The Pet Impact: How Local Vets Are Dealing With COVID-19

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 Earlier this week, the Bronx Zoo announced that one of its tigers tested positive for COVID-19, the same strain of the virus currently impacting humans across the globe. The realization may have pet owners wondering how their furry friends may be impacted by coronavirus. The good news? There is no evidence that pets can spread the virus to humans. However, the case of the tiger and a few other findings around the world suggest that some animals can catch it from humans. We reached out to Rockaway’s local veterinarians at Rockaway Beach Veterinary Services and Animal Hospital of the Rockaways to address pet owners’ concerns and to discuss the ways they’re continuing to be there for Rockaway’s pets in these confusing and constantly-changing times.

Despite having to limit hours, staff and services, Howard Hollander, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and co-owner of Rockaway Beach Veterinary Services, and Dr. Shari Gaberman of the Animal Hospital of the Rockaways, are ensuring locals that they are here for Rockaway’s pets.

With news of the Bronx Zoo tiger spreading nationally, the number one question on pet owners’ minds may be—how will coronavirus affect my pet? With fears that misinformation may lead people to abandon animals, veterinarians want to make it clear—"You can’t get COVID-19 from your animals,” Dr. Gaberman said. “But they can get COVID from you.” Fortunately, according to findings, it appears that when animals do contract COVID-19, they are minimally impacted and not all animals may be at risk. “Dogs are not susceptible to this virus, however, recent articles suggest that cats are being affected. And though cats do contract the virus, the illness is very mild,” Dr. Hollander said. According to Dr. Gaberman, there is some evidence that dogs might not be in the clear. “Dogs can get it, but cats are more susceptible,” she said.

Note that other forms of coronavirus, not COVID-19, have been impacting cats for many years and can have more severe impacts. “Cats can get their own version of coronavirus. They can develop Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) from it and unfortunately, it’s a death sentence,” Dr. Gaberman said. But rest assured, this is not the COVID-19 that is currently impacting the world and mildly impacting animals in a very small number. Despite thousands of pet owners testing positive for COVID-19 around the world, there are only a tiny number of cases of domestic animals testing positive.

Both vets agree that in any event, precautions should be taken when a pet is present in the home of a person who has coronavirus, to keep them safe. “Care should be taken in houses that contain felines with sick people. Those who are sick shouldn’t be handling their pets and precautions should be taken,” Dr. Hollander said. “Social distancing is important. Everyone should wash their hands before coming in contact with their pets or pet items. They say not to kiss them or let them sleep with you. Have a plan in place. If you have coronavirus, maybe have another family member or friends take your pet temporarily,” Dr. Gaberman said. “And if they have symptoms, call us.” At the moment, local vets do not have a way to test animals for coronavirus, but there are ways to determine if it is a possibility. “If they have symptoms of lethargy and have a dry cough or trouble breathing, these may be symptoms. We’ll work them up for other possibilities, and if we don’t find anything, we’re assuming it’s coronavirus,” Dr. Gaberman said.

No matter what ailments may be facing pets, Rockaway’s vets are still here for the community. However, things are being done a little differently.

One major adjustment that veterinary offices have had to make is limiting contact with pet parents, but it isn’t keeping them from treating animals. With the exception of staff, both offices are no longer able to let people into their facilities, but they are accommodating their clients by offering drop-off services, where pets can be brought outside the office and given to a staff member to take inside for treatment. To keep owners at ease, staff provide updates by phone. At RBVS, clients can pay for the services on the sidewalk, and at the Animal Hospital, only credit card payments are being accepted at this time.

As coronavirus impacts staff, both offices are functioning at limited capacity and have had to limit some services and hours. “Right now, probably half of our staff members are out with either illnesses related to the virus, or because they have a loved one at home with the virus, so we’re taking precautions,” Dr. Hollander said. At the Animal Hospital, while they usually have two doctors working each day, they are now limited to one. “We don’t have our surgeon right now because Dr. Rogoff is stuck in Arizona. He went on vacation before this started and is now unable to return,” Dr. Gaberman explained.

With limited staff and due to requirements by the state, both offices have had to limit services. Both offices are limited to treating sick animals and are providing any necessary vaccines. Both have had to cancel scheduled surgeries and are referring patients to other facilities for those services. Like human grooming, pet grooming services are also now on hold.

Opening hours have been impacted for both offices. As we go to press, RBVS is taking appointments on Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends. The Animal Hospital did have to close for 72 hours for a deep cleaning of the office, but are now operating on a general schedule of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Both offices are doing what they can to ensure that both their staff and animals remain safe. “We’re all wearing masks and gloves when handling animals. If any animal is coming from a sick home, and we do discourage that, we gown up and make sure we’re not exposing ourselves to unnecessary harm. But basically, gloves and masks are the norm from here on in,” Dr. Hollander said. At the Animal Hospital, gowns are now part of the regular process. “We’re wearing PPE for everything—gloves, masks and gowns. We have surgical masks and isolation gowns for all encounters with animals, it doesn’t matter what they’re here for,” Dr. Gaberman said.

During such trying times, veterinarians say that pets need their humans as much as humans need them. “It can be stressful for animals to be confined, so interaction between humans and animals, in a safe environment where no one is sick, is important,” Dr. Hollander said. “A lot of attention should be given to our pets right now.”

If your pet is ill or facing an emergency, don’t hesitate to contact your local veterinarian. The Animal Hospital of the Rockaways, located at 114-10 Beach Channel Drive, can be reached at 718-474-0500. Rockaway Beach Veterinary Services, located at 92-02 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, can be reached at 718-408-7287.

 By Katie McFadden

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