Pets are like family members and as such they have become a concern during this time of crisis. Can they catch COVID-19 and give it to their owners? Can owners transmit it to them? Can they go out safely?
These and other questions were the topic of a teleconference town hall meeting on Wednesday, April 8 attended by 350 people. The meeting was sponsored by 78th District Assemblyman Todd Gloria. San Diego Councilman Chris Ward and two veterinarians, San Diego Humane Society President and CEO Dr. Gary Weitzman and Dr. Megan Gibbins of the West Coast Animal Hospital were in attendance.
Gloria started the meeting by reminding everyone we are staying at home to flatten the curve, and don’t forget to cover our faces when we go out. Ward, who is the chair of the regional homeless task force, said the homeless in the city of San Diego and their pets are being accommodated. Over 250 hand washing stations have been installed in the region and 1,700 hotel rooms are being used to isolate symptomatic individuals.
Weitzman announced that pet adoptions are still happening at the San Diego Humane Society (SDHS) - although they are mostly virtual. Those interested can set up drive through appointments on the Humane Society’s website. SDHS is getting 50 animals a day because their owners are in the hospital and no one can take care of them. The Humane Society Law Enforcement Division has helped the police keep people from congregating. The local PAWS groups provide food and supplies from its three campuses in Oceanside, San Diego and Escondido.
Gibbins said that vets are still operating, offices have made adjustments to their hours and only pets are allowed in the clinics without the owners. “With curbside service, staff escort pets to the office. Telemedicine is also a great option offered… Through telemedicine we can diagnose and prescribe medicine for simple conditions,” she said.
The two veterinarians answered questions sent by the public.
Here are a few of them.
Can we still adopt a dog during the stay at home order? Weitzman said to check the SDHS website to adopt or foster an animal. By going on the website, the public can identify an animal they want, call and arrange an adoption curbside.
A tiger at the Bronx Zoo had COVID-19. Are domestic pets susceptible to this disease? Gibbins answered that there is not enough information at the moment except for a couple of reports of two dogs in Hong Kong and a cat in Belgium but no cases in pets in the U.S. “But if an individual has tested positive, she recommended to limit the contact with pets and have someone else take care of them. Owners have to isolate as you would with any other human.
I have no symptoms, can cats be carriers? “There is a lot we don’t know…There are no reports..there are no real concerns at this time,” said Gibbins. “Based on what we know and it can change within hours, the CDC is very strongly saying that we should treat animals like we treat each other. If you are sick don’t hug anyone. We’re all getting so used to being guarded right now, but we need our pets,” said Weitzman.
Gibbins added that the disease cannot survive long on the pets’ fur as opposed to things like plastic or cardboard. If possible keep animals indoors, but she said she wouldn’t change routines too dramatically.
Weitzman also cautioned people that if they find a litter of kittens with their mom, leave them be. “If they are not endangered, let them nurse rather than separate them right now. It’s the best place for them to be,” he said.
The family had COVID-19 symptoms; the cat now appears to have upper respiratory infection. Can the cat have the virus? Gibbins recommended to check with the family vet for signs of typical upper respiratory problems cats can get during normal times, otherwise they need to get the state involved.
Are there testing facilities for pets? And will pet insurance cover the cost? There are no pet commercial tests available right now. The two dogs in Hong Kong were tested because their owner was positive for coronavirus, but the dogs did not have symptoms. With any dog or cat there are certain breeds that are more prone to upper respiratory issues.
“If you are healthy, your pet is healthy, do what you normally do, the virus cannot survive on the fur, do your normal routine. If you think the pet has been exposed, wear a mask, wash them and shampoo them… that should take everything off,” said Gibbins.
Can my dog play with other dogs? “Out of abundance of caution I suggest no play groups… only [dogs] within the household. There is so much we don’t know… I’d advise against it,” said Gibbins.
“Keep the routine as normal as possible, keep pets healthy and happy in your family,” Weitzman said.
One last reminder - if you have been sick, stay away from your pet for 14 days.
Through PAWS of San Diego Income-qualified clients (San Diego residents who are receiving government assistance such as CalFresh, Medi-Cal, or Unemployment) may pick up dry dog or cat food once every 30 days at 5480 Gaines Street, San Diego, CA 92110 everyday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.