• Naomi Head

Pets and the coronavirus: debunking the myths with the ICVS

Originally published February 2 2020 for Time Out Beijing Family

ICVS founder Mary Peng talks about protecting your pets and debunking COVID-19 rumours

Despite reassurance from the World Health Organization, there are still fears among the general public that pets could spread COVID-19. We speak with Mary Peng, CEO and founder of the International Center for Veterinary Services (ICVS), to debunk some of the myths and put these worries to bed.

Hi Mary, thanks for speaking with us. Please tell us a bit about yourself and ICVS.

My name is Mary Peng, I am the CEO and founder of the International Center for Veterinary Services (ICVS). I am Chinese-American but I have been living in China since 1991. I founded ICVS because in 1995 I adopted my first cat in China but couldn’t find adequate veterinary health services anywhere in the country.

ICVS was founded in 2006 and is the first international standard full-service, wholly-owned foreign enterprise (WOFE) animal hospital in China. ICVS is the pioneering animal hospital for companion animals in the country, this includes cats, dogs, turtles, rabbits and other domesticated animals.

In the 1990's and early 2000's, well before the Beijing Olympics in 2008, there were almost no services for domestic animals and the veterinary world was dominated by livestock medicine. ICVS offers services that take care of all aspects of companion animal health, from checkups and vaccinations to diagnostics and surgery.

ICVS veterinarian, Dr Kang, performs an examination on a rabbit patient

There is news of people abandoning their pets out of fear that they can carry COVID-19. Is there any possibility of pets carrying these viruses?

As with SARS in 2003, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that domesticated animals can contract COVID-19. The new coronavirus is a mutation strain that is believed to have crossed over from wildlife into humans, but there is no evidence that the new coronavirus has jumped into any domesticated animal species such as dogs or cats.

As with the SARS outbreak, the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus mutated and jumped into the human species from wildlife that were hunted and consumed on occasion by humans.

The SARS coronavirus was traced to bats who passed a mutation strain of the coronavirus to another wildlife animal, the civet, which became the amplifying host that transmitted what is now known as the SARS virus to humans. Bats, like civets, are not part of an average human’s diet and so the SARS and now the COVID-19 strains of the coronavirus were given the environment in which to mutate and jump into the human species as a result of our encroachment into wildlife habitats and our trapping and consumption of these animals.

ICVS veterinarian, Dr Li, performs an examination on a feline patient

How can we protect ourselves and our pets during the quarantine?

There is no scientific basis for claims of domestic animals such as dogs and cats, spreading COVID-19 as these species are not known to be able to contract the coronavirus. But if you are worried, practice the same kind of hygiene practices as you would with people. For example, people usually remove their shoes when they enter their homes. Similarly, keep some non-fragranced baby wipes or a washcloth by your door and clean your pets’ feet as they come into your home. This will prevent them from tracking in dirt and any other unwanted contaminants.

Also, ensuring your dog license and your pet vaccinations are up to date is one of the best ways to protect your pets during this uncertain time and at all times throughout the year.

Playful little dog White, available for adoption through the ICVS Non-Profit Pet Adoption Program

Is it legal for pets to be taken from their owners by housing associations or compound management?

A lot of Chinese housing associations and compound management authorities make their own rules and regulations. While it is not necessarily legal for these authorities to seize people’s pets, it is possible for them to do so regardless. The best way to protect your dogs is to register them with your local authority; cats do not need to be registered.

Dogs require an annual license and annual rabies vaccinations. Without these licenses and vaccination certificates, it is possible for the local Public Security Bureau and police to seize these animals because of legal violations. An unlicensed dog is legally classified as strays.

3-4 month-old 'Pudge'. She is also available for adoption via the ICVS Non-Profit Pet Adoption Program

Who can people call to report the seizure of their pets?

As stated before, without an up-to-date dog license, all unlicensed dogs are classed as strays. As such the police can seize and even destroy these animals. If you have up-to-date dog licenses and legal rabies vaccination certificates for your pet, you should report any unlawful activity to your local PSB and enlist the police to help you deal with any issues.

Unfortunately, policy changes from district to district in Beijing and if your dog is over 35cm from ground to shoulder you will have to make sure you are not in violation of the citywide policy that states no oversized dogs are allowed within the fifth ring road.

ICVS medical team with pet patients

Is there anything else you’d like to add for the Beijing community?

Practising preventative healthcare is the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 and other viruses such as the flu. Wash your hands regularly – especially after being in a public space, avoid touching your face, wear a mask in public spaces and maintain a good level of hygiene in and around your home. These are the best ways to prevent the transmission and contraction of the disease.

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