Brooklyn Boro

Can my dog get coronavirus? A vet answers.

April 6, 2020 Scott Enman
The Great Pupkin Dog Costume Contest. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
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With more questions than answers right now surrounding COVID-19, many dog owners are wondering whether their pooches can carry the virus on their fur, and what tips they should follow when walking their canines on the street.

Dr. Brett Levitzke, medical director of the Veterinary Emergency & Referral Group and parent of two pups, recommends taking your dog on shorter walks, using routes where the sidewalks are wide enough to maintain social distancing, and going out during off-hours when you’ll be less likely to run into other owners and their pets.

“People going out and getting fresh air and walking their dogs is excellent, but they have to be smart about it,” he said. “Maybe don’t go for that prolonged walk, certainly don’t go to dog runs where people are going to congregate.

“We as the humans have to be very smart about our protocols with our pets because they’re going to go out and follow you wherever you go.”

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In an effort to prevent dogs and their owners from gathering, the New York City Parks Department announced on Monday that it was closing all dog runs.

Brooklyn veterinarian Brett Levitzke. Photo: VERG Brooklyn

Levitzke said that veterinarians do not currently believe that dogs can contract coronavirus, but with so much still unknown about the disease, that could change.

“It’s a common question amongst people. Can my dog get it? The answer so far is no,” he said. “There have been a couple of odd sporadic cases where dogs have tested positive, but the thought process is that they’ve been around their owners who have been shedding a high virus load.

“When you swab the nose and throat of the dog, you’re getting some of these. The thought it still currently that dogs do not get this, but that can certainly change. We’re keeping a close eye on it.”

A tiger did test positive for coronavirus at the Bronx Zoo, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Sunday. It is thought to be the first confirmed case of an animal contracting the disease in America, according to the Associated Press. Six other tigers and lions at the zoo are also showing symptoms consistent with the illness.

The Great Pupkin Dog Costume Contest. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
A dog owner shows off her pet’s Elton John costume. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn eagle

Levitzke said the virus can live on the fur of dogs, but it’s not yet known whether a person can contract the disease from petting a dog. Regardless, he said the best advice is to use good hand hygiene. Do not under any circumstance use cleaning products on a pet, he said.

“I can’t stress enough, they should not spray things like bleach or cleaners on them because it can cause pretty significant problems,” he said.

Cobble Hill resident Judy Blank, 73, said she has started taking her dog Barney out at off-hours so as to avoid other animals and their owners.

“A few weeks ago it had gotten very stressful because people suddenly weren’t at work when I was walking the dog,” she said. “I found myself stepping into the street all the time with him so I didn’t have to walk right past people. It was not relaxing.

“Now, I don’t take him out as much and there aren’t as many people. It’s fine, but the poor guy doesn’t get the walks he’s used to and my arm is getting tired from throwing his ball and squeak toy all day long for him.”

A dog receives a blessing at the Blessing of the Animals ceremony at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn Heights. Photo: Mark Davis/Brooklyn Eagle

When she sees neighbors that know Barney, their first instinct is still to pet him, which has led to some awkward interactions.

“One person did pat him on the head, and I had to finally say ‘please stop,’” she said.

Kate Chura, executive director of the Montague Street Business Improvement District, told the Brooklyn Eagle that no surface gets left un-wiped after she comes in from walking her dog Wiley.

“I wipe down everything before it crosses the threshold,” she said. “Wipes and a box cutter are on my welcome mat. Even my dog Wiley gets [an] all-four-paw-cleaning after a walk.”

Co-ops have also begun implementing their own set of rules for dog walkers. For example, some buildings have said that dog walkers must remain in the lobby and that owners should bring their pets down to them.

David Weeks, with his dog Milo, says the proposal to construct a BQE bypass was “so harsh.” Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
David Weeks strolls on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with his dog Milo. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

But with most New Yorkers forced to stay at home, dog walkers have become less necessary, and many doggie daycares, like Monster Mutt in Cobble Hill, have been forced to shut down during the pandemic.

Levitzke recommended that people with the virus stay in quarantine, away from his or her dog, as well as their family members. For owners who live alone with their pooch, however, that may not be possible, in which case, he recommended practicing good hygiene.

Ultimately, Levitzke said it’s up to owners to take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the disease to other humans and their pets.

“We really need to be strict about enforcing these rules ourselves because our dogs are social; they’re not going to follow the rules,” he said.

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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