By Dr Adam Gordon B.V.Sc. (Hons)., M.V.S.
Over the past few weeks, we have all been impacted by the Corona Virus (COVID-19) which has also created a lot of uncertainty and questions. We therefore thought it would be helpful to provide our clients with an update on the COVID-19 virus and answer some questions you may have in relation to how it may impact pets as well as the practices we are taking in the clinic to keep our clients and their pets safe.
What is a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that infect birds and mammals, including humans. They are often associated with the common cold, bronchitis and pneumonia, and can also affect the gut. The virus that causes COVID-19 is also a coronavirus and likely to have originated from a wildlife reservoir.
Canine coronavirus, which can cause diarrhoea, and feline coronavirus, which can cause feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), have been seen by veterinarians for many years. They do not cause infections in humans. These coronaviruses are not associated with the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Can COVID-19 infect pets?
There have been reports from Hong Kong that a dog owned by a patient with COVID-19 has tested positive to the presence of the virus in its nose and mouth. This may be a case of human to animal transmission, however the dog’s first blood tests have been negative. A spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) in Hong Kong said on Thursday 12 Mar 2020 that:
“The blood test result of the dog which had repeatedly tested weekly positive for COVID-19 virus is negative. The AFCD collected samples from the dog 5 times for tests since late February  and detected low levels of the COVID-19 virus from its nasal and oral cavity samples. A blood sample was also taken from the dog on 3 March 2020 for serological testing and the result is negative. The negative result indicates that there is not a strong immune response and that there are no measurable amounts of antibodies in the blood at this stage.
The negative serological test result does not suggest that the dog has not been infected with the virus. It is known in some asymptomatic or mild cases of human infections with other types of coronavirus that antibodies may not always develop. It is also not uncommon in the earlier stages of infections to have a negative result as it often takes 14 days or more for measurable levels of antibodies to be detected. Another blood sample will be taken later for further testing”. Source: AVA – 13.3.20 – Update on report of transmission from human to pet dog in Hong Kong
At this stage, there is no evidence that pet dogs or cats are a source of infection to other animals or humans. The veterinary industry including our industry associations are continuing to monitor this situation and will provide our practice with updated information as it becomes available.
Should I avoid contact with pets or other animals if I am sick with COVID-19?
As the outbreak continues, a number of pet owners will be placed in quarantine, either with confirmed COVID-19 infection or due to exposure. We know that your pet is part of your family and you will want them to have the same level of protection and care as any other family member. Current information suggests there is no apparent risk to you or your pet from being in quarantine with you. However, we do advise all pet owners continue to practice appropriate hand hygiene before and after handling their pet, their food and washing food/water bowls. At no stage should pet owners do anything that may compromise the welfare of their pets. We suggest minimising close contact with your pet during this time, such as hugging, face to face contact or sleeping on your bed. During self-isolation, you should not be walking your pets in local parks or public areas. During this time, ensure you let your pet outside in your backyard to play and or toilet regularly and if confined to indoors try exercising your pet with a ball or toy.
What do I do if I am in quarantine or self-isolation and my pet is unwell?
If you are in quarantine, do not break quarantine to bring your pet in for a consultation or booked surgical procedures; even if your pet is unwell. Please call our practice first and ask for our advice. If your pet needs to be seen, we will be able to work with you to ensure your pet will receive the care they need, while keeping our practice and staff safe from the COVID-19 infection. For house calls, please let our practice know you are under quarantine before we arrive.
We have been advised by the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) that the risk to veterinarians and our practice staff members from contact with pets from clients infected with COVID-19 is low. Infection usually requires prolonged close contact (>15 minutes) with someone who has a high viral load or from extended casual contact (>2 hours).
Animals may have viral fomites on their coat, however the risk of infection is much lower as it will be a low viral load (similar to surfaces).
We therefore will be taking the following precautions:
• When initially handling animals from high risk environments, staff are required to wear gloves, a mask, eye protection and a disposable apron.
• The removal of personal protective equipment (PPE) carefully, taking care not to touch the outside of masks, gowns and gloves.
• Washing of the animal if we are especially concerned, as soap will remove/deactivate the virus. If the animal does not require hospitalisation, or if this will cause undue stress to the animal, or its medical condition we will use PPE as described above. The risk of transmission in such cases is thought to be low.
• Above all and at all times, practice and promote good hand hygiene.
If you have any other concerns about your pet, please feel free to contact our practice accordingly.
What practices is Maroubra Veterinary Hospital and its staff taking during this time?
The primary source of SARS-COV-2 transmission remains human-to-human contact and at this stage there is no evidence that cats and dogs could play a role in the spread of this human disease, or that they become sick having contracted it. However, it’s a good opportunity to remember all the things we can do to keep ourselves, other practice members, clients and patients safe from diseases.
As a professional veterinary clinic, we always practice excellence in hygiene and cleanliness at all times however it is worthwhile to remind you of the infection, prevention and control practices in place to assure you and your pets:
• Alcohol-based hand rub (ABHR) is available in dispensers and used throughout the hospital and practice with hand sanitisers in place for client use in waiting rooms
• Liquid antiseptic dispensers used throughout the practice
• Single use only for all anti-bacterial wipes, paper towels, tissues and surgical swabs etc.
• Ongoing environmental cleaning throughout the practice including disinfectant cleaning and alcohol wipe cleaning of floors, surfaces throughout the hospital and in our consult rooms, telephones, benches, sinks, cages, weigh scales, equipment, light switches and door handles, keyboards, EFTPOS terminal etc.
• All consulting equipment and surgical equipment is cleaned and disinfected to the highest standards
As a result of the COVID-19 crisis we have implemented the following practices with our staff which include:
• 14 days’ self-isolation for any clients and staff returning from overseas since the requirement has been introduced by the Government. Currently none of our staff are required to be self-isolating.
• Do not come to work policy if our staff are experiencing flu-like symptoms, particularly coughing or sore throat.
• The practice sneeze and cough etiquette – sneeze or cough into your elbow if necessary and perform hand hygiene after with single use tissues only.
• The introduction of a no shaking hands policy in the practice and social-distancing practice between staff and clients of 1.5 metres wherever possible.
• Use other personal protective equipment as required eg: mask and gloves during consultations.
• Puppy school will continue to operate however we will enforce the groups be 5 or less persons and a one owner per pet policy to attend the classes.
• Signage in our waiting room advising clients that if they are currently in self-isolation and break this to attend the practice with their pet for a consultation that they are to immediately leave the practice and telephone the practice.
If you would like more information or wish to discuss any concerns in relation to the above information provided, please feel free to contact Maroubra Veterinary Hospital on 02 9344 8722.