This week on Ireland Am, I addressed some of the common questions that pet owners have about COVID-19 and the animals in their lives.
I answered the following questions.
How does COVID-19 affect animals?
There is a very small risk of animals acting like other objects in the home i.e. as passive recipients of droplets if someone coughs on them.
In reality, this has not been proven to happen, but to be ultra cautious, people should take sensible hygienic measures. Just as you would not lend your mobile phone or your coat to someone living in a different household, neither should you let your dog or cat engage in close physical contact with humans or animals from other households.
If cows or other farm animals were affected, is there any chance that food derived from animals could play a role in spreading the infection
Cows and other farm animals are not involved in any way at all, and there is absolutely no suggestion of any risk of any kind relating to farm animals or their products.
Person to person spread is the over-riding way that the virus spreads, with infected people coughing droplets or aerosol and other people being exposed to these viral particles. This is what we need to avoid i.e. stay at home, only go out if you need to, cough into your elbow rather than the air around you, wash your hands after going out, and stay 2m away from other people. These are the important aspects to focus on, not animals.
If someone is self isolating, and if they have signs of illness of any kind, do they need to take special measures around their pets?
Vets have always said that if an owner is actively unwell (fever, respiratory signs etc) then they should spend less time close to their pets. This advice applies to COVID-19 just as it does to other human illnesses. It just makes hygienic common sense. There is no need to take extraordinary precautions: just spend less time close up and cuddling with them.
Are there alternatives to physically exercising dogs for elderly people who are cocooning?
Visit the Dogs Trust website to discover novel ways of entertaining your dog while living in a socially isolated way. You can spend time teaching them new tricks, and playing their favourite games.
What about cats? Could they bring the virus back with them after being outside?
This is highly, highly unlikely to happen. Somebody would have to cough droplets directly onto a cat, and the cat would have to run straight home, and you would have to touch the cat with your hand, and put your hand to your face. First, most cats don’t get that close to strangers, second most cats groom themselves thoroughly if they do get anything on their coat, and they would rapidly remove any droplets, and thirdly, viral particles don’t live for long on animal hair because the surface is porous and irregular.
So if someone wants to be ultra-ultra cautious, then do keep your pet cat indoors for this period. But any risk is absolutely minimal, and there has never been a case where this has been suspected as a way of the virus being passed on.
The real risk is human beings: keep a distance of at least 2m from people, wash your hands after going out, and only go out for essential reasons.
Remember that animals are good for us at this stressful time
We should not be worrying about our pets: we should be celebrating the fact that they are with us, and they are good for us. They are in-house tutors in mindfulness, living in the present moment, and that is especially valuable at this uncertain time. So enjoy them! Read this article in the Guardian today which expands on this useful perspective.