If you get sick, avoid contact with your pet

If you get sick, avoid contact with your pet

I repeatedly ask people how they’re doing as these days go by. Everyone has been seriously impacted by this pandemic. There is no end in sight and yet it must end.

Whenever I first read that there was a coronavirus that was making humans very sick, I and many of my veterinary colleagues were greatly dismayed. The coronavirus that has affected cats for years is elusive and a safe vaccine has never been found. The sickness it causes in cats is largely a function of putting the immune system “into overdrive.” The presence of the virus causes the body to shower the lungs with inflammatory cells and though the response is meant to fight the pathogen (virus), it damages the lung tissue. Human doctors have just started using Dexamethasone, a cheap corticosteroid to counteract this response.

COVID-19 has been found in minks, ferrets, tigers, lions, a couple of dogs and house cats thus far. It is believed that the source is generally an infected human.

I will concentrate mainly on cats. It appears cats spread it to other cats in the household and the symptoms are generally mild. There is usually a dry cough, nasal discharge and some malaise. As it is a virus, antibiotics are not usually necessary, and only supportive therapy is suggested. By supportive therapy, I mean the cats are encouraged to still eat and stay properly hydrated. If cats can’t smell their food, they often lose interest in eating.

So, the question most people ask: Can pets transmit the virus to humans? The million-dollar question. The Cornell Feline Health Center has a wonderful resource on these subjects. There is a terrific video for pet owners. This is where common sense comes in. You will read that “there is no present evidence that cats infected with COVID-19 transmit the virus to humans. In other words, no studies have been done. Would you want to participate in such a study? Not me.

Just as we have to wear masks and try to do everything to avoid spreading the virus to our human friends, family members and co-workers, we need to protect our pets. If we get sick, we want to minimize contact with our four-legged buddies. Yes, this will end. We just don’t know when.

Stay well, everyone.

Jill Dennis is a doctor of veterinary medicine who lives in North Providence.