You probably already know the ins-and-outs of how to protect yourself from COVID-19 when it comes to dealing with other human beings. If you do have to be around people, don’t get too close, wear a mask, and try to stay outside. But, having a friendly dog can make those interactions tricker. After all, many dog owners have been dragged across the street to meet a new fuzzy friend and their owner, whether they like it or not.
One study recently published in Environmental Research found that pet owners who take their dogs on walks have a 78 percent higher chance of catching COVID-19 compared to pup-less peers in a survey of over 2000 people. That’s higher than even that of people still going onsite to work.
These results on their own can be a little confusing, or even misleading. And while it might seem like Fido is a secret slobbery superspreader, it’s important to first remember that while dogs can get infected by COVID-19, it’s rarer than we think, says Jason Stull, a professor at Atlantic Veterinary College and The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine who studies diseases that spread between animals and people. It’s even less likely that puppers can get infectious and start spreading the disease to humans through boops and kisses.
Cats and groups like ferrets are more likely to give humans COVID-19, but not necessarily dogs, says Stull. “Dogs seem to be the least likely to be able to spread the virus further.”
What we may be looking at is that people who have dogs fall along similar socioeconomic lines, or even interact with their environment differently than people without dogs, says Stull. “There have been other studies about how pet owners differ from non-pet owners,” he adds. “Generally, it’s a lot more than just the pet.”
If you are out and about walking your dog, popping into the groomers, playing in the park, or dropping pets off at daycare, that’s probably where the risk comes in. If you don’t have a pet, lockdown without constant potty breaks or jaunts through the neighborhood can be even more contained. So before you jump to conclusions about your dog’s role in COVID-19 spread, it’s probably wiser just to walk through all those human things we do for our pups and be sure we are following all the necessary protocol.
However, Stull says, we should still be cautious about our dog’s hygiene. But before you go out finding pet-friendly paw sanitizer or sewing puppy masks, the first step is to think about treating your dog as an extension of your family. If your kids aren’t going to daycare or school, it’s time to hold off on playdates and training classes for your dogs. If you’re not going to parties or gatherings with friends and family, then the dog park and multi-puppy hangs should also be off-limits.
“If we’re self-isolating, your pet should be self-isolating with you,” Stull says.
But in the same way that we still can snuggle and be close with the direct members of our household, like our spouses, roommates, kids, and so on, we can still definitely get cozy with our cuddly creatures. After all, about 63 million American households are also home to a dog, and over two-thirds of the US population has some sort of pet we call part of the family. So definitely don’t stop loving on your creatures, just make sure that you are being the most responsible pet parent you can be.