AVA President Julia Crawford video message: companion animals and COVID-19

21 Mar 2020

AVA President Dr Julia Crawford has released a video message today, regarding the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for Australian pet owners and veterinarians. 

Dr Crawford has provided much needed up to date information, guidance and above all assurance in what is a rapidly evolving situation.

Dr Crawford stated all current evidence supports the fact that the spread of COVID-19 in the human population is due to close human to human contact and that there is no evidence that pets are capable of spreading the disease to humans.  The reported case of the 17-year-old Pomeranian dog in Hong Kong that had initially been suspected of contracting the virus after contact with an infected human, has since been shown, by follow up testing, to not have any measurable antibodies to the virus.

As yet, it is unclear whether the dog was truly infected or not. Dr Crawford appealed to all pet owners to not do anything rash that would compromise the welfare of their pet during the current situation.

On Thursday 18 March 2020, sadly it was reported that the aged Pomeranian had died 2 days after returning home. There are no reports that the dog was unwell at any time during its stay, or on release. The Hong Kong government department has stressed there is currently no evidence that pet animals can be a source of infection or that they can become sick from this virus.

A second dog in Hong Kong which was also in close contact with an infected owner has since tested positive to the genetic material from the virus.  Like the first dog, this dog has not displayed any clinical signs consistent with infection. There continues to be no evidence of transmission from dogs to humans, or from dogs to other dogs. The main risk of infection remains human to human contact.

Dr Crawford’s advice for Australian pet owners who find themselves quarantined with their pets was that, so long as they minimise close contact with their pet and practice good hand hygiene before and after handling their pets, there was no risk to human or pet from being in contact during this period.

Dr Crawford also gave quarantined pet owners guidance around how to safely access veterinary care for their animal whilst they were in quarantine.  She stressed the absolute need for pet owners to make phone contact with their veterinarian before they do anything, to enable veterinarians to make appropriate and safe arrangements for examining and treating sick animals.

Quarantined pet owners who break quarantine to attend a veterinary clinic seriously risk compromising the health and welfare of veterinary clinic staff and anyone else they come into close contact with.

Dr Crawford explained that recent reported cases of Coronavirus infection in greyhounds and cats were most definitely not due to the COVID-19 strain of virus and that these infections had been seen and well managed by vets for many years.  She once again reiterated that these diseases of animals are totally unrelated to the COVID-19 situation and pose no discernible risk to human health. 

In closing Dr Crawford emphasised the importance of pet owners following good hygiene procedures around hand washing and the need to follow all instructions from public health officials.  Dr Crawford’s final message to the public was that the Australian Veterinary Association and its members are fully committed to keeping pet welfare a top priority during the rapidly evolving COVID-19 outbreak.

Key points:

  • There have been two dogs in Hong Kong who have tested positive to COVID-19

  • This was due to close contact with their owners who had COVID-19.

  • Neither of these dogs showed any sign of illness

  • There is no evidence that dogs play any role in human infection

  • If you are in quarantine, please keep your pet with you. However, minimise close contact and please wash your hands before and after handling your pet or its food and water bowls.

  • If you are in quarantine and your pet becomes unwell, please contact your veterinarian by phone. DO NOT attend the clinic without ringing first.

  • Please do not do anything to compromise your pet’s welfare. Your veterinarian can talk to you on the phone about any concerns you may have.

For further information and requests for interviews contact the AVA media office on 0439 628 898 or media@ava.com.au.

The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) is the only national association representing veterinarians in Australia. Founded in 1921, the AVA today represents 9000 members working in all areas of animal science, health, and welfare.

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