By LESLIE STEIN
Many pet owners have questioned whether they can get COVID-19 from their pets or vice versa? Health experts have said in the past that there is no evidence this can occur. However, as the pandemic has evolved it seems as though there is more evidence that supports a small number of pets can be infected with the virus. This is mostly after close contact with people with COVID-19. But there are no reports, worldwide, that people can get the virus from their domestic animals. After speaking with local resources about COVID-19 as it affects pets, it is apparent that a greater issue in the area is pet owners no longer being able to afford their pets, increasing owner elected euthanizations, animal surrenders and abandonments, placing additional strain on animal shelters.
The first case of an animal infected with the virus at the end of March was a tiger at the Bronx Zoo, as well as several lions and tigers at the same zoo that showed symptoms of respiratory illness. It is believed the large cats became ill after being exposed by a zoo employee who was ill with the virus. It appears now that the illness can be spread from humans to animals in some situations.
Last week, news reports stated two domestic cats from two different areas of New York were diagnosed with COVID-19 with mild respiratory symptoms. It appears one cat became infected when its owner was diagnosed with the virus. It is unknown how the other feline had contracted the illness. As of April 28th, 2020, NBC News reported a pug in North Carolina tested positive for coronavirus and it may be the first dog to test positive in the US. The family, mother, father, son, and pug all tested positive for the virus. However, a daughter and another dog and cat tested negative. The dog’s symptoms were mild. The son states the dog probably got the virus because he likes to lick the dinner plates and sleep with the mother. Health experts continue to state it is very rare for human to animal transfer of viruses. At this point, there have only been 6 reported instances of human to animal transmission of the virus worldwide. But it appears this is changing weekly. There are no documented cases of animal to human transfer of the virus.
The CDC recommends that if you have pets and are ill with the virus protect them as you would others in your environment. In other words, avoid contact with other pets and animals while recovering from the illness. The CDC recommends that if possible, have others care for your pets. If you do not have anyone to help care for your animal then wear a mask when feeding your pet and wash your hands before and after taking care of your animal. If your pet does get ill do not take it to the veterinarian. Call the office, inform them of your pet’s symptoms. The physician will then advise you on the best way to take care of your pet or help you determine the next steps to take. Some veterinarians do offer telehealth to care for your animal.
The FDA has temporarily eased restrictions on veterinarians to allow them to more easily use telemedicine to treat pets during the coronavirus pandemic. The FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a statement that “We need to provide veterinarians with the latitude to expand the use of telemedicine in the care of animals, not only pets but also the animals that produce our food.”
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends pet owners prepare an emergency kit, with at least two weeks’ worth of your pet’s food and any needed medications. This way in case of quarantine or self-isolation and you cannot leave the house, you will be prepared for your pet.
Dr. Raul Figerola of ASAP animal clinic in Brooksville has made changes to his office practices in order to optimize safety for his staff, pet owners, and pets. He has always followed American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) guidelines for sanitizing all surfaces between pets, followed strict hand-washing protocols, wearing gowns and masks but now he has had to put in place social distancing during office examinations and in outside waiting areas. His office staff is now clearing patients on the phone before arranging appointments. Upon arrival, pets are screened outside and only one pet owner per pet per room is permitted. Unless the pet needs to be euthanized. Dr. Figerola has indicated there has been an increase in euthanasia since the stay at home orders have been in place. It appears that as pet owners are spending more time at home with their pets they are paying closer attention to them. They are noticing that their senior animals are not doing well-requiring office visits and unfortunately, at times, requiring euthanasia. Dr. Figerola has also noticed pet owners are experiencing increased stress and concern requiring more emotional support than before COVID-19. He has reduced his office hours in order to completely sanitize the office after pet care. This includes chairs, pens, tables, doorknobs, clipboards, etc. in order to be vigilant and continue providing care for pets and their owners in a safe atmosphere. Dr. Figerola stresses to his patients to not wait if your pet needs to be seen.
