Guest column: COVID-19 column needs reassessment

WSU vet med department wants to speak out on issues, inaccuracies with recent column



The effect of coronavirus on dogs is more nuanced than it appears.

CHARLIE POWELL, Guest columnist

The Oct. 22 Daily Evergreen opinion piece written by Jacqueline Maldonado-Hernandez titled “Protect dogs from COVID-19” contained an emotional risk assessment and errors that need correction.

In Maldonado-Hernandez’s piece, she compares working dogs trained to sniff out COVID-19 positive airline passengers with a privately-owned dog that became infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.  “Buddy” later died, and it is implied he died from COVID-19 acquired from his ill owner.

Buddy, according to bloodwork done prior to his euthanasia, died from lymphoma, not COVID-19, even though he was infected with the virus, too.  It is thought the previously undetected cancer may have made him susceptible to the infection.

A second dog in the same household, exposed to the same people who tested positive and transmitted it to Buddy, remained healthy.  Had the writer simply gone to the American Veterinary Medical Association website and searched for COVID-19, she could have easily found this out. Or how about contacting the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine for accurate information?

A natural SARS-CoV-2 virus infection in dogs is very rare, with less than two dozen cases worldwide, despite the vast number of COVID-19 patients who own dogs and keep them in their homes.  This is not true for other species, most notably mink and ferrets.

The fact that warm-blooded species of all types including humans can become infected to varying degrees with coronaviruses, SARS coronavirus, or the current SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is neither surprising nor unexpected.  A little research from legitimate sources would have provided the writer and editor with this knowledge.

As of Monday, 225,580 people have died with COVID-19 in the U.S. There are some 48,255,413 households in the U.S., and many own the resulting 77 million dogs. As of Sept. 15, 1,374 animals cohabitating with COVID-19 positive humans have been tested for SARS-CoV-2.  Only 3 percent were positive for the virus.  Only 1.4 percent of the positives were dogs, about 20 total.  Evidence that infection of dogs exposed to COVID-19 positive humans is rare.

Obviously, dogs do not normally get SARS-CoV-2 infections like humans do or veterinary medicine and public health agencies would be seeing far more cases and providing very different guidance to the public.

Interviewing undergraduates in non-science majors to support an opinion is fine. Why weren’t any disease experts interviewed for the facts, too?  Why no one from the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory right here on the Pullman campus?  This is the same laboratory that stood up one of the first SARS-CoV-2 tests for animals in March.

What happened with asking the American Veterinary Medical Association, U.S. Department of Agriculture/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the World Health Organization, or others about this disease?

Here is the advice from the AVMA regarding pets and COVID-19 in people, “If you are ill with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed with a test), restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just like you would with other people; have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick; avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding.”

The risk of a SARS-CoV-2 infection in a dog, whether working in service to society or kept as a pet, is very rare. Guidelines like that above actively protect our dogs well.

Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine.