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Published on May 26, 2020

Cats, Dogs and COVID-19

COVID & Pets

When veterinarians confirmed that two cats in New York City were infected with COVID-19, pet owners’ anxiety levels peaked across the country. But Hyannis Veterinarian Kaitlin Zelman, VMD, of Hyannis Animal Hospital said people have little to fear with regard to their pets and COVID-19.

The cats, the first pets in the U.S. to contract COVID-19, are believed to have gotten the virus from infected humans, according to a press release from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Dr. Zelman said that animals known to have contracted COVID-19 have been minimally ill. The two cats are expected to make a full recovery.

“Considering how many people in this country have gotten ill with or died from the COVID-19 virus, if companion animals were going to be susceptible to it in any serious way, I believe that would have come to light already,” she said. “The number of pets who have tested positive is miniscule, and their symptoms have been mild.”

One dog died after testing positive for COVID-19 in China, she noted, but that pet was 17 years old and had other contributing health factors. “We believe that was a unique case in which other factors contributed to the dog’s death,” Dr. Zelman said.

Can pets give people COVID-19?

The latest guidance from the CDC and American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is that there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low, said Dr. Zelman.

“We need a lot more research into the new coronavirus,” she said, “and there are a lot of studies underway. We’ll be watching for more results.

“At this time, the AVMA is telling us all not to panic. Don’t take your animals to a shelter and abandon them because you’re afraid. There is very little risk as long as you treat your animals like other family members.”

Specifically, Dr. Zelman recommends we follow these AVMA and CDC guidelines:

  • Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals.
  • Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.
  • Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household. For instance, to maintain social distancing, don’t let other people pet your dog when you’re out for a walk.
  • Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
  • Don’t put masks on your pets.

Pets Provide Comfort

Taking a walk helps support you and your dog’s good health, and can contribute to well-being for both of you. Cuddling your cat, enjoying their soothing purring and predictable behavior, can distract you from the stress and anxiety of daily life.

“These are tough times, and now more than ever you and your pets need each other,” Dr. Zelman said. “You can take care of each other. I’m sure pets are getting a lot more attention and giving their owners even more joy because so many people are working from home.”

She is spending more time at home with her own ‘girls,’ Priscilla the cat and Penelope the dog, as social distancing has changed the way vets provide care.

If You Need a Vet

Dr. Zelman is working every other day now. Curbside care is the new normal, and she explains how her hospital and many other veterinarians are now seeing patients:

“We are seeing patients on a limited basis, but we’re very busy. All of our staff cannot work at the same time, so we have split into two teams that work alternating shifts of three days in a row. In this way, we have just 15 people (instead of the usual 40) running the hospital at any time. Clients are not allowed inside with their pets. The exception (which varies by veterinary practice) is when a pet is euthanized.

Call a vet when:

  • Your pets are sick for any reason.
  • You feel your pet needs a wellness visit. The veterinarian will discuss the need for you to come to the office.
  • Your pet needs a rabies or other vaccine. The AVMA has recommended that veterinarians continue with vaccines and puppy vaccines, especially for the sake of public health.
  • You want a telehealth appointment. There is a fee for this service.

At Hyannis Animal Hospital pet owners phone the office when they arrive for an appointment, and a staff member wearing personal protective gear comes to the car to get the patient. Animals are returned to owners in the parking lot, and payments are taken over the phone.

K Zelman

“We know this is less efficient, and it’s challenging for everybody, but most people have been very understanding and gracious because they understand it’s the way we have to provide care right now,” Dr. Zelman said.

Kaitlin Zelman, VMD, grew up in Barnstable and graduated from Cape Cod Academy. She earned her undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University and spent many summers working at Hyannis Animal Hospital as a veterinary technician. After receiving her veterinary degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Zelman returned home to Cape Cod to rejoin the Hyannis Animal Hospital team.