Dr. Orit Szwarcman and Sawyer
Dr. Orit Szwarcman and Sawyer. (JN file photo)

With many questions circulating about pets and COVID-19, Dr. Orit Szwarcman answers some of the most common concerns.

While the world continues to understand COVID-19, how it spreads and the impact it can have on those who contract it, one of the biggest concerns for pet owners is whether or not pets can be impacted by the coronavirus.

“We are still learning new things about this virus,” says Dr. Orit Szwarcman of the Huntington Woods-based Home Vet service, which provides veterinary care for pets via home visits.

Dr. Szwarcman, 63, who started Home Vet in 1990 and grew up in Brussels, Belgium, has been practicing for 40 years. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused her to pivot and reshape how her services are offered.

A member of Temple Emanu-El in Oak Park, Dr. Szwarcman now only sees dogs outside. She wears a mask and asks that owners do the same. For cats, she sees some outside, some in a garage and the rest inside their homes.

These extra safety precautions can help keep herself, pet owners and their pets safe while the virus becomes more well-known and understood by experts.

With many questions circulating about pets and COVID-19, how to navigate pet separation anxiety as owners return to work and which risks exist (or don’t exist) for animals, Dr. Szwarcman answers some of the most common concerns.

Q: Can pets contract or transmit COVID-19?

A: As of now it appears that pets (and some other species like lions and tigers) can contract the COVID-19 virus from positive humans. Thousands of animals have been tested in the U.S. and only 20 or so have tested positive. All were exposed to positive people. Cats and ferrets seem more susceptible than dogs. It does not appear that pets play a role in people’s exposure, only that they can become positive through exposure to infected humans.

Q: Can the COVID-19 virus live in animal fur?

A: Because pet hair is porous and fibrous, it does seem highly unlikely that a person could contract the virus by petting an animal.

Q: Is it safe to walk dogs in high-traffic areas during COVID-19 outbreaks?

A: The main problem would be encountering COVID-positive people not wearing a mask. So I would avoid that type of crowded situation. Maintaining a safe distance is still the safer way.

Q: What precautions can people take to keep their animals safe in public spaces?

A: Same as before. The risk, although pretty small for your pet to get the virus, is from positive people. Keep your pets away from people not wearing masks.

Q: How should pet owners who have been exposed to or contracted COVID-19 navigate quarantine and take care of their pets?

A: Another person should take care of the pets, who should be isolated from the COVID-positive person. Ideally, a pet emergency kit should be prepared with food and medication (if they take any) for about two weeks.

Q: Is it risky to take dogs or cats to groomers or daycare/boarding?

A: A well-run boarding facility or day care should not be a concern. Many groomers have curbside pickup or drop-off service. I have taken my own dogs to daycare and the groomer.

Q: Should people limit their pets’ interaction with other pets or animals?

A: That does not seem to be justified. Unless one is COVID-positive.

Q: What steps can people take to keep their pets healthy during this time?

A: Regular common sense to keep yourself safe should apply. Make sure their routine vaccinations and anti-parasite medications are kept up. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Stay away from crowds.

Q: How can pet owners manage separation anxiety with their animals as they return to work?

A: After having been with their owner 24/7 for months, some pets might show signs of separation anxiety. The first thing to do is to try leaving the pet for increasingly longer periods. Minimizing departure routine, not doing all the same things in the same order when you’re leaving, avoiding making a big deal (especially baby talk) when you leave or come back — all those would be helpful to prevent separation anxiety. If all fails, talk to your veterinarian about medication. Or see a veterinary behaviorist. 


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