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Can your pet get coronavirus? We asked experts.

Be careful, but not overly worried.
A resident wearing mask walks her dogs in Beijing. Pet cats and dogs cannot pass the new coronavirus on to humans, but they can test positive for low levels of the pathogen if they catch it from their owners. That's the conclusion of Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department after a dog in quarantine tested weak positive for the virus in February. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A resident wearing mask walks her dogs in Beijing. Pet cats and dogs cannot pass the new coronavirus on to humans, but they can test positive for low levels of the pathogen if they catch it from their owners. That's the conclusion of Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department after a dog in quarantine tested weak positive for the virus in February. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan) [ NG HAN GUAN | AP ]
Published Mar. 15, 2020

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COVID-19, a novel form of the coronavirus, has spread far and fast, afflicting dozens in Florida in a matter of days. Officials expect more cases in the coming weeks.

All of the above applies to humans. What about your pets?

Yvette Johnson-Walker, a lecturer of veterinary clinical medicine at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, studies animal diseases. She said the risk of this form of coronavirus spreading to humans from pet, from pet to pet, or from pet to humans, is tiny.

But she also said at this early stage, there is still much about COVID-19 that we don’t know.

“It does look like it’s possible for there to be human-to-animal transmission with a very mild infection” for the animal, Johnson-Walker said, noting the case of a dog in Hong Kong that appeared to have gotten sick from its owner.

But possible is a long way away from likely. That dog remains the only example of human-to-pet transmission Johnson-Walker is aware of in an outbreak which so far has affected hundreds of thousands of people across the globe.

That hasn’t stopped veterinarians from taking extra precautions, said Will Sander, an assistant professor of preventative medicine and public health at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s department of veterinary clinical medicine. Like medical professionals who treat humans, vets are asking people who walk through their doors how they’re feeling. It’s become a common practice at veterinary offices to more frequently disinfect exam rooms, Sander said.

But overall, the same rules apply to pet owners as everyone else who’s living in the age of COVID-19, the experts said. If you play with a friend’s pet, wash your hands afterwards. This is good practice even in times without a global pandemic, Sander noted.

Prepare for social distancing by making sure you have enough medicine at home, including for your pet, Johnson-Walker recommended.

If you are self-isolating with a pet, try to avoid allowing the pet to interact with other people on the off chance it could be a vehicle for the disease’s spread. Johnson-Walker said even if human-to-pet transmission isn’t likely, the virus can still live on a pet for a time, the same way it can live on a doorknob or a table.

The Center for Disease Control says sick or potentially sick people should avoid physical contact with pets because of all the unknowns surrounding this strain of the virus.

One final note from the experts: These are confusing times. Coronavirus has long existed in various strains in various animals, so it’s easy to mix up the canine coronavirus that gives dogs stomach problems with COVID-19. Ditto for the coronaviruses that infect horses or cows.

That’s why it’s important to listen to academic and government experts, Johnson-Walker said. Otherwise, Americans might start showing symptoms of misinformation, like putting face masks on dogs.

That’s not a recommended practice.

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coronavirus guide

Q&A: The latest and all your questions answered.

EVENT CANCELLATIONS: Get the latest updates on events planned in the Tampa Bay area in the coming weeks.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Household cleaners can kill the virus on most surfaces, including your phone screen.

BE PREPARED: Guidelines for essentials to keep in your home should you have to stay inside.

STOCK UP YOUR PANTRY: Foods that should always be in your kitchen, for emergencies and everyday life.

FACE MASKS: They offer some protection, but studies debate their effectiveness.

WORKPLACE RISK: A list of five things employers could be doing to help curb the spread of the disease.

READER BEWARE: Look out for bad information as false claims are spreading online.

OTHER CORONAVIRUS WEBSITES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Florida Department of Health

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