COVID-19 and companion animal(s): What you need to know
In a span of several weeks, life as we know it has changed due to COVID-19. The statistics are staggering with 2.5 billion people in more than 35 countries practicing social distancing at the most extreme possible way - by staying at home. Schools and most businesses, except for essential services, have shut meaning that everyday life has changed for most of us for the foreseeable future. As of this writing, there have been more than 2 million confirmed cases and a hundred of thousand deaths globally, with these numbers growing rapidly on a daily basis. There is no doubt that COVID-19 has changed our lives, so we would like to share some information to help you, your family, and your companion animal(s) cope!
Even companion animal(s) were affected by the fear and panic surrounding the novel coronavirus. These came about when 2 dogs tested positive for COVID-19 genetic material – without showing any signs of sickness – after being exposed to their owners who were infected. Despite this, there is no evidence that companion animal(s) can spread the disease, with clear statements from the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) among many others.
"The current spread of COVID-19 is a result of human to human transmission.” - World Organisation for Animal Health
These are science-led organizations basing information on current scientific evidence and knowledge.
- There is no reason to fear getting COVID-19 from your companion animal(s)
- There is no reason to abandon, euthanize or send your companion animal(s) to a shelter
“To date, there is no evidence that companion animal(s) spread the disease. Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animal(s) which may compromise their welfare.” - World Organisation for Animal Health
Companion animal(s) provide important mental stimulation, help to fight loneliness and depression and can provide emotional support, as well as other health benefits like lowering blood pressure . Therefore, you should be encouraged to keep your companion animal(s) close by during your home quarantine – not only for their welfare, but for yours too!
In fact, having companion animal(s) around you in these challenging times is an advantage to your well-being.
Focus on the positives
Shelter in place, stay at home regulation, lockdown, and enhanced community quarantine are some of the terms used in different countries on the importance of physical distancing by staying at home to limit contact with others to stop the virus transmission. This also means that families and their pets are together every hour of every day.
Self-quarantine is the ideal time to reconnect and reinforce family (and companion animal) bonds.
This includes the bonds with your companion animal(s), as they are part of the family and play an important role in your life. This can be an opportunity to spend quality time with your companion animal(s) – something that they have likely been looking forward to for a long time. The time away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life gives you the opportunity to stop and really evaluate your life. This, combined with improved family (including your companion animal(s)) relations, will likely see your mood improve.
Caring for your companion animal(s) during home quarantine
It is important to remember that as “fur-parents”, the five basic freedoms to ensure animal welfare are considered during this period:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst.
- Keep companion animal(s) with you at home if you are self-quarantined and ensure that they have clean water and nutritious, well-balanced food.
- Remember to stock up on their food when you go out shopping.
- Freedom from discomfort.
- Arrange care for your companion animal(s) through your family and friends if you are hospitalized.
- Freedom from pain, injury and disease
- Make sure your companion animal(s) have the necessary up to date vaccinations such as those to prevent rabies.
- Maintain good hygiene practices including washing of hands before and after interacting with your pets – this should not be any different from your daily life without COVID-19.
People who are sick with COVID-19 must limit contact with their companion animal(s). Remember, at the moment, humans are more of a risk to their companion animal(s) than the other way around!
- Freedom to express normal behavior.
- Upon first glance, this may seem a difficult ‘freedom’ to provide to your companion animal(s), considering that many countries are enforcing a complete lockdown and people should not leave their homes at all. This means that you may not be able to take your dog for its usual walk, or let it roam freely. However, you can encourage normal behavior through play and stimulation within the confines of your home. Read on to see how!
- Freedom from fear and distress.
- Spread calm. Create a relaxed atmosphere for your family and companion animal(s). They will help out and do the same, acting as emotional support.
The main question is: “How do you keep your companion animal(s) occupied while you are working from home and the children are home schooling?”
Here are some recommendations to help make self-quarantine less stressful and fun for both you and your companion animal(s):
- Before the quarantine, buy food, medications, toys and toiletries for your companion animal(s) including a litter box (if you do not have an outside space).
- Contact your local veterinarian to get their schedule and policy during the quarantine period, including emergency hours in case something happens to your companion animal(s).
- Inquire at your local pet supply store to determine if they are open or have a home delivery option available.
- Tidy your place to provide extra space for you and your companion animal(s) to move around the house. Being in close confines with others is always challenging, so consider making a bit of extra room by possibly rearranging furniture to make a bit more space in your house.
- Check your local guidelines if you are allowed to take your dog outside for a limited period of time every day.
- If you do not have a companion animal(s), consider fostering or adopting an animal from the shelter or pound. Remember, these animals also need love and care, and with the quarantine measures in place, the amount of interaction they may receive will be far less than normal.
Play and Stimulate
Bored animals (and people) can become destructive and naughty. To keep order in your house, make sure that everyone is well stimulated through fun and interactive activities. This will help to keep both the children and the companion animal(s) entertained.
- If allowed by your local council, walk your dog every day. It provides exercise both for you and your dog. Playing fetch outside might not be advisable at this time.
- Make every walking space in your house an adventure by creating an obstacle course for your dog. This will also unleash your own creativity and save you from boredom. Use everyday materials such as empty cereal boxes, chairs and bedding. You can even use the toilet paper rolls if you have the luxury to do so.
- Make handing out treats a mind game by playing hide and seek. Treats can be hidden inside toys or in boxes where they can be found. This is also applicable for their normal food.
- “Sit. Roll. Stay.” Teach your dog tricks – old dogs can learn new tricks, with a little patience and interaction.
- Take funny photos or videos of you and your companion animal(s) to spread happiness to your friends and family. This will help to keep everyone entertained.
- Avoid bites or scratches from your pets to avoid having to go out in search of a doctor or hospital. Remember, these facilities are working hard to control the COVID-19 outbreak and should not be burdened unnecessarily.
- After all that exercise, cool off by nature-watching to appreciate the beauty around you. This can be done from within your own home, making it safe, socially responsible and eco-friendly too.
- If you are a musician, be like Anthony Hopkins and play soothing music for your pet.
- Have a spa day for your dog that includes bath time and grooming.
- Give your pet a massage. Touch therapy is always beneficial.
- If all fails and you are feeling lazy, just practice the art of doing nothing and snuggle with your pet.
Article contributed by: Dr Sarah Jayme, Asia representative, GARC; Illustrations by Ms Chari Amparo, Public Health Research Officer, GARC
 Andrew T B Edney 1995. Companion animals and human health: an overview. Journal of the Royal Society of Medecine.