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Caring for pets during COVID-19 crisis, experts say do not panic

Posted at 4:51 PM, Apr 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-06 20:38:40-04

AKRON, Ohio — New coronavirus developments in the U.S. state an entirely new population may be at risk for contracting COVID-19 from humans.

For several weeks, CDC officials have stated there was no reason to believe any animals, including household pets, might be a source of infection.

Sunday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed a tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for COVID-19.

Below is a portion of a written statement released by the USDA:

Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19. State animal and public health officials will continue to work closely with USDA and CDC to monitor this situation and will conduct additional testing if it is warranted.

Animal advocates and experts worry people may now flood the shelters and abandon their pets in fear of animals carrying the virus.

“We don’t want people to get scared that they’re going to contract corona from their pets and vice versa and that they’re going to give corona to the humans,” Stefanie Merkosky of the Northeast Ohio SPCA said.

The four-year-old tiger in New York tested positive for COVID-19 after having contact with an infected person, according to the USDA, but is expected to make a full recovery.

Veterinarians across the country have been in contact with federal, state and local health officials about the development of the virus in animals.

“Some tigers and a few other large cat species started showing signs of some coughing,” Dr. Brittany Rizzo said. “A couple of them had wheezing, so basically mild upper respiratory signs.”

Rizzo has been a veterinarian at the Akron Zoo for nearly five years.

She and other animal advocates urge pet owners not to leave their animals high and dry during the coronavirus crisis.

“We want everybody to treat their pets just like they treat everybody else at their house,” Merkosky said. “If you’re worried about contracting COVID or spreading it to anybody else, just treat your pet like you would your kids.”

Federal health officials state the transmission of COVID-19 from that zoo employee to the tiger is the first of its kind, and while it’s an unusual instance, pet owners shouldn’t panic.

“There is no need to abandon your pets or take them to the shelter. Just use common sense,” Rizzo said. “Socially distance if you think you’re sick.”

If you think you may be sick, animal experts advise it’s best to keep your distance from your pets, just as you would from your human family members, until you’re symptom free.

“If someone else can take care of them, that’s great,” Rizzo said. “If not, just make sure you’re washing your hands and not touching your face in between touching your pets.”

Experts suggest if someone in your home is showing signs of COVID-19 and your pet begins coughing or wheezing, contact your veterinarian to establish the best treatment plan.

Akron Zoo employees said they are increasing their use of personal protective equipment when caring for animals like large cats, monkeys and bats, who often come into contact with humans at the facility.

Need more advice on how to care for your pet during this global health crisis? News 5 has extensive answers to your frequently asked questions here.