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It is hard to remember a time where the topic of conversation was not centered around COVID-19. This has become our lives, our very existence. The two big questions everyone seems to be asking themselves is, are we overreacting? Underreacting? The entire world seems to be very divided at the moment, so I thought we’d take some time to address what is currently happening around the world.
Let me preface this by saying I am not an expert. I am not a medical professional, rather a concerned citizen just like many of you. While the intended message of this article is opinion-based, the information referenced is hinged on factual data and statistics, and is pulled from the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control and other accredited sources.
What is COVID-19
COVID-19, often referred to as coronavirus, is the scientific disease name for the virus, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). This virus first surfaced in December 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China. Coronaviruses (CoV) are not something new. They are a family of ribunucleic acid (RNA) viruses that were first identified in humans dating back to the mid-1960’s and are called coronaviruses because of crown-like spikes on the surface of the virus; ‘corona’ being the Latin word for crown. To date, there are seven coronaviruses that can infect humans including the well-known SARS, MERS and now COVID-19. CoV infections are common in animals and humans, however what makes COVID-19 particularly alarming is our limited knowledge into the effects it has not only in humans, but in animal species given that this is a new strain that medical professionals and experts have never seen before. It spreads at a far faster rate than SARS did, and has already proven more deadly. It is believed to have first surfaced in a “wet market,” or live animal market, in Wuhan, however exact origins are still not known.
What is an RNA virus and what makes them so dangerous?
RNA viruses are capable of rapidly outmaneuvering their host’s immune system. They replicate and reproduce rapidly and then move on to a new host. They can also move from species to species. Because of this less complex relationship with their hosts, RNA viruses are highly pathogenic.
There is a lot of debate about whether this is just another common cold/flu or if this is something far more serious. There are talks of a complete lockdown in America, following in the steps of Italy, Spain and France. We’re being advised to self-isolate and practice social distancing. There is a lot on the table. I’m not here to try and sway you either way. There is plenty of credible and scientific evidence to support the severity of the issue at hand and it is up to each of us to heed the warnings set forth by our government and health officials to not only keep ourselves safe, but those around us as well.
You are probably asking yourself now… ‘why am I reading yet another article about COVID-19 and what does this have to do with dogs?’
There are growing fears among communities all over the world that pets are susceptible to catching the virus and can pass it along to humans. Animal groups everywhere are concerned that a surge of pets being abandoned is on the horizon over false reports claiming that pets can spread the disease. Fears were sparked by reports that a Pomeranian in Hong Kong contracted the virus last month. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) in Hong Kong confirmed that repeated tests suggested the dog had a “low-level” of the virus and that it was likely to be a case of human-to-animal transmission. The dog did not show any symptoms of the illness, however the owner was a confirmed positive for COVID-19. To date, there is no scientific evidence that the owner contracted the virus from their dog.
What makes this so important?
As has been proven in recent weeks, it is human nature to be vulnerable to panic and fear. There is a clear shortage of medical supplies, paper goods and non-perishable food items because people are scared and stocking up more than is needed. And while it certainly warrants frustration from the people left to scour their cities for basic needs, it can also be reasonably assessed that their fears are justifiable. There is so much that we do not yet know or understand about this illness and people feel a sense of calm when they feel they are somewhat prepared for the unknown.
That being said, when new information circulates - whether it is true or not - people react. This pending fear that our pets could potentially infect us with COVID-19 means that it is very likely more and more people will abandon their animals or worse, it could lead to animal abuse. Shelters and rescues under normal circumstances are usually operating at capacity; with this new wave of fear it means the homeless dog and cat population could worsen significantly in the months ahead.
Yes, COVID-19 is believed to have originated from exotic animal food markets in China, but domesticated dogs and cats do not appear to be carriers. Both the CDC and WHO report that - at present - there is no scientific evidence to support that pets can transmit the virus to humans and vice versa. The predominant route of transmission appears to be human to human contact.
Health officials are still in the very early stages of understanding the effects of COVID-19 between species. However the American Veterinary Medical Association is encouraging people to interact with their animals as they normally would, adding that as a precaution pet owners should “keep interaction between your pets and other people to a minimum.”
In the event that you fall ill with COVID-19, you should take the same precautions with your pets and restrict contact, just like you would around other people. When possible, “have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. Avoid contact with your pets including, petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with them.”
It is a sad state of affairs when we resort to abandoning our pets out of fear based on unfounded information; the very beings that are fully dependent on us for their survival. In China alone, it has already been estimated that more than 30,000 pets have been left stranded in Wuhan after the Chinese government sealed off the city in January. Thousands more were also left behind in Beijing, Dalian and Xi’an. As additional countries worldwide begin to implement mandated lockdowns, we can only assume that those figures will double, triple and maybe even quadruple.
Please, please do not abandon your pets. They need you more than ever. And if you can find room in your heart and home, please consider fostering a dog or cat in need from your local animal shelter/rescue. As local governments continue to implement closures, curfews and other restrictions to aid in flattening the curve, less volunteers and shelter employees will be available to provide pivotal care for the animals in their protection; something so many shelters and rescues are already short on.
I urge each and every one of you to do your own research and take the necessary precautions to keep yourselves and your pets healthy and safe through these very uncertain times. Please also be mindful of your neighbors and fellow community members. Sending you all so much love, safety and health from the Furr-bulous HQ.