Staff photo by Tim Barber/ At the Mapco Mart fuel island in Harrison Tuesday afternoon, Apr. 28, 2020, Homer, a five-year-old yellow lab, accepts the PPE mask from his owner Emmitt Mull inside his Mazda Miata convertible.

After the first known canine coronavirus diagnosis in the U.S., area veterinarians and animal welfare agencies remind pet owners that there is no evidence that pets can spread the virus to humans.

"The big issue we're concerned about is human carriers passing it to animals," said Dr. Marcy Souza, director of Veterinary Public Health at the UT College of Veterinary Medicine.

The Chapel Hill, North Carolina, pug that tested positive for the coronavirus lived in a household made up of four humans, another dog and a cat. All were tested, but only three of the humans and the dog tested positive, local news channel WRAL reported.

Neither the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Agriculture nor American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that companion animals be routinely tested for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans, at this time, although public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals that are showing signs of illness and that are known to have been exposed to the virus, according to Animal Welfare Daily Digest, a daily newsletter for animal shelters on COVID-19 and animal welfare.

Of the three to four dogs diagnosed with coronavirus across the globe, none were actually sick — they were tested because their owners tested positive for the coronavirus, said Souza. Half of the six or seven cats that tested positive had mild respiratory symptoms, while the other half had no symptoms at all, she added.

Pet owners with a confirmed case of COVID-19 or who exhibit symptoms should follow the CDC's recommendation to limit interaction with their pet, said Souza.

"Treat them like a family member," said Souza of pets, in regard to keeping them indoors whenever possible and maintaining distance from other humans and animals outside the home.

In other words, pets need to socially distance themselves in the same way humans do. The CDC recommends pet owners keep cats indoors, walk dogs on leashes while maintaining a distance of 6 feet from other animals and humans, and avoid dog parks.

How to protect your pet from coronavirus

How to protect your pet from coronavirus

*Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.

*Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.

*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.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention




And even though your local dog park may be reopened, be sure both you and your dog maintain social distancing guidelines. People tend to socialize at dog parks just as much as their dogs do, Souza said.

If a pet is showing signs of illness, regardless of whether symptoms appear related to the coronavirus, Souza advises pet owners to call their local vets.

The main thing she emphasizes is for pet owners to keep their fur babies at home.

"Don't take your pets to a shelter because of fear of spreading the disease to them," said Souza.

McKamey Animal Center Executive Director Jamie McAloon said the shelter, which serves the city of Chattanooga, has not had any pets admitted because their owners had COVID-19.

All animals entering the shelter are given a full medical assessment, and any animals suspected of having something that could be contagious are quarantined. No animals at McKamey have exhibited symptoms of COVID-19, she said.

Most of the animals now in the shelter are temporarily without homes due to damage caused by the EF3 tornado that tore through the Chattanooga area on Easter Sunday, she said.

While people with COVID-19 should limit contact with their animals, McAloon said there is no evidence that healthy people should limit interaction with pets inside their household.

"Animals are providing such comfort to people in isolation right now," she said, adding that many people in quarantine are adopting and fostering pets. "These animals have given so much back."

McKamey is reopening to the public Thursday with some restrictions, including conducting adoptions by appointment only and taking the temperature of everyone entering the building, McAloon said.

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