Coronavirus: a time to stand by our pets.

While we struggle to combat this terrible virus our companion pets will need all the support we can give them over the next few months because through no fault of their own, they could be subjected to wide ranging and long-lasting negative welfare implications. It is important that we do not succumb to misinformation and paranoia over the risks of transmission of the virus from them.

Most scientists appear to support the notion that there is no compelling evidence animals can pass the virus to humans even though this pandemic apparently began with a jump from animals into humans because of the unsanitary conditions in Asian markets and of cultural eating habits. But human nature being what it is, many of us are quick to panic.

Asian wet market showing live seafood.
The animal to human contagion that caused the pandemic is believed to be linked to Asian wet markets.

Some pet owners around the world are allegedly abandoning or killing their pets. There have been lurid reports of Chinese owners throwing dogs and cats to their deaths from the balconies of high rise apartments through fear of being infected by them after media news that a dog, a cat and a tiger supposedly tested positive. Cats have been particularly singled out as being able to transfer the virus on their fur which could potentially cause a backlash towards them.

Pets and animal charities face long term effects from the pandemic.

With most animal rescues temporarily closed to adopters, the unlucky inmates face even longer incarceration and with staff numbers and visitors reduced to just essential workers, may suffer mentally from isolation from human contact. Some shelters have seen an increase in demand for pets from people seeking companionship during their enforced stay at home and are taking the opportunity to offload as many animals as possible. There is criticism that this is misguided and many fear that when everyone returns to their normal routine it could add to an even bigger influx of unwanted animals.

Unwanted dog, rescue dog
Many animals will have to remain in shelters for months longer due to coronavirus restrictions and may suffer stress and anxiety through lack of visitors and attention.

Not a time to consider renouncing our pets.

At any given time there are always thousands of owners looking to rehome their unwanted pets and with no facilities to take them to owners may take the easy way out resulting in a scenario of mass abandonment. The aftermath will be stray cat and dog populations increasing in many countries and a backlog for many months to come. This could result in increased euthanasia due to lack of space particularly in countries with high rates already such as the USA and Canada.

Animal welfare and rescue charities are already suffering a huge reduction in income and the present climate is not ideal for fund raising appeals when so many humans are suffering hardship. The major animal charities with their much criticised large contingency funds will no doubt continue to function adequately, while those with their hand to mouth approach to funding may well struggle to survive or even close permanently leading to more pressure on the larger charities.

Lions, Kruger national park
The lions of Kruger national park take the opportunity of the coronavirus lockdown to take an undisturbed nap on the roads. Photo: Richard Sowry

While wildlife may not be missing us one bit, but our companion pets are seeing a lot more of us, particularly those once home alone. They are getting the bonus of 24/7 attention from owners, although they shouldn’t get too accustomed to it.

Author: John Brookland

John Brookland has been passionate about animals from an early age and has always been more concerned about their individual health and well-being than any scientific or zoological interest. During his long and varied career in animal welfare in the U.K. and worldwide, he has unfortunately witnessed most of the horrors of animal cruelty there is to see and has gained extensive insight into animal welfare issues. On leaving school he trained as an RSPCA clinic assistant in London and later was manager of one of their veterinary hospitals and an animal centre. He was Chief Inspector and manager of the Bahamas Humane Society in Nassau and spent time in Trinidad advising on a humane stray dog control service, before becoming a deputy manager and animal health inspector at Heathrow's Animal Quarantine Centre. He then travelled the world for a conservation group investigating the capture and transport of wildlife for the pet trade and was an honorary consultant to the IUCN and CITES. He is now retired and still travelling the world with his partner to view wildlife and wild places and writing a blog and books on animals.