While doctors and health workers have valiantly front-lined the fight against the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), animal doctors haven’t exactly been idle during the quarantine, either, despite the closure or shortened operating hours of many veterinary clinics.
To ease the minds of fur parents out there, a young veterinarian decided to open a Facebook page offering free online consults. Within days, Pet First Aid, opened by Dr. Chrysobel “Cissy” P. Ramos, was inundated with questions—some from people who admittedly wouldn’t have been able to afford veterinary fees otherwise.
“When the quarantine started, I felt concerned about the welfare of the pets, and realized that pet parents had nowhere to go because most veterinary clinics were closed,” says Ramos.
“Given the situation globally, it looks like the quarantine won’t end soon, so I decided to independently establish the Pet First Aid FB group March 18.” A couple of days later, two of her friends, Dr. Harick Cuenca and Dr. Karina Bernert, joined in. Her sister, Teena, pitched in as one of the admins of the group, and even made the map of veterinary clinics and pet shops that are open during the quarantine period (https://tinyurl.com/openvetmap). The page has since been renamed Free Vet Consult, and now counts almost 5,000 members.
So what are the usual problems that people post about?
“Most common and nonurgent pet issues are about skin, vomiting, diarrhea and lapsed vaccinations,” says Ramos. “But some cases involved seizures and pets going into labor; for these, I recommend that the pet owner bring the dog or cat to the nearest ER (emergency room) immediately.”
Ramos, who works in a branch of a leading chain of veterinary clinics, has wanted to be a vet since she was young, she reveals. “My parents were animal lovers, so I think my love for animals was ingrained in me at an early age. We had dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, ducklings, turtles, aquarium fish, birds—our house was like a zoo! At our farm, our parents would always encourage us to feed the cow, chickens, pigs and goats.”
So here’s a concern we posed to Ramos: Is it okay to walk your dogs outside, even just near your house, in these times? Also, once and for all: Are dogs and cats immune to COVID-19?
“In these times, I don’t really think going outside is okay unless it is an emergency,” she says. “If the dog needs to be walked outside to do its business, pet owners should follow social distancing guidelines and take precautions, like disinfecting their shoes and washing their hands when they get home.”
Sanitizing the pet’s paws after a walk is also a good idea, especially if they are kept indoors; a gentle wipe with alcohol or a wash with mild soap will do. Nontoxic disinfectants may also work—and no, these do not include bleach, so put that Zonrox spray bottle down, please, no matter how diluted.
Ramos cites a news report that a cat in Belgium and two dogs and a cat in Hong Kong were infected by COVID-19. There was also recent news of a tiger in the Bronx Zoo that tested positive for the virus, with other big cats (and no other animals) showing signs of respiratory illness. “Public health officials believe the large cats became ill after being exposed to a zoo employee who was actively shedding virus,” reads the website of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
“The World Health Organization (WHO) says they’re isolated cases, however, and that the possibility of human-to-animal transmission is very small,” says Ramos. “In Belgium, a veterinary professional said that the poop of the cat that was tested was contaminated only because it was handled by the owner, who was a symptomatic COVID-19 positive patient. Still, the veterinary community is of the opinion that if the owner thinks that he or she has COVID-19, it is recommended that he or she limit contact with pets until more is known about the virus. Have somebody else take care of your pets temporarily while you’re in quarantine.”
As for animal to human infection, Ramos confirms, the WHO and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States agency that follows health issues, have declared that there is no evidence that dogs and cats can spread COVID-19 to people and other pets. “Infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations continue to agree that there is no evidence at this point to indicate that, under natural conditions, pets spread COVD-19 to people,” says the AVMA website. (Whew!)
Recently, the Facebook page was also unfortunately filled with comments from wannabe veterinarians offering unsolicited, sometimes iffy advice, which Ramos didn’t mince words in calling out. “I have set up simple rules for the members, and one of them is to refrain from giving medical advice if you’re not a veterinarian. I always tell them that experimenting on pets will do more harm than good. But there are some people who are pasaway and suggest things like medications they bought online or dangerous home remedies.”
The page recently took a short break—but they’re back now, to the relief of their virtual clients.
Any advice for people in general to keep their pets healthy during the lockdown?
“I think pet owners should get enough of—and not panic buy—their pet’s food and medicines, or at least keep track of their supplies during the lockdown. If the pet owners think that their pet is sick, they can ask us online or call their vets. Stay away from medications that were not prescribed or approved by your veterinarian.” INQ