Us & Them – Protecting Your Pets in the Pandemic

Animals are not the problem: Although this all began with a bat in a live wet market, coronaviruses rarely jump between species. And if so, it’s mostly from us to them.

When word came that the Schönbrunner Tiergarten would stay closed through the Christmas holidays, a wail of misery welled up from the family downstairs. This was to be the Big Treat, and still possible, everyone had hoped, even in COVID times.  Just like the museums, with limits on tickets, masks and distancing…

The truth is, the risk is far more to the animals than it is to us. Particularly the larger ones. Just like The Wizard of Oz: it’s the lions and tigers and bears we have to worry about. But not in the forest; in captivity.

In zoos, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has infected lions, tigers, puma, snow leopards, great apes, and gorillas. Infections have also appeared in laboratory settings, where researchers have found infections in non-human primates and monkeys, as well as fruit bats, hamsters, and tree shrews. But which animals are vulnerable can be hard to predict. it’s very uneven, and doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense: 

For instance, lab mice, pigs, chickens, and ducks are resistant to infection. As apparently aremost farm animals, like cattle, horses, goats and sheep, according to the European Center for Disease Control. Other farmed animals, like minks, can be infected. In fact, minks are highly susceptible and can spread the virus to other minks as well as dogs, and cats and occasionally to humans. But other small mammals appear to be resistant; reports about raccoons, foxes, and squirrels are very rarewith no evidence of transmission.

Pets and COVID-19

This brings us to the animals we love most, our house pets. We know that pets can get infected from close contact with a COVID-19-positive person. Cats and ferrets spread disease amongst themselves, but that’s less likely with dogs. So far, the illness in pets has been mild or asymptomatic, and there are no reports of death from COVID-19.

Nor is there any evidence that you could contract the virus from your pet, and the ECDC considers the possibility of this happening to be very low. 

Tips for Keeping Your Pet Healthy 

To limit the risk, restrict your pet’s interaction with people and other animals outside your home. Keep cats indoors, and don’t let them roam freely outside. They’re probably not going to like it, but like you, they will like being sick even less. Also avoid taking your pets to densely populated public places and dog parks. When you go walking, keep your dog on a leash and at least two meters away from other people and animals.

If you’re sick, avoid close contact like snuggling and petting and your pet’s kisses and licks. Don’t share food or sleep in the same room. If you can, have someone else care for your pet, if not, wear a mask when you care for your pet – but don’t put a mask on your pet because it can harm them. Make sure to wash your hands before and after interacting with your pet and pet food, dishes, waste or bedding or supplies. 

The virus doesn’t spread from the skin, fur, or hair of pets, so there’s no need for excessive bathing of your pet and never use disinfectants, alcohol, hand sanitizer, peroxide, or other surface cleaners on them. Be sure not to miss your regular veterinarian appointments and keep up with their vaccinations and treatments.

If your pet is sick, contact your veterinarian for a virtual visit. Symptomatic pets or those with known COVID-19 exposure should get a test. If the test is positive, keep your pet at home and isolated, wear gloves, and wash your hands before and after each interaction. 

It’s unlikely that vaccines will be available for pets, zoo and farm animals soon. However, it will probably be necessary to vaccinate them eventually to curb the spread of disease. For now, keep animals safe by treating them as you would humans.

Risk of New Variants

So back to those lions and tigers and bears: The main concern regarding COVID-19 in animals is that they can become reservoirs for the virus with dire consequences. A large number of infected animals can potentially increase the chance of new animal-specific variants evolving, more transmissible strains that can jump back to humans and start a new outbreak, and which could mutate into variants that are resistant to the current vaccines. 

So yes, thousands of different coronaviruses can infect both humans and animals. But if it’s any comfort, the disease spreads mainly from humans to animals, not the other way around.

Dr. Michelle Epstein
Michelle Epstein is a medical doctor graduated from the University of Alberta in Canada, who has specialised in Internal Medicine at the University of British Columbia and Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Yale University. Since 2004, she has been a Lab Leader at the Medical University of Vienna’s Division of Immunology.

Current Status

We compiled for you a detailed guide on traveling to Austria during the pandemic.

If you live in Vienna, make sure to register for getting a vaccine against COVID-19 under impfservice.wien. If you already registered and it is the turn for your age or risk group, here you can book your vaccination appointment.

Vienna and Lower Austria have re-opened shops and services “close to the body” on May 3. 

Austria plans to open up the economy and society on May 19, with those vaccinated, tested negative or recently infected getting access to many places with a “green pass.” 

Here’s an overview of where you can get tested for COVID-19 in Vienna and how the free, weekly PCR “gargle” tests at home work. 

If everything is a bit much for you or you experience domestic violence of any kind, here is our mental health resource article.

Numbers

For current coronavirus numbers, check the website of Ministry of Health and the AGES dashboard.

The Austrian Ministry of Health also published daily vaccination statistics and a preview of scheduled deliveries.

Resources

The City of Vienna has compiled comprehensive information on questions and answers regarding coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease in English.

The Austrian Ministry of Health has put together FAQs on the coronavirus and also provides material to download on how to protect yourself and others from the disease, also in English.

Furthermore, the ministry will constantly update its German-language website with information on the number of people tested and cases of COVID-19 in Austria.

Hotlines

Health advice by telephone1450

If you show symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties) or fear that you are ill, stay at home and dial health number 1450 for further procedures (diagnostic clarification).

Coronavirus hotline AGES+43 0800 555 621

The Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) answers questions about the coronavirus (general information on transmission, symptoms, prevention) 24 hours a day at +43 0800 555 621.

VKI hotline for travel law questions+43 0800 201 211

For legal questions concerning trips that have already been booked (e.g. whether a trip can be cancelled free of charge), the experts of the Association for Consumer Information (VKI) provide advice free of charge from Monday to Sunday between 09:00 and 15:00 at +43 0800 201 211.