ATLANTA — Health officials have repeated over and over what you need to do to keep yourself from contracting the coronavirus, but now we’re starting to see cases in pets.
Channel 2 anchor Sophia Choi started looking into the risk after a dog just across our state border in North Carolina tested positive for the virus.
Scientists believe animals are getting it from humans. Researchers believe the virus started from an infected bat.
But now, it's humans who are giving it right back to the animals.
Choi spoke with Nikole Allen, who is a proud mama of two dogs.
She has Carmen, who loves chasing squirrels in her Cherokee County backyard, and Cesar.
“Cesar is 17 years old,” Allen said.
She told Choi that she started worrying about her dogs getting COVID-19 after hearing about positive cases in pets, which happened to a pug in North Carolina.
“I was kind of honestly concerned and alarmed,” Allen said.
She's not the only one.
At Pharr Road Animal Hospital, where Allen is a client, veterinarians are hearing from a lot of concerned pet parents.
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“Absolutely. It's a natural fear that many pet owners have. We've gotten phone calls and emails,” Pharr Road Animal Hospital veterinarian Dr. Seth Colman said.
A North Carolina pug is the first documented U.S. case of COVID-19 in a dog. His name is Winston, and he lives in Chapel Hill with a family that tested positive.
“We were all suffering from, like, coronavirus, had all the symptoms. We're all kind of scared ourselves about the virus. And then my dad said he noticed Winston had a cough there too,” Winston’s owner Benjamin McClean said.
Scientists say Winston probably got that cough and the virus from his human housemates.
“One important thing to think about is that over 60% of American households have one or more pets. As we are social distancing and spending more time at home, we're spending more and more time with our pets,” said Dr. Casey Barton, office director of CDC One Health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a tiger at a New York zoo was the first animal in the U.S. that tested positive for the virus.
Researchers believe the large cat and several others became sick after being exposed to the virus by a zoo employee.
Two domesticated cats in New York also tested positive.
Researchers believe the pandemic started after the virus jumped from an infected bat to humans at a wet market in Wuhan, China. But then the virus changed.
“What we're seeing with this pandemic is the primary route of spread is person to person, such as when respiratory droplets are spread through coughing, sneezing or talking. But that's really important to keep in mind, and, again, why it's so important if someone is sick to stay away from animals,” Barton said.
Even so, vets say the risk is very low, with only a handful of cases around the world.
“There are hundreds of millions of pets in the United States and more around the world. And public health officials and infectious animal disease experts have only identified a few rare cases of animals testing positive,” Colman said.
The number is so low that vets do not recommend testing unless your pet is showing active symptoms.
Winston got a test because he took part in a Duke University study. Like all infected pets so far, Winston recovered just fine.
“He's been better for weeks now and like full energy, everything like that,” McClean said.
Winston's test was specifically designed for animals. It is not the same as the tests humans take.
The CDC said infected animals can show symptoms, but not always.
“We've heard some pets have had some sneezing, coughing, you know, maybe difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some animals, you know, maybe even starting some gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting or diarrhea,” Colman said.
To protect your pet, vets and researchers agree: It's all about social distancing.
They recommend you avoid dog parks and other areas where a lot of people mix with pets.
Even at home, give it some space, especially if you think you're sick.
“Try to avoid contact with your pet such as snuggling or kissing, you know licking and being kissed by the animal sharing bedding or food,” Colman said.
That can be hard to do for pet parents, such as Allen, especially now with such little human contact during social distancing.
“They're just so calming; to be able to sit with them and rub their ears is like the biggest thing lately,” Allen said.
As for whether pets can carry the virus on their fur, scientists say there is no evidence of that.
In fact, they don't think animals can even pass it on to each other.
For example, Winston the pug lives with another dog named Otis. Otis tested negative for COVID-19.
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