While sheltering at home during this COVID-19 outbreak, many people are spending more time than usual with their pets. If you spend much time on social media you’ve seen the memes of pets who miss the privacy they usually enjoy when people are away.
But for some people, especially those who live alone, pets may provide much needed companionship and relief of stress and anxiety during this unsettling time.
To date, there is no evidence that pets can spread the virus (coronavirus) to people.CDC
When animals are more than pets
Dogs have been used to help visually impaired persons for hundreds of years, but now they and other animals assist people with other types of disabilities, as well as provide companionship and comfort.
Besides “guide dogs” who assist blind persons, other categories of animal helpers include
emotional support animals
An emotional support animal (ESA) is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit, such as alleviating or mitigating some symptoms of the disability, to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. Emotional support animals are typically dogs and cats, but may include other animals.
A service animal is any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.
Psychiatrist Dr. Vania Manipod, blogger at freud and fashion explains how these terms apply to psychiatric illnesses in her blog post here-
In the United States, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets, livestock, or wildlife, might be a source of COVID-19 infection at this time. However, because all animals can carry germs that can make people sick, it’s always a good idea to practice healthy habits around pets and other animals.CDC
The Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, “requires State and local government agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations (covered entities) that provide goods or services to the public to make “reasonable modifications” in their policies, practices, or procedures when necessary to accommodate people with disabilities. The service animal rules fall under this general principle.”
Other countries may have different laws so if you plan to travel abroad with your animal assistant, you should check the laws for your destination prior to arrival to avoid any problems with your animal’s entry or departure.
Remember that animal assistants are not just pets, they are working; so we should not distract them or interfere with their duties when we encounter them, as this report warns.
The Veteran’s Health Administration uses horses to help veterans deal with PTSD.
I know from my own experience with rescued Arabians, who as a breed have a reputation of being easily excited, that they help me be calm and unhurried around them. It is almost as if they provide me with biofeedback and reflect back to me what my own degree of tension might be.Dr. Hans Duvefelt
Read more at his blog “A Country Doctor Writes”
And for some veterans, “living with wolves” saves their lives.
If you are sick with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed), you should restrict contact with pets and other animals, just like you would around other people. Although there have been no reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. This can help ensure both you and your animals stay healthy.CDC
For more information about pets and COVID-19, talk to your pet’s veterinarian and refer to the CDC website for recommendations.
And a resource from the American Medical Veterinary Association