AVMA advice includes not allowing your pets to interact with other animals or people outside the household, keeping cats inside and dogs on leashes while on walks maintaining 6’ distancing between people and pets on the walk. Also avoiding dog parks, and public places to reduce the chances of transmission of the virus from human to animal. The AVMA urges the public that there is no reason, at this time, to think that domestic animals are a source of the virus. Therefore, there is no reason for individuals to abandon their pets, especially when COVID-19 has been identified in members of the household. If there is a risk to the pet itself and it can not be cared for appropriately, the veterinarians are there to support the health of the pet.
According to the World Organisation for Animal Health initial results “from laboratory studies suggest that, of the animal species investigated so far, cats are the most susceptible species for COVID-19, and cats can be affected with clinical disease. In the laboratory setting cats were able to transmit the infection to other cats. Ferrets also appear to be susceptible to infection but less so to disease. In the laboratory, setting ferrets were also able to transmit the infection to other ferrets. Dogs appear to be susceptible to infection but appear to be less affected than ferrets or cats.” The organization also states, “currently, there is no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of COVID-19”. Human outbreaks are driven by person to person contact.
When discussing the pandemic with Susana Arneson, director of the Humane Society of the Nature Coast, she noted a significant increase in owner elected euthanasia, painting a bleak picture of the toll the virus has taken on the area’s pet population. She tells the Hernando Sun that residents indicate they can no longer care for their animals as they are losing their homes and have to move in with family members who have their own dogs. They do not want to further burden their family. People are also saying they are having difficulty paying for food for themselves and therefore have to forfeit their pets.
Arneson states every other day animals are being dropped off inside their gates. Some alive, some not. Normally they have pets abandoned once a week, either a dog or cat, but now every other day they are getting animals that have been cast aside. The Humane Society is also getting daily calls of animals being dumped throughout the county. Arneson stated it is “overwhelming.”
She spends all of her time with the intake of animals and trying to provide people with resources. There were always animals that needed to be rehomed or euthanized, but this has increased dramatically since COVID-19. She tracks how many people request euthanization for their pets. It was a handful a day prior to the COVID-19 crisis and now it’s 30 to 40 animals per day that need to be rehomed or euthanized.
The Humane Society does provide pet food for the community. There is a pantry in the front of the Humane Society. Staff members replenish food twice a day, AM and PM. They also have multiple resources listed on its web page to assist pet owners with issues regarding pet care. You can find these resources on their web page. https://humanerescue.org/resources/
If you can foster an animal or help with donations The Humane Society would greatly appreciate any help you can give. https://humanerescue.org/
At the April 28 Board of County Commissioners meeting, Tobey Phillips, Deputy County Administrator gave kudos to Shannon Finch, Shelter Coordinator for Hernando County Animal Services for recent success they’ve had in adopting out animals.
“First of all we want to give kudos to animal services, specifically Shannon [Finch] who's our shelter coordinator. Despite all the restrictions that they're currently working under, just yesterday, they were able to adopt out four dogs, two cats, sent eight animals to a rescue in Lake County who reached out to help us out. We had four animals involved in a recent seizure case who have all found new homes, so right now we have seventeen open dog kennels and our cat rooms are empty. That's not an easy accomplishment, right; to do it all online and over the phone.”
Currently the county animal shelter, located at 19450 Oliver Street in Brooksville, is handling business by appointment only. According to a county media release,
“Initial viewing of animals available for adoption by the public can be done by visiting www.Facebook.com/HernandoCountyAnimalServices
“Adoption applications can be found at: https://www.hernandocounty.us/home/showdocument?id=22 and sent via email to [email protected] or fax to (352) 796-3746
“Adoptions will be by appointment only once an adoption application has been approved. Call HCAS at (352) 796-5062 to schedule your adoption appointment
“Return to owner transactions will be by appointment only. Call HCAS at (352) 796-5062 to schedule your appointment
“Animals knowingly exposed to COVID-19 will be directed to shelter in place with the family in their household
“Animals that come to HCAS that have been exposed to COVID-19 will be housed in an established quarantine area at the shelter where the on-staff veterinarian will establish protocols for care
“The HCAS volunteer program has been suspended until further notice
“Contact HCAS at (352) 796-5062 for additional information.”
Guidance on managing pets in homes where people are sick with COVID-19 can be found at