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First, some necessary context: the term “coronavirus” does not refer to a single illness, but an entire family of them. In humans, coronaviruses generally cause mild respiratory symptoms — the sort you would associate with the common cold. More severe human coronaviruses (SARS and MERS, for example) can be lethal. The current coronavirus outbreak involves a new strain, COVID-19. Emerging in China’s Wuhan province, the outbreak has spread across the globe resulting in at least 2,000 deaths.
There is speculation that COVID-19 spread from a bat to another wild animal (potentially an endangered pangolin) before infecting humans. Does that mean the family dog could catch and spread the disease?
The Good News
According to Kristen Bernard, a professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, “There’s currently no evidence that dogs can become infected with the new coronavirus.” She adds that early studies into COVID-19 have identified a genome sequence that resembles coronaviruses found in wild animals, not domesticated dogs.
What’s more, past outbreaks offer little evidence that dogs and owners can transmit coronaviruses to one another. The recent outbreaks of SARS and MERS originated with horseshoe bats and camels respectively.
Bernard still urges pet owners to exercise caution and keep themselves informed. After all, “scientists hate to say never.” While the possibility of contracting COVID-19 from your dog remains remote — especially outside of China — she acknowledges that the situation is still developing. Plus, even if humans and dogs cannot infect each other with viruses like COVID-19, they can easily spread bacteria back and forth.
The Bad News
There’s no evidence that your dog can get this coronavirus, but they can get a coronavirus. Canine coronavirus (CCV), closely related to the feline enteric coronavirus (FIP), is both highly common and highly contagious. Though human coronaviruses are characterized by respiratory symptoms, CCV more commonly results in diarrhea and vomiting. Dogs are most likely to contract it through exposure to infected feces. Unsanitary conditions and high-stress situations can make both adult dogs and puppies more susceptible to CCV.
In general, healthy adult dogs will recover from CCV on their own in a matter of days. Many will show no symptoms at all. For puppies, on the other hand, CCV infections are often cause for serious concern. This is particularly true when CCV coincides with another intestinal infection.
Unlike human coronaviruses, CCV is treatable through vaccination. After determining the cause of the infection, a veterinarian can administer this as well as any other necessary treatment. If, for example, symptoms have persisted for an extended period, they may suggest additional fluids or electrolyte treatment to stave off dehydration. In more severe cases, they may prescribe antibiotics to address inflammation. Additional monitoring is not typically necessary, but virus strains can stay present (and infectious) in your dog’s feces for up to six months. Take special caution to dispose of any feces you think may be infected.
Both the CDC and World Health Organization have advised dog owners to take many of the same precautions they’re already taking to keep themselves from getting sick. It’s always a good idea to thoroughly wash your hands after handling an animal and to avoid touching your mouth, eyes, and nose before doing so. Keeping your dog’s toys and bowls clean will also keep them from contracting canine coronavirus or other infectious diseases. When in doubt, clean and disinfect items or throw them out.
What about masks? Davis suggests that, for now at least, they won’t do you any good. While masks can stop infected individuals from spreading COVID-19, the jury is out on whether they’ll stop you from getting it in the first place. In general, however, it is advisable to practice good respiratory hygiene (especially in public) and keep your distance from anyone who is potentially symptomatic.
On March 11th, WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Dog owners should continue to practice social distancing and good respiratory hygiene to avoid catching or spreading the virus. You can still walk your dog, but remember to stay home from work and avoid crowds if you are symptomatic.
This is still a developing situation. Continue consulting with trusted resources like WHO and CDC to ensure you, your pets, and your family remain safe.