Dog day afternoons… and the Coronavirus. An essay from Paul Hopkins

While the veterinary community is still dealing largely with unknowns amid the Covid-19 crisis, most of what they do know might come as a relief to pet owners. The deadly respiratory illness, believed to have originated from exotic animal food markets in China, is not regarded as being carried by domestic dogs and cats.

The online publication MarketWatch reports that dogs can contract certain types of coronaviruses, such as the canine respiratory coronavirus, but this specific novel coronavirus is believed to not be a threat to our four-legged friends..

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says: “While there has been two instances of dogs being infected in Hong Kong, to date there is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit Covid-19.”

Speaking online to me, Li Lanjuan, an epidemiologist and representative of China’s National Health Commission says: “If pets go out and have contact with an infected person, they have the chance to get infected. By then, pets need to be isolated. In addition to people, we should be careful with other mammals especially pets.”

Then again, local government health officials in Hon Kong emphasise “there is currently no evidence that pet animals can be a source of infection of Covid-19 or that they become sick”.

A retired vet of my acquaintance tells me: “We’re not overly concerned about people contracting Covid-19 through contact with dogs and cats. And there’s science behind that. The virus survives best on smooth surfaces, such as countertops and doorknobs.

“Porous materials, such as pet fur, tend to absorb and trap pathogens, making it harder to absorb them through touch.”

But common sense prevails, he says. “If you have children, you wouldn’t have them touch a puppy and put their fingers in their mouth, because they can have contamination. The general practice of washing our hands after touching a puppy or a dog — that’s normal hygiene.”

There’s a reason we call them ‘man’s best friend’. Dogs and other pets aren’t just good companions. They also give us a reason to exercise and boost our health in other ways. Pet owners have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and healthier hearts. Dogs can also help your child’s immune response and make him or her less likely to get allergies.

Not too long again I found myself in the company of the three amigos and the two cats. The three amigos being poor old Maisie who was 15 and looked like she was retired from that old Dulux TV ad: blind and with kidney failure, she no longer walked much. But she was not in pain and so was still with us, exceedingly loved by the woman I then shared my life with, who was away in London at the christening of her first grandchild.

Then there was Delphine, who at nine back then should know better but was utterly spoiled by — who else? — and then the latest family member, JoJo Leo, a miniature smooth-haired Chihuahua who I, much to my shame as a man, took to the vet one day to have his vitals chopped off.  Somehow, the young German vet’s line about ‘unwanted puppies’ did nothing to assuage my guilt. I feel so awful doing this, I said to her. I’ve never even had the snip, I exclaimed to her puzzled look.

Having watered and walked them (twice) on a very drizzly Saturday, we had a quick rekkie on what to do for the evening. Last time their mistress had gone awol we watched a couple of videos — the wonderful Incredible Journey and YouTube renderings of old Lassie shows. The cats, Bradley Pitt and Mini Ma, were not impressed, so the rest of us had to sit through Cat Ballou and Hanna’s and Barbera’s Top Cat.

We exhausted our video collection — I thought Dogs Of War and Catwoman unsuitable for all five, who are quite impressionable and manic enough without inciting them to violence.

We survived, though, the absence of their mistress. Just about.

Today, someone years on, four of those much-loved family pets have moved on to doggie heaven, no longer with us. Only JoJo is still around, along with new canine buddy Jaime (he’s French).

Stupid thing is, I miss those four  four-legged friends every day.

Stay safe … and keep an eye on your furred friends…

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