FAIR LAWN, NJ – In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, many local pet owners may be wondering how their furry friends will be affected?

With social distancing and self-quarantines becoming the new normal in many homes, there may be confusion about whether you can play with your dog or cuddle with your cat, local vets say.

Go ahead, they say. But if you’re feeling under the weather, it’s best to limit contact with Fido or Fluffy.

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“There’s no need to separate from your pet if you’re feeling well. Act normal! Love them and squeeze them,” said Dr. Ben Goldstein, a veterinarian at Meisels Animal Hospital in Elmwood Park. “For a healthy person, there’s no reason why they can’t be around their pet. They lower our blood pressure and can help calm us down.”

To date, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19. There’s also currently no evidence that shows pets can spread the virus, according to the CDC and World Health Organization.

Coronavirus, a potentially fatal respiratory illness, is believed to have originated from exotic animal food markets in Wuhan, China. However, domestic dogs and cats do not appear to be carriers.

It’s still a concern, local vets say.

Dr. Kristi Gannon, a veterinarian at Oradell Animal Hospital in Paramus, said they’ve fielded several questions from clients recently regarding how to care for their pets during the outbreak. The hospital has received enough inquires to train its phone operators on how to handle basic questions, she added.

“So far, other than one suspected canine in Hong Kong, which turned out to a weak negative, there have been no canines or felines infected,” she said. “There’s also no evidence that pets can become infected or spread to other animals or humans.”

Goldstein said they’ve also received a lot of inquiries.

“Mostly people are asking ‘Can I give my cat or dog the coronavirus?’” Goldstein said. “We’ve been recommending that people play it safe if they’re sick – don’t nuzzle and snuggle your pets, just in case the virus particles get on their coat.”

If that happened, it could potentially be transmitted to another member of your household, Goldstein said.

There’s no solid evidence that animals can carry the virus, but they still may be fomites, which are surfaces that can transmit disease, both vets said.

Gannon said, “There’s just a minimal risk. The virus tends to live on hard surfaces, not porous surfaces. But, for safety reasons, it could be potential source, so it’s best to practice common sense hygiene, like washing your hands before and after you interact with your pet.”

Dr. Dennis Sepulveda of the Veterinary Wellness Center of Glen Rock is also urging caution.

“There’s a lot of unknowns right now,” he said.

“In Hong Kong, there were two dogs that tested weak positive. It looks like it doesn’t get transmitted to dogs, but the advice the AVMA has given says that if the owner has any symptoms or tests positive, they should have another family member take care of their pet for two weeks,” Sepulveda said.

As of Monday, there were 61 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Bergen County and at least 178 statewide, according to the state health department.  Three New Jersey residents have died from the virus, including a 69-year-old man from Little Ferry and a 90-year-old Saddle Brook resident.

As people generally become increasingly anxious or worried amid the crisis, Gannon urged pet owners to look to their furry friends for stress relief.

“They bring us comfort and keep our mind off things. I think it’s important that pet owners not give into fear and take the precautions recommended.”

As COVID-19 continues to spread, the CDC, as well as the American Veterinary Medical Association, have been issuing regular updates regarding animals and the virus, which Gannon said are good resources that pet owners should check periodically. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/animals.html  https://www.avma.org/sites/default/files/2020-03/covid-19-faq-pet-owners.pdf

What Pet Owners Should Know

If you have been infected with coronavirus, you should restrict contact with pets, just like you would around other people.

While there’s no reports of pets or other animals becoming sick, it is still recommended people stricken with COVID-19 limit interactions with animals until more information is known about the virus.

When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick.

If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a facemask.

Don’t buy face masks for your pets, Sepulveda said. “Some people, because of panic, started buying face masks for dogs, but we don’t advise that at this point because it can cause problems, if anything. Masks can be tight and make it hard for a dog to breathe,” he said.

Pet owners are also being urged to include their fluffy friends in emergency preparedness plan to put into action in the event of a mandated self-quarantine or any other reason you can’t leave home for a certain amount of time.

A 30-day supply of medication, food and other supplies, like kitty litter, is ideal, Goldstein said.

“We don’t know what the situation will be – whether pet store hours will change or if there will be exposure in the store. And if there’s exposure of the virus at the store, how long it’ll be shut down to allow for cleaning. We just recommend a 30-day supply to be on the safe side,” he said.

Gannon advised people consider concerns about how the growing outbreak will affect the supply chain and to “take stock now” of what’s in your house and “order as early as you can.”

Sepulveda said, “This may be overkill, but it’s a good idea to have a folder with all of the information on your pet – vaccinations and previous medical history, so if you need to evacuate the area, you’re ready to go.”

“Sometimes with situations like this, people say ‘Oh it’ll be fine, nothing will happen,’ but then something can happen suddenly and you aren’t prepared. A lot of people wait for the last minute, but it’s best to plan ahead of time and make sure your pets are up to vaccination, microchipped and you have all the documentation in one place, like a binder, that you can take in the event you have to leave.”

As for the change in many family’s routines now that parents and kids are home more? Goldstein said your pets may be a little confused first but thrilled you’re there.

He said, “When it comes to most pets, they are very here in the now, so for them it’s an exciting moment because you’re home.”