Caring for your pet in a world under quarantine

The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated so many aspects of life, with income and schooling front and center – along with simply steering clear of infection.

But beyond those main focuses are other parts of our daily routines facing potential disruption, such as how to care for a pet when quarantine and severe illness are part of the landscape.

Could you infect your pet, or could your pet infect you? It’s a scary and uncomfortable thought, especially given how dependant pets are on their owners.

Thankfully, it’s also unlikely. Dr. Jena Troxler, St. Charles Parish Animal Control supervisor, notes  at the present time, it’s not believed cats and dogs can become ill from infection from COVID-19. She referenced IDEXX Laboratories, a veterinary diagnostic lab, which announced that the company has seen no positive results in pets to date of COVID 19 after evaluating thousands of canine and feline specimens during validation of a new veterinary test system for the COVID-19 virus. The specimens used for test development and validation were obtained from specimens submitted to IDEXX Reference Laboratories for PCR testing, Troxler said.

So that is good news, but Troxler warned also that much is still unknown about the virus. Even if it goes on to prove true that pets aren’t sickened by the virus, it doesn’t mean one cannot be a carrier.

“Researchers are not sure if pets may be colonized by the virus, despite (pets) not getting sick,” Troxler said. “Pets may temporarily harbor virus on the coat and other areas of the pet’s body. Just as a person may sneeze on a counter and contaminate it, same for fur of a pet.”

She said smooth surfaces like countertops, or door knobs transmit viruses better than porous materials like pet fur because the latter materials absorb and trap the pathogen (virus), making it harder to contract through simple touch.

If a pet owner were to become sick with COVID-19, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that one avoid contact with a pet due to the risk it represents, just as one would with another human.

“You should ask another family member to care for the pet for at least 14 days from your last contact with the pet,” Troxler said. “The reason for this is if you cough and sneeze on your pet and another touches him, in theory, the virus may be transmitted.  It would be best to simply give the pet a thorough bath and keep in another room of the home to be cared for by the healthy person.”

Sometimes, that isn’t possible. At that point, if a sick owner must take it upon themselves to care for the pet through the illness, Troxler said it comes down to taking precautions and limiting the chance of spread as much as is viable. If it is impossible for anyone other than the person infected with COVID-19 to care for the pet, she said it is recommended that the patient avoid “close” contact: do not sleep with the pet and avoid “face to face” contact or contact with the pet’s eyes, mouth or nose – so no kissing or licking.

“It may be a good idea to don a surgical mask when in close contact with the pet,” she added. “When contact with the pet or the pet’s items like a food bowl or bedding is necessary, frequent and thorough hand washing before and after contact is recommended.”

Then there’s the worst scenario – being in hospital quarantine or care that makes separation from one’s pet unavoidable. One option in that case, if another family member is unable to care for the pet, is to bring the animal to a boarding facility or veterinary clinic. It is recommended that the animal be isolated and contact with other animals not permitted for a period of at least 14 days, she said, or until the patient is returned home and able to provide care for the pet.

The last resort for anyone that is without help and admitted to a hospital, would be to call the Sheriff’s Office to gain access to animal control to pick up the pet.

All of this said … it isn’t all gloom and doom. Troxler said despite all the negatives brought on by the current situation, quarantines do present one silver lining: the chance for families to spend time with one another – including a beloved pet, whose company may be more beneficial than ever.

“This is an opportunity to have companionship in that pet. If he’s usually outdoors, give him a bath and teach him the routine of the house. You’ll both enjoy the company,” Troxler said.

With humans home now more than ever, pets “typically really revel in the attention and time given to them,” she added. “This is a time to take twice daily walks to expend your pet’s energy and you’ll see how much it calms them.”


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