With the sudden and extensive surge of the coronavirus (COVID-19) around the world, we are confronted with a host of questions regarding what we should do to help keep ourselves and loved ones healthy and, if possible, out of reach of the disease. This includes preparing your pet for a coronavirus outbreak. As with most pandemics, because they cover a wide geographic area, there are larger implications that affect not only our health, but also our daily routines, governmental regulations, social order, and financial markets. While most of these implications are beyond the control of the average citizen, there are important steps you can take with your own family to make sure you are as prepared as can be for a potential outbreak in your own community. And the most critical step at this point is to become well informed.
What is a Pandemic?
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that it’s too early to declare COVID-19 a pandemic, many experts think we’re almost there. Either way, it’s important to understand the different levels of a disease based on how widespread it is and how many people it affects within a community.
The first level is called an endemic, which is the amount of disease present within a given community. That is followed by an epidemic, which is a spike in the number cases in that given community. Finally, a pandemic is when it spreads over a number of countries or continents.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has outlined six phases of a flu pandemic:
- The first phase is the time during which no animal viruses are reported to cause infections in humans.
- The second phase occurs when a virus is confirmed to have been passed from an animal to humans.
- The third phase happens when a few cases or small outbreaks have been confirmed but human-to-human transmission has not occurred or deemed likely to sustain an outbreak.
- Phase four takes place when human-to-human transmission or human-animal virus has caused a local outbreak.
- The fifth is when human-to-human transmission has spread the disease to at least two countries.
- The final stage is when the disease is declared a pandemic by spreading to at least one more country.
How Many People are Currently Affected by the Coronavirus?
As of the writing of this article, there have been 2,800+ deaths worldwide attributed to the coronavirus. More than 82,000 cases have been reported in 53 countries globally with infections affecting every continent except Antarctica. Eleven European countries have confirmed cases and South Korea has seen a spike with more than 1,700 cases, including one American soldier. Thirteen people in Canada have tested positive for the virus.
With regard to the United States, there has been 60 confirmed cases, including the case of a woman in Northern California that might be first case of “community spread” because she has not traveled to any country affected by the outbreak or come into contact with anyone known to have the virus. The Center of Disease Control noted that this may be a sign that the disease is spreading within a local US community. Galvin Newsom, the governor of California, said the state is monitoring 8,400 people who traveled to Asia and may have been exposed to the disease.
Despite the small number of people in the US who have currently been affected/exposed, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases declared that the United States, “is facing an unprecedented public health threat.” As of February 2, US citizens, residents and immediate family who have been in the Hubei province in China have been subjected to a mandatory two-week quarantine. Americans who visited other parts of China will be screened at airports and be asked to “self-quarantine” for 14 days.”Foreign nationals” who have been in China won’t be allowed in the US. While Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stressed that the risk to the US public is low, he stated that their goal is “to do all we can do to keep it that way.”
Coronavirus Transmission and Symptoms
While much is still not understood about the disease, it is thought that the virus spreads mainly from person-to-person between people who are in close contact (about 6 feet). The virus is carried by respiratory droplets produced when a person sneezes or coughs and can enter the mouths and noses of people who are close by. It can also be inhaled into the lungs. It is also possible that it can be transmitted when people touch a surface of something that has the virus on it and then touch their nose, mouth, and possibly their eyes.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases range from mild symptoms to severe sickness and death and include fever, coughing and shortness of breath.
Health officials stress the importance of washing your hands above all with soap and water or an alcohol-based solution. Other obvious but important actions include avoiding close contact with people who are sick, staying home when you are sick, covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects, and avoiding touching your mouth, nose and eyes.
Can the Coronavirus Affect Pets?
Though there has been a surge in the sales of dog face masks, the World Health Organization states there is no evidence that the COVID-19 strain of the coronavirus is transmittable to pets. Coronaviruses occur in almost all animals. Current strains in dogs are canine respiratory coronavirus, canine enteric coronavirus, and pantropic canine coronavirus. Cats can carry feline enteric coronavirus and feline infectious peritonitis. These strains can produce mild diarrhea, weight loss and lethargy. Since coronaviruses tend to be species-specific, transmission between different species is a rare occurrence. This is because the viruses have adapted to their specific host/species over many tens of thousands of years and jumping from one species to another requires genetic mutation which is a very slow process.
That said, CNN reported yesterday (February 27), that Hong Kong authorities have taken a dog into quarantine after a “weak” positive test but with “no relative symptoms.” While it might just be environmental contamination in the mouth, nose and anal areas, the dog is being held until it can be definitively proved that it has actually been infected.
Will the Coronavirus Affect Pet Product Quality and Availability?
Beyond the health effects of the coronavirus on pets, there are other considerations to think about when preparing your pet for a coronavirus outbreak. An important one is the effect of COVID-19 on pet product contamination. The other is the potential for a reduction in the availability of pet products through global supply chains.
Regarding import contamination, the FDA has announced that “there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods, including food and drugs for humans and pets, and there have not been any cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. associated with imported goods.”
The question of availability is a more complicated one due to the complexity of global supply chains. While only 18% of the pet food imported into the US comes from China, there are other ingredients in pet food that also could be coming from China, therefore slowing down the processing of food in the US and impacting the quantity that will be available. These ingredients include synthetic vitamins and minerals, as well as starches, corn gluten meal and dextrose, among others.
James P. Zallie, president of Ingredion, a company that produces animal nutrition ingredients among other products, told Food Business News, which is a sister publication of Pet Food Processing, that they are seeing signs that the COVID-19 is impacting their business. They have two plants approximately 500 miles from Wuhan, ground zero for the outbreak, that are slowing down due to “mandatory quarantines and the availability of labor.”
More importantly, perhaps, is the perception here in the United States. It is easy to foresee a scenario in which pet owners rush to buy products off the shelves before a perceived shortage occurs. Also, while it’s too early to tell whether the coronavirus will get to the point when people start avoiding public places such as stores and marketplaces, it’s still a good idea to prepare for that eventuality and get essential products for your family and pets ahead of time.
What Steps Can You Take Preparing Your Pet for a Coronavirus Outbreak?
The key is not to panic. Being informed, sensible, and prudent and is the best and most responsible approach. If you want to take steps to be ready now, we suggest you stock up on your pets’ food and medications to ensure that you won’t be caught empty handed.
Amazon, already worried about the coronavirus’s affect on Prime Day (officially the week of Monday, July 13), has demoted sellers that are out of inventory from China. It also has been stock-piling Chinese-made products so they will have a steady supply in the coming months. While you shouldn’t have a problem getting basic items, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get some extra food until you can get a better handle on how the virus plays out. More importantly, make sure you have a lasting supply of your pets’ medications and preventives.
Chewy also has a wide selection of pet food and an on-line pharmacy and offers 30% off on the first shipment. And, for an easy way to keep geographic track of the coronavirus, you can visit https://coronavirus.app/ to see how many people have been affected in specific locations.
Whatever you decide to do, planning ahead is the best medicine when it comes to preparing your pet for a coronavirus outbreak.