pets properly
- Take pets to the vet regularly and talk to them if you have questions about your pet’s health
Dr Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer for the American Kennel Club said just do what you’d normally do.
‘If you have children, you wouldn’t have them touch a puppy and put their fingers in their mouth, because they can have fecal contamination,’ he says.
‘The general practice of washing our hands after touching a puppy or a dog—that’s normal hygiene.’
If you have tested positive for COVID-19 experts recommend restricting contact with your dog to prevent the virus getting on their skin or fur – which could lead to it passing on to another human.
‘Dogs do not need a face mask to protect themselves against the novel coronavirus COVID-19,’ said the American Kennel Club.