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Guidance on COVID-19 for Guide Dog Users

By Dr. Dolores Holle, Seeing Eye Director of Canine Medicine & Surgery

I know that many are concerned about the possibility of dogs acting as a fomite (an object that can carry infection like a door handle or a railing) and putting their owners at risk for COVID19. I thought I might put that concern into perspective, and I reached out and asked an expert in the field of infectious disease to help me with that.

J. Scott Weese, DVM DVSc DipACVIM, is a veterinary internist and microbiologist, and a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. He is a Professor at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, and a Zoonotic Disease/Public Health Microbiologist at the University of Guelph’s Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses. He is also Chief of Infection Control at the Ontario Veterinary College Teaching Hospital and holds a Canada Research Chair in zoonotic diseases. Dr. Weese has authored or co-authored over 200 papers in peer reviewed journals, edited two books, and speaks extensively on infectious disease topics. (From lakeridgehealth.on.ca)

Dr. Weese said that “The key thing to remember is that if a dog is contaminated, it got it from a person that it was in close contact with, so most likely that would be you, or someone in your family. If people with guide dogs just do their best to keep people from touching their dogs, that’s all I’d do. The risk of random aerosol deposition on the dog during walking is basically zero.” 

I mentioned that people were asking about washing their dog’s feet when they came in from a walk and Dr. Weese pointed out that we don’t wash our shoes, and yet we all touch them multiple times a day.

Dr. Weese went on to reinforce the basic concept of social distancing, and hand hygiene, “not incessantly but routinely”.  The risk for dogs being allowed to roam neighborhoods with their owners having no idea where they have been, or who might have touched them, is a very different story than the guide dog who is with his or her partner 24/7.

Also, you might have heard of lions and tigers at the Bronx Zoo testing positive. This did not come as a surprise to Dr. Weese. He had anticipated that cats (large and small) might be able to be infected with this virus. These cats were infected by an asymptomatic human who, as their caretaker, was in close contact with them. So, here again, the cats weren’t the threat to the human, the human brought disease to the cats.  It has been recommended that in any home where there is a known COVID19 positive human, the animals in the household should be kept separate from that person as should the rest of the household. This is because certain species of pets may be susceptible to the virus. There is much that we do not yet know on this front, but to date there is no evidence that pets can transmit the virus to humans.

Wash your hands after a massage or grooming session with your dog, and remember that’s always a good practice anyway. But, by all means, feel free to hug and pet your dogs. We all need affection during this time of social isolation.

My thoughts and prayers are with you, your families, and of course your dogs as always.