Johnstown Veterinary Associates

Dr. Fayez Assad, left, of Johnstown Veterinary Associates, 215 Messenger St. in Johnstown, examines “Butch” a 3-year-old pitbull, with help from the dog's owner, Brett Fickler of Johnstown, on Thursday, March 19, 2020.

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Veterinarians are asking pet owners to refrain from stopping in during the coronavirus pandemic, except in cases of emergencies.

Limiting public access to ensure the health of staff is a common theme for animal clinics and humane societies.

"Our community health is what's most important, so we are asking our clients to postpone bringing their pets in unless it's urgent," Johanna Vena said at Cambria Veterinary Care. "We are doing as much by phone and ahead of time as we can."

Veterinarian Fayez Assad said his care center, Johnstown Veterinary Associates, is postponing electives such as nail-clippings and ear-cleanings, while staff have stepped up cleaning.

There's no research showing that companion animals can spread COVID-19 to humans, though Assad said veterinarians have been treating other strains of the virus in pets, such as dogs and cats, for a long time.

He explained that an intestinal variation of the coronavirus that can be prevalent in close feline populations will cause illness in the animals but can't be passed to humans.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are rare cases of a coronavirus strain originating in animals and passing to humans – such as severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome.

It's suspected that COVID-19 did begin with an animal, and mutated in humans. But now the virus is being passed from person to person, so there is little concern of pets spreading it.

"A pet would not likely be a source of infection," Vena said.

It's much more likely for someone to contract this strain of the coronavirus from a hard, smooth surface, she said.

There is a possibility that the virus can live for some time on a pet's fur, and a person can contract it that way, but Assad and Vena said this is unlikely.

Shelters and humane societies are also taking steps to limit possible exposure to coronavirus for staff and volunteers.

The Humane Society of Cambria County is working on an appointment-basis only, Executive Director Jessica Vamos said.

Vamos said her staff have seen a bit of a decrease in adoption inquires, but a positive aspect of the situation is that the staff aren't seeing an increase in intake either.

She advised pet owners to remember to take care of their animals like any other member of the family and said there may be other positives derived from the quarantine.

"Right now might be a great time to adopt," Vamos said.

Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.

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