Pets a source of both comfort and concern in the age of coronavirus

COVID-19 may impact trends like veterinary telemedicine, but Fido and Fifi can forgo the facemasks

Dog [Illustrative] (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dog [Illustrative]
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Pets can provide comfort in the age of coronavirus with human contact limited due to social distancing and stay-at-home measures.
But can animals transmit the disease to humans and vice versa? After all, COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease that scientists say likely originated in horseshoe bats. On Sunday, it was revealed that a tiger at the Bronx Zoo contracted the illness from an asymptomatic employee who was caring for the big cat.
Canadian-Israeli veterinarian Dr. David Cohen told The Media Line that pet owners coming into his Jaffa clinic are concerned.
“Everybody is asking, ‘Can I get this from my pet?’ And the answer is no. You won’t get this from your pet,” said Cohen, who added that they are still taking precautions such as wearing masks and gloves and keeping clients outside while taking care of their pets.
“We’re trying to decrease our contact mostly with the owners but we’re not afraid of handling the pets,” said Cohen.
The US Department of Agriculture said in a statement after its National Veterinary Services Laboratory confirmed that the tiger tested positive for COVID-19 that “at this time, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets or livestock, can spread COVID-19 infection to people."
According to Cohen, the fact that we aren’t seeing a major outbreak in veterinarians and others working in the animal industry is a sign that the disease is not being transmitted from animals to humans. The rate of transmissions in veterinarians is not higher than the general population, he added.
“If animals were responsible for transmitting it, you would think vets would be getting coronavirus and getting sick much more than others,” said Cohen. “There doesn’t seem to be any danger from pets to people. The pets don’t seem to be transmitting this.”
However, when it comes to possible transmission from pet owners to dogs, cats and other animals, USDA and the American Veterinary Medical Association both caution that people infected with COVID-19 should limit contact with animals.
The urge to attribute a human disease to animals is what Corine van Winden, owner of PETS International, an information platform for the pet industry headquartered in the Netherlands, calls “humanization.”
Although the research so far shows COVID-19 to be a human disease and not a pet disease, this attitude can sometimes lead to extreme measures being taken by pet owners, Van Winden explained to The Media Line in a phone interview.
Cohen said that there are no changes to the routine with his dog and that he recommends the same for other pet owners, adding that putting masks on your pets is unnecessary.
“I suppose if I was worried that maybe she walked somewhere in a house where there was a corona-positive person I would wipe down her feet or wash her feet,” said Cohen.
“But other than that I’m not doing anything specific and I don’t think people have to be doing anything specific to their animals.”
There is a positive trend that Van Winden sees coming out of this crisis and that is the strengthening of the bonds between owner and pet.
“You are linked to each other and you have to stay at home with your pets … and so there will become a stronger bond between pet owner and pet,” Van Winden said.
Coronavirus Accelerates Virtual Trend The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating the online trend across all sectors of society
including pet ownership.
“Virtual adoptions” are now a thing as stay-at-home orders prevent potential owners from choosing their new furry friends in person. Some adoption centers are now offering the option of browsing for matches online and filling out an application. Then picking up your dog or cat.
Pet owners are also sharing information online via Facebook and other social media networks, a trend that Van Winden said could be increasing due to more pet owners being at home during the coronavirus crisis.
“[There is a] huge pet sharing community in Europe across several countries and this community is quite attractive and people are more active in this community as before,” said Van Winden. “But it also could be they have more time, so they have more time to
be active in this digital community.”
Coronavirus is speeding up the adoption of telemedicine or telehealth – the ability to remotely treat and diagnose patients.
Israel-based PHIL Ventures (Pet Health Innovation Labs) is a technology hub aiming to take the latest developments in digital health and wellness to the global pet and veterinarian industries.
“We want to focus on things that will speed up bringing the remote health, telemedicine and stuff like that to the pet world,” PHIL Ventures CEO Eli Hasson told The Media Line.
Hasson said that they are right now negotiating an investment in a company that provides a mobile vet service and telemedicine platform and are looking at a company that does virtual pet adoption.
Financial Impact Felt in Pet Industry
Hasson said that the pet and vet business overall hasn’t been hurt as much by the economic uncertainty created by COVID-19 but that in the short term the US could see an economic slowdown which as the primary market for startups could impact investments. Hasson said that they are re-evaluating the deals they are negotiating but are staying optimistic.
“Long term, we’re still pretty strong in our appetite to invest. … There will still be opportunities,” said Hasson.
Owning a pet can be expensive and as more people lose their sources of income due to the economy being shut down to combat coronavirus, it could eventually have an impact on the pet and vet industries.
For example, according to the American Pet Products Association, 67% of US households (84.9 million homes) own a pet. In 2019, $95.7 billion was spent on pets in the US market.
Congress recently passed a $2 trillion economic stimulus package that will put money in the pockets of Americans who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. But will that be enough to prop up the pet industry and allow Americans to afford to keep their cats and dogs?
Even with government checks on the way and possibly more rounds of financial help from Washington soon, many Americans could part ways with their pets.
“By losing your money and you are back in the basement of your life, I can imagine that you say ‘Ok, I have to disconnect with my pet because I can no longer afford it myself to take care of this pet,’” said Van Winden.
According to the American Pet Products Association, the basic annual expenses are $1,381 for owing a dog and $908 for owning a cat.