COVID-19 And Pets
By Robert Skidmore, DVM
Artwork courtesy of malianicole.com
Sources of current coronavirus information related to pets/animals:
The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (www.cdc.gov)
World Health Organization (WHO) (www.who.int)
American Veterinary Medical Assocition (www.avma.org)
Veterinary Information Network (www.vin.com)
Worms and Germs Blog (www.wormsandgermsblog.com)
COVID-19 is the name of the illness caused by a novel corona virus named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) first detected in Wuhan, China.
Can pets become infected with SARS-CoV-2?
It appears that they can be infected. There is now evidence that cats, ferretts, hamsters and dogs have some susceptibility. Cats, ferretts and hamsters have the potential to become ill.
A cat belonging to a person with COVID-19 in Belgium was found to have viral RNA in the feces and vomit. This cat developed respiratory and gastrointestinal signs about a week after the owner developed symptoms. A cat in Hong Kong tested positive for the virus which was found in oral, nasal and rectal swabs. This cat did not develop any clinical signs of disease. Two cats in New York have tested positive. They are from different households and thought to have been infected by a human with COVID-19. But only one of the owners was confirmed to have COVID-19. A sampling of cats in Wuhan, China found that 11% of cats had antibodies to SARS-CoV-2. Several lions and tigers in New York tested positive for the virus and developed coughing and reduced appetite. They are thought to have become infected from a zoo employee with COVID-19.
Two dogs in Hong Kong reportedly were infected with the virus from their COVID-19 positive owners. Neither dog showed any symptoms of disease.
Livestock (pigs, chickens, etc.): At this time, livestock has not been found to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2.
Can a pet infected with the virus transmit it to other pets?
There is only limited experimetnal evidence that ferretts, cats, and hamsters can spread infection to the same species. Dogs have not shown the ability to transmit the virus to other dogs at this time.
Can a pet infected with SARS-CoV-2 transmit the virus to people?
To date, there have not been any reports of virus transmission from a companion animal to a human. All transmission in humans have been person-to-person. The risk of transmission from pets to people is considered low. However, veterinarians and veterinary staff may be at a somewhat increased risk due to contact with pets from COVID-19 positive households. There is considerable uncertainty as to the ability of a pet to shed virus in sufficient quntities to infect a human either by bodily secrections or acting as a fomite (a surface such as the coat or fur contaminated with the virus). The AVMA has stated that it is very unlikey a person could become infected with the virus by playing or petting with a pet, but because animals can spread other diseases, it is advisable to practice hand washing after contact with pets.
What should people with COVID-19 do about their pets?
If you or someone in your household is COVID-19 positive, take the same precautions you would with the pets as you would other people in the home. Avoid close contact (petting, kissing, letting the pet lick you, etc.) with the pet. Practice good handwashing habits and avoid coughing/sneezing around the pet. If possible, have another member of the household takeover care of the pet. If this is not possible, wear gloves and face masks when there has to be contact with the pet, feeding, cleaning bowls, etc.. These practices are likely more important with cats and ferretts since they can develop symptoms if infected. The pet should be quarantined to the home environment as long as the human. It is reasonable to assume that if it is safe for the human after two weeks, it is also safe for the pet.
Can I have my pet tested for SARS-CoV-2?
Most animal diagnostic laboratories are not set up for virus testing. And since transmission from animals to people does not seem to occur, labs will probably not be offering this service anytime soon.
Can I take my pet to the vet if I have COVID-19?
If possible, have someone else take the animal to the clinic and let the staff know that the pet is coming from a household with the virus. If you must take the pet in, call the clinic and let them know so appropriate safeguards can be taken. It may be that the visit can wait until the self-quarantine time is over; your veterinarian can help you decide if your pet needs to be seen right away or not.
The AVMA current recommendations regarding SARS-CoV-2 and animals:
Animal owners without symptoms of COVID-19 should continue to practice good hygiene during interactions with animals. This includes washing hands before and after such interactions and when handling animal food, waste, or supplies.
Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
Keep cats indoors, when possible, to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals. Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.
Until more is known about the virus, those ill with COVID-19 should restrict contact with pets and other animals, just as you would restrict your contact with other people. Have another member of your household or business take care of feeding and otherwise caring for any animals, including pets. If you have a service animal or you must care for your animals, including pets, then wear a cloth face covering; don’t share food, kiss, or hug them, and wash your hands before and after any contact with them.
At this point in time, there is no evidence to suggest that domestic animals, including pets and livestock, that may be incidentally infected by humans play a role in the spread of COVID-19.
Routine testing of animals for SARS-CoV-2 is NOT recommended. Veterinarians are strongly encouraged to rule out other, more common causes of illness in animals before considering testing for SARS-CoV-2 (see additional information under “Testing Animals for SARS-CoV-2”).
Human outbreaks are driven by person-to-person transmission. Accordingly, we see no reason to remove pets from homes even if COVID-19 has been identified in members of the household, unless there is risk that the pet itself is not able to be cared for appropriately.
Updated Canadian Veterinary Covid-19 FAQ
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