Dear Doctor: Do dog owners have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19?


Q. I read in my local paper that regularly walking a dog increases the chances that you will get the coronavirus — by more than 70 percent. To say that statistic makes me uncomfortable is an understatement. I have to walk my dog no matter what, of course, but is it really true that I am much more likely to be infected with the virus than others?

Roberta Goff
Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Dear Ms. Goff,

A. It is true that a study published in the journal Environmental Research found that dog walkers are 78 percent more likely to contract COVID-19 than others. Researchers at Spain’s University of Granada made the finding when surveyed more than 2,000 people. But before you panic, take the following into consideration.

The survey was conducted during Spain’s initial lockdown in the very late winter and early spring of 2020. That means people simply were not going out as often, so those who did go out at least a couple of times a day with their dogs were not going to be as protected as many others.

In addition, less was known up front about how to protect yourself. For instance, the survey indicated that many people did not wear masks when leaving their homes. And the instruction to remain at least 6 feet apart from people you don’t live with was not as widespread yet. (The survey did not even ask whether people had been physically distancing from others.) In addition, half the COVID-19 cases in the survey were self-diagnosed; people decided they had the virus based on symptoms without getting confirmation via testing. It’s true that in many cases, the symptoms run a pretty typical course. But signs of this virus overlap with those of other viruses, so it’s not entirely clear who was truly afflicted.

The bottom line: while the research is useful up to a point, don’t use the results to flip out. If you take precautionary measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Veterinary Medical Association when walking your dog, your risk should remain quite low.

  • Don’t get closer than 6 feet to any other dog walker or other person out strolling.
  • Wear a mask; there’s a chance you might pass other people as you go.
  • Do not let other people pet your dog. (It’s hard to deny people — as well as your dog — but it’s safest.)
  • Do not pet other people’s dogs. (Also hard, but also safest.)
  • Do not touch your hands to your face until after washing them if you inadvertently touch another dog that is not your own.


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