The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Veterinary Medical Association are cautioning pet owners who are diagnosed with the coronavirus or are experiencing symptoms to limit interactions with their pets.

As of noon Sunday, March 22, 89 Maine residents have been confirmed positive for the coronavirus, according to the state. Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support this mission by purchasing a digital subscription.

While there’s no known cases of pets like dogs and cats having COVID-19 and transmitting it to humans, veterinarians are cautioning pet owners that transfer may still be possible — via an animal’s fur. In addition, more is still being learned about the novel coronavirus and whether it can be carried or transmitted by animals in other ways.

For this reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Veterinary Medical Association are cautioning pet owners who are diagnosed with the coronavirus or are experiencing symptoms to limit interactions with their pets.

“Anyone with symptoms, don’t hug or kiss your dog,” said Ai Takeuchi, veterinarian at Lucerne Veterinary Hospital. “Don’t snuggle with them because you could potentially put the virus on their coat.”

The transmission of infectious diseases by objects is called “fomite transmission.” It’s the reason people are diligently cleaning door knobs, tabletops and other frequently touched surfaces during this pandemic. And veterinarians are concerned that dogs and cats might qualify as “frequently touched surfaces” that could spread the disease.

This is one of the reasons that Lucerne Veterinary Hospital and many other veterinary clinics are now asking that pet owners divulge whether or not anyone in their household is sick with COVID-19 or experiencing symptoms before bringing pets in for treatment.

In addition, veterinarians throughout Maine and the rest of the country are asking pet owners to call in before traveling to a veterinary appointment, even if no one in your household is sick with COVID-19. That’s because, in response to the pandemic, many veterinary clinics are implementing new protocols, such as asking that pet owners wait in their vehicles instead of the waiting room.

“Be up front with our staff so we can take precautionary measures,” Takeuchi said.

The most common way COVID-19 is spread is through sneezing and close contact with infected people. However, current evidence suggests that this novel coronavirus may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The possibility that pets could carry the virus on their fur is just one more thing to think about when you’re practicing social distancing. When in public, in addition to distancing yourself from other people by at least 6 feet, don’t touch other people’s pets. And if you do, don’t touch your face and wash your hands thoroughly as soon as you can.

What should you do with pets if sick with COVID-19?

Until more is known about the virus, the American Veterinary Medical Association is recommending, “out of an abundance of caution,” that pet owners who are ill with COVID-19 limit contact with animals. This is a big thing to ask of people, especially those who aren’t feeling well. Pets are a part of our families and they can be especially comforting when someone is ill. But taking this measure may help limit the spread of the disease.

In addition, the association recommends that if you are ill with COVID-19:

  • Tell your physician and public health official that you have a pet or other animal in your home.
  • If possible, have another member of your household take care of walking, feeding and playing with your pet.
  • If you have a service animal or you must care for your pet, then wear a facemask and don’t share food, kiss or hug your pet.
  • Don’t share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels or bedding with other people or pets in your home.
  • Wash your hands before and after any contact with your pet or service animal.

Can pets spread COVID-19 in other ways?

There’s no evidence that pets can spread COVID-19 to other animals, including humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, we’re still learning more about the disease.

Concerns were raised when a dog in Hong Kong tested positive for low levels of the pathogen on Feb 27. It’s believed that the dog, a 17-year-old Pomeranian, picked up the pathogen from its owner, which had been diagnosed with COVID-19. The dog is being cared for under quarantine and is not showing any signs of illness.

While this particular dog likely picked up the pathogen from its owner, researchers have not found any evidence that it can pass on the pathogen to another animal or person.

In addition, IDEXX Laboratories — a global leader in veterinary diagnostics and software that’s headquartered in Westbrook, Maine — has tested for the pathogen in thousands of dogs and cats and has seen no positive results, according to a March 13 announcement by the company.

“Should leading health authorities determine it is clinically relevant to test pets for the COVID-19 virus, IDEXX will be ready to make the IDEXX SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RealPCR Test available,” said Jay Mazelsky, president and chief executive officer of IDEXX Laboratories in the announcement. “Pets are important members of our family, and we want to keep them healthy and safe. We will continue to monitor COVID-19 and pet health across our global IDEXX Reference Laboratories network as this situation evolves.”

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Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.