How to protect your pet from coronavirus

Central Hospital for Veterinary Medicine Medical Director Dr. Leyenda Harley is photographed at the front entrance to the North Haven facility on May 6, 2020.

Worried about your cute fur baby coming down with the coronavirus? Or about Fluffy or Spot possibly passing it on to you?

Stop worrying so much.

That’s the message from Connecticut veterinarians a couple of months into the COVID-19 pandemic.

For one thing, there’s only been one documented instance in the United States of a dog infected with the virus, a pug named Winston who tested positive in mid-April in North Carolina.

Cats may be a little more susceptible, but aside from the celebrated case of several tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo catching it, there so far there have been only two cases in the United States of house cats testing positive for the virus, both in different parts of New York State.

But Dr. Leyenda Harley, medical director at the Central Hospital for Veterinary Medicine in North Haven and Guilford, said that “so far, there have been no reports anywhere, worldwide, of humans being able to contract it from domestic animals or pets.

“Now, can a pet get it from their owner? It has been documented that pets can,” Harley said. But “that doesn’t mean that” they will — and even if they were to catch it, pets “tend not to get very sick.”

“The recommendations are, if you’re a person who has coronavirus, that you practice the same social distancing that you would do with humans with your pets,” she said.

That means staying at least 6 feet apart, wearing a mask and, assuming there is someone else in your household, letting them do the dog walking or putting out the cat, Harley said.

Overall, “dogs are much more resistant to getting it,” she said, although “there was that one case of it.” If your cat does catch the virus, “cats can transmit it to other cats.”

If people have any reason to believe that their pet(s) may have contracted the virus, “they should call their vet,” Harley said. If the pets, or their humans, get sick, “We want pets to quarantine along with the humans.”

But, be aware: “animals do get respiratory infections that are not corona infections,” she said. “The vast majority of respiratory infections that animals get are something else.”

Despite the humans of Connecticut being largely shut-in these days, these have been busy times for Connecticut veterinarians, said Dr. Andrea Dennis of the Bloomfield Animal Hospital, a board member of the Connecticut Veterinary Medicine Association.

While veterinarians “may be seeing fewer animals per day, the protocols we have in place take a lot more time,” she said.

In most cases, pet owners are being asked to leave their pets at the door while the doctor sees them, Dennis said.

As it turned out, most of the veterinarians contacted in New Haven, West Haven, Bridgeport, Fairfield, Norwalk, Stamford, Greenwich and Danbury were too busy to come to the phone to talk for this story.

Dr. Ralph Padilla of the West Haven Animal Clinic said in a message passed through his receptionist that coronavirus “is not something that’s really of great concern” in his practice. “He more concerned about Lyme disease at this point,” the receptionist said.

“Coronavirus is more of a human thing” and “he’s seeing so much of Lyme disease,” the receptionist said.

Speaking of which: Dennis, who said she was able to talk Wednesday because it was her day off from work, said that while people are worried about the coronavirus, “We don’t want to forget about the things that really are problematic for the pets in our state, including Lyme disease.

“The fact is, people do not need to worry, with everything going on, that they’re going to get coronavirus from their pets,” Dennis said.

The first case in the world of a dog catching the virus was reported in February in Hong Kong, but even in that case, “the dog was not very sick,” Dennis said.

If pet owners were to be diagnosed with COVID-19, “They should isolate themselves from their pets if they can,” Dennis said. “If there’s someone else in the household, they should be the one who walks the dog.”

To ensure good health, if pet owners have the virus and are alone with a pet, “wear a mask,” she said. “Wash your hands before you handle their food bowl.”

The good thing is that, from all indications so far, “even when the dogs or the cats get it, it’s not very serious,” Dennis said.

People “are worried that this is a conversation, but they do not need to worry,” Dennis said. While nothing is 100 percent certain with the coronavirus, “there are no reported cases yet of pets passing it to humans” and, generally speaking, “we feel safe,” she said.

“We want people to keep their pets,” Dennis said. “Veterinarians really are on top of this. They’re really paying close attention.”

Dr. Maria Lagana of Noah’s Ark Animal Hospital in Danbury said she continues to get text messages every day from family and friends concerned about their animals, as well as concerns from families that come to the hospital.

She said people really don’t have great reason to worry about their pets either catching the virus or giving it to them.

“There is nothing documented that’s saying that it’s actually causing disease in animals,” Lagana said. “The few cases that were reported ... were just very mild signs.”

What she suspects is that, in those cases, “the animals are living in close proximity to people who have it” and were picking up the virus either on their fur or in their nasal passges and carrying it for short periods of time.

“There has been no evidence, whatsoever, that the virus is getting into them and replicating,” Lagana said.

In essence, “the animals are acting just as a doorknob” might, as a short-term means to transfer the virus, she said.

Unless the virus mutates, “it probably won’t affect a dog or a cat,” Lagana said.

She said she has been working with pets “every day since this pandemic” began and has seen nothing of great concern with regard to pets.

“Our biggest concern is that people should not be dropping their animals off at the pound” out of fear, “because it’s not really a big concern,” she said.

Dr. Nolan Zeide, of Bull’s Head Pet Hospital in Stamford, said he would be “naive to say” he hasn’t seen any infected animals since the start of the pandemic — and admitted “this is so new” that he can’t be sure — but said that in general, diseases don’t cross species.

And while that appears to be how COVID-19, which is believed to have originated in bats, first arrived in humans, possibly via pangolins, “it’s really, really, really uncommon.”

“Look at herpes and flu,” Zeide said. For the most part, “they don’t go back and forth between species.”

Overall, “I think there’s enough worry out there right now,” and people don’t need to worry so much about the virus and their pets, he said. But “I just think we need to be common-sensical.”

So if someone in your household has tested positive for COVID-19, especially if your cat or dog might be likely to go near someone else “who is comprised,” you should “social distance from your pets” just as you would from other people, Zeide said.

While animals may be able to carry the virus on their fur, or even “in the nose ... the likelihood of it getting absorbed and staying viable is very, very low,” he said.

Connecticut Media Group