Corona virus and your pet dog

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This post was written by Laure-Anne Visele, Zoologist, on 16 Mar 2020. Last update: 20 Apr 2020. It reflects the understanding on this topic at that date. For the latest updates, please keep abreast of announcements by the WHO.

Many dog owners have contacted us as they are anxious about the impact of the virus on their pet. We have prepared a small digest of what is known right now, to help you best manage the risks. Below, you will find the main questions we have had. 

We have based ourselves on the latest figures and news by the WHO and the RIVM. Please note that this can change rapidly, so do keep an eye on these websites. Whatever you do, do NOT consider information from Facebook and other social media to be definite and check reliable primary sources from experts such as the WHO and the RIVM regularly.

Can dogs develop COVID-19 symptoms? 

No, up to today at least, only a couple of tested dogs have tested (mildly!) positive at the beginning of the epidemic, and this was transient. The current understanding is that the detection of the virus on the dog was due to physical contact with the owner, and the dog itself was not infected. 

Can dogs be carriers of the new corona virus? 

They can be a source of transmission through physical contact, like a table would. As we tend to be petting our dogs regularly, caution is warranted so that our dogs do not become a vector of transmission to the outside world.

How long does the virus stay on my dog’s fur?

We don’t definitely know how long this virus can stay on (any) surface. A pessimistic estimate is about 3 days. Findings more commonly point to a few hours (3-6). This concerns how long the virus can stay on a non-porous surface. We don’t have good estimates about how long it stays in dog’s fur. 

Should I stop walking my dog?

Unless this is forbidden in case of a lockdown situation, then no. This could cause severe frustration and the behaviour problems that go with it, not to mention other hygiene challenges if you do not have your own private, large outside space for the dog to relieve themselves in. So you can, in principle, still walk your dog but do be sure no one pets him. Walking him in a large green area with relatively little passage would be ideal. 

When walking, do avoid group gatherings, though. So your days of hanging out with other dog owners at the dog park are over (for now). Avoid letting your dog play in close contact with another dog (if you have more than one dog, keeping your own dogs isolated from each other might be more trouble than it is worth). We are talking about contact with outside dogs not belonging to your household.  

If you do need to reduce your dog’s walks to toileting only (due personal circumstances like no car and living in a densely populated area), do keep walking for another three to five minutes after your dog has relieved her/himself, or he/she might learn to wait until the last moment to relieve her/himself, as it predicts the end of the walk. For tips on keeping your dog entertained at home, see here.

Can I still pet my dog?

As long as you first thoroughly wash your hands (following the strict WHO protocol), as you would before touching a light switch, then you should be able to keep petting your dog. 

Kissing and face contact is not recommended, as, should you be affected, you could contaminate your dog’s fur, which puts other people touching surfaces your dog’s fur has touched at risk. 

Can I let other people pet my dog?

Preferably not. If you were carrying the virus and had contact with your dog, your dog could become a vector to anyone touching him/her.  The opposite is also true: you don’t know if the person touching your dog is a carrier. 

Can my dog still go to the vet’s? 

You would have to ask your specific clinic and what measures they have taken. Some are being creative and ask you to wait in the car, for example. Some are only taking urgent cases. This, in an attempt to avoid getting people in close contact in an enclosed space. 

We wrote an entire blog post about how you can help your veterinarian during the crisis here.

Can I still go to the dog training school? 

This depends on: 

  • How serious your dog training school is with their containment measures
  • The latest government guidelines. 

If your dog training school checks positive on one of these points, you are better off not taking the risk: 

  • Is generally lax about allowing physical contact with the dogs
  • Has not published the specific additional measures they are taking
  • Gives its lessons inside
  • Has large groups (more than 6-7 dogs)

Please see here for our own policy.

If you are worried about your puppy developing a deficit in his socialisation period, follow our fantastic on-line puppy class where we help you give the pup the best start in life and give you tips about how to cope with the current crisis with as little damage to your pup’s development as possible. 

Can dogs be preventively culled?

There would be an unprecedented public outcry and the public health situation does not warrant it at this stage, so there is no reason to lie awake worrying about this. Given the volatile nature of the virus, the best you can do is follow the news very closely and adhere to commonsense measures. 

Do I have to disinfect my dog? 

No! Don’t use heavy cleaning products on your dog’s fur. Your dog could sustain serious injuries. If your dog has been in contact with an contaminated surface/infected person, then wash the part of your dog’s fur that was touched with dog shampoo. Ensure you make enough foam, and that you rinse sufficiently (just follow the same guidelines as you would for effective hand-washing).  

Ask your veterinarian (or a good groomer) which dog shampoo is best suited to your dog. 

Further reading

We will also write a number of articles to help you manage your dog during the corona period. e.g.

  • Keeping your dog’s nails nice and short despite shorter walks
  • Help make your dog happily tired during times of quarantine 

Photo credit

The photo was made by NIAID. Lisence: CC BY 2.0


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