Winston the Pug
By this time, most of the Internet is aware of Winston the Pug, the first dog in the United States to test positive for the COVID-19 virus. Winston’s family is part of a study by Duke University looking at the community prevalence of COVID-19. Three out of four people in the household tested positive for the virus, so when Winston developed a low grade cough, fever, and inappetence, the family was not surprised that Winston tested positive, too.
Two cats in New York have also tested positive. Both were tested because they were showing symptoms. One lives with a person who tested positive for COVID-19, the people in the other cat’s household tested negative.
Winston and the housecats who tested positive for COVID-19 developed mild symptoms and recovered uneventfully with supportive care. Two animals live with at least one person who has been documented to be infected with the virus. The cat whose household tested negative is indoor/outdoor and his contacts cannot be traced. We already knew that cats MIGHT be susceptible, because cats have a cellular receptor in the lining of their lungs that is very similar in structure to the receptor that COVID-19 binds to in the human. Finding an active infection in a dog is a little more surprising, however brachycephalic (snub-nosed) dogs have a number of unique qualities to the structure of their airways that increase the likelihood of chronic low-grade inflammation and might predispose to infections that most dogs are resistant to.
Thus far, we have little reason to believe that casual contact with people or the environment will cause dogs or cats to become infected with COVID-19. It appears that close/prolonged contact with an infected, virus- shedding human is required for infection to occur. There is no evidence at this point to indicate that dogs or cats are capable of shedding enough virus to infect a human, a dog, or a cat.
Keep walking your dogs, it’s good for both of you!
The "new normal"
At this time, it appears that the “new normal” involves face coverings for us humans, at least when we are out and in contact with each other. It may be possible in your day to day life for your dog to never see someone wearing a mask, especially if your dog mostly stays on your property/in the house. However, it is crucially important that you habituate your dog to people wearing masks, because there is one high-stress environment where they will almost undoubtedly see people wearing masks now — the vet’s office.
The new regulation issued by Alameda County, which is in accordance with the Governor’s recommendations, is for everyone to wear a face covering at work when it is not possible to maintain social distancing. That would be the vet’s office, most of the time.
Anyone who has brought a new puppy into my office has experienced my song and dance (sometimes comedy routine) about the importance of socializing your puppy and how dogs rely heavily on gross cues like your cardboard cutout profile to identify you by sight. They have also heard me discuss the importance of body language in dealing with dogs, how we never know whether the dog is sitting in response to our words or our facial expression.
The face coverings that we are being directed to wear are going to hide a LOT of our body language from our dogs, and may really freak them out. I’ve had two dogs who usually love me tremor with fear until I took off my mask to show them who I am. They still continued to freak out to some extent after that. Both dogs were brought in by people who were wearing masks themselves.
I think that a lot of dogs will find neck gaiters pulled up over the nose less disconcerting than actual masks because so many dogs see us with Turtle Necks or scarves over our necks and faces during the winter. However, even if your dog is habituated to neck gaiters, please please please get them used to masks! Please try to do it before you accidentally come into the house wearing a mask and either terrorize your dog or get bitten.
The easiest way to get your dog used to you wearing face coverings is probably to start by putting one on while they are watching you, at mealtime. Wear the covering while you proceed with your dog’s usual mealtime ritual. Then wear your face covering in the house for short periods of time independently of feeding, working your way up to being able to put a leash on your dog or perform some basic grooming while wearing it. It would be prudent to use several different styles of face covering, since a neck gaiter presents a different appearance than a pleated surgical-style mask, which is different in appearance than one of the non-pleated Olsen-style masks.
emember that your dog may also react to the pattern ON THE FABRIC of the mask. There are a lot of really amazing, clever masks that give you a cat’s nose or Darth Vader’s lower face. Unfortunately, if your dog sees one, your dog may find it more frightening than clever. Be prepared to get your dog past alarming visages by exercising WIDE social distancing or using a toy or treats!
Our world is changing in ways that are scary or stressful for all of us. Our animal companions aren’t just along for the ride. They don’t listen to the Governor’s addresses or watch the news. With a little extra effort, we can help them adapt, too.
In order to limit everyone’s potential exposure we are putting a few new, temporary protocols in place.
When you come to pick up prescriptions you have ordered please call the staff from outside the building and let them know you have arrived. They will, as soon as time allows, place the medication outside for you to pick up. They will take your credit card payment either when you call in the initial request or when you call to let them know you are outside waiting to pick up.
For nurse appointments, please call upon your arrival and one of our nurses will come out to bring your companion into the building for whatever treatment they need. They will take your credit card payment over the phone when you call upon arrival. If you have any concern about this procedure, we know some companions need their people with them, let the nurses know and we will accommodate you.
For appointments with Dr. Mills: She will be holding dog appointments in the front lobby to allow enough room for social distancing while the exam is being performed. This means you will need to call when you arrive and a staff member will come to get you when the lobby is free.
For cat or rabbit appointments, a staff member will take the carrier to Dr. Mills in the exam room and you may either wait outside or in the front office. After Dr. Mills has examined your cat she will discuss her findings with you either outside or in the front office.
If you have a concern for your companion with any of these procedures, please let us know. We want to do our best to continue to keep our patients not only healthy, but happy to come here.
Thank you for your understanding and patience